If you have always wanted to be able to identify 50’s fashion here is a very basic how to – especially when looking for 50s dresses.
When I fell in love with vintage, it started with 1950s fashion. The lines and shape of 50s fashion are timeless. I spent a lot of time as a kid drooling over dresses in old hollywood movies; so much vintage knowledge training sunk in without even trying! In this guide I wanted to share what I’ve learned from searching and sorting through hundreds of racks of old clothes. Once you get the hang of it if you should be able to confidently assess a dress in about 5-10 seconds (and even faster with some practice!).
- Style – 1950s dress shapes are pretty easy to identify. Look for nipped waists with full skirts as well as slim fitting pencil skirt styles. The tops of dresses will be slim fitting (and will flatter the bustline). These silhouettes changed a lot from the 1940s styles once Dior came out with their “new look” in 1947 after the war ended. The full skirted dresses are made to be worn with a semi full or full petticoat (crinoline) underneath. If you wear them without you will find there are is a lot of extra fabric that just hangs flat around you and you can really tell these were meant to have that 50s “pouf.”
- Zippers – 50s dresses have zippers on the side (underneath the arm) or up the back, most commonly. In rare cases there may be zippers up the front. All 50s zippers will be metal and not nylon or plastic. To tell if a zipper is metal simply run your fingernail along the teeth to feel the material. Metal teeth will be hard. Some metal zippers may be painted to match the garment (red, or blue for example).
- Labels – Many 50s clothing labels will have pretty, cursive writing. A lot of them scream “vintage.” I know it’s a bit of an assumption, but it’s true! The letters may even look hand sewn. Also, care instructions for a garment were never given in the 50s nor was percentages of material (ie. 50% nylon). If you see this, the piece will likely be from 1960s or later.
- Union Labels – Check the garment to see if it also has a union label sewn in, this will usually be located along one of the skirt seams near the bottom and can be easy to miss (after years of wash and wear they labels will likely be crinkled and folded over). Take a look at the International Garment Workers Union label tag and compare to this label guide here. This will tell you the right decade/half decade of the dress and is an easy way to identify the year.
- Length – The lengths of dresses of the 50s usually hit just below the knee or a bit longer and were not short. Mini skirts came into style in the 60s.
- Lining – Some dresses of this era will have a papery lining attached as a liner along the skirt as you can see from the above photo (the brown material starting at the waistline). This is called pellon and was used to give structure and shape. This was used (infrequently) in the 60s as well but was most common 1950s and not beforehand.
I hope this helps in the quest for your vintage treasure. Once you start searching and trying identify using the tips below you should be able to confidently date if a dress is 50s or not. Happy searching! xo