1949 Fashion and Vintage Clothing
Three big fashion trends which developed during 1949 promised to enjoy a long fashion cycle:
(1) The desire for a more casual life led to a worldwide revival of casual fashions, running through every classification of wearing apparel. This trend also showed a reaction against very dressy clothes which had prevailed since the end of World War II. Women wanted more functional clothes. The cost of clothing was so high they preferred undated fashions that would live longer, too. Thus they revived fashions in traditionally casual fabrics: beautiful tweeds; soft fleeces in cashmere, camel's hair, or wool; and fine worsted jerseys and tweed-like worsteds for suits and dresses.
(2) The short, street-length evening dress won the unanimous sponsorship of the Paris couture in the August collections, and thus was launched as the smart fashion for evening. Its fabrics and décolletage were of the most formal, but its shorter length again bespoke the contemporary life of the wearer. A number of these short evening dresses had uneven hemlines, dipping in back or at the side, always a sign of transition in silhouette.
(3) There was a greater development of nylon fabrics, both woven and knitted. These were accepted in all classifications of clothing because of their durable and easy-to-care-for qualities. By the end of the year, a woman could include in her wardrobe nylon dresses and negligees, as well as nylon sweaters, blouses, lingerie, gloves, stockings, slippers, and raincoats. The only hindrance to the mass acceptance of nylon was its short supply.
Silhouettes. Skirt lengths, which had been a subject of controversy among designers, women, and even men since the "new look" arrived two years before, inched up slightly in the fall to 13-14 in. from the floor, from spring's 12-13 in. Shoulders maintained their rounded, natural line, achieved through cut and .slight padding. The waistline, which had been sharply defined for two years, eased up to a more natural line following the Paris August openings, where a slightly flatter figure and the easy, bloused silhouette were sponsored. Following this trend, hips flattened out a bit from their former rounded silhouette. The common denominator of suits, coats, and dresses was a low neckline, popularly referred to as "plunging," which appeared in the spring.
Fabrics. Crisp fabrics continued to prevail throughout the year, with taffeta in the lead. Cottons were very important for summer, especially crisp cottons in the broadcloth family. Wool jersey continued its fashion career from the pre-ceding year, and enjoyed big popularity in the fall and winter. Two new fabric fashions ran through the year's fashion story: (I) Summer brought in a strong revival of transparent sheer fabrics—dotted Swiss, organdy, marquisette, and organza—emphasizing the crisp fabrics (cotton, rayon, and a little silk) as well as voile, mull, and chiffon. (2) Velvet, which had appeared in the summer in accessories, swept across the fall and winter season in a tremendous revival. Stiff Lyons or Lyons-type velvet was interpreted in dresses, suits, and coats, as well as in accessories.
Two patterns in fabrics made a strong fashion impact. Early in the spring, checks came to the fore in taffeta, tweeds, wools, worsteds, and cot-tons. The favored pattern for summer was polka dots of all sizes, from pine dots to snowball-sized dots.
Colors. The primary colors blue and red were the big color story for 1949. Blues of all tones were the biggest color family of the year. Navy blue predominated, beginning in the spring and continuing right through the fall and winter season, thus beginning a year-around career. Appearing first in the spring, red by fall was challenging the supremacy of the blues. Red coats were the spear-head of the red trend, with red suits, red dresses, and red hats following closely. The shade of red didn't matter—blue reds, true reds, and yellow-reds were equally smart.
Though blues and reds towered above all other colors, several others had fashion importance. Taupe was a significant spring color and gained greater popularity through fall and winter, especially in coats and suits. White, especially white pique, enjoyed one of its biggest summers and was worn for daytime and evening, in town and country. Pink was a summer favorite, while the yellow-apricot-orange color family enhanced the summer color palette. The big fall color was camel, stemming from camel's hair coats, which immediately became the college girl's favorite.
Dresses. The costume ensemble of dress and matching or harmonizing jacket was the dress of the year, running through daytime, casual, cock-tail, and dinner fashions. Cocktail and dinner ensembles favored bare-top dresses with cover-up jackets, while the casual favorite of the year was the cardigan jacket ensemble.
The biggest individual dress fashion of the year was a simple dress with rounded shoulders and easy skirt, its signature an enormous white winged collar. Inspired' by a Christian Dior dress, it was introduced at the beginning of the year and swept the country at all prices.
The coat-dress, a double-breasted button-front dress which resembled a coat, was one of the most wearable and popular dresses of the year. It started in the spring and summer in faille and taffeta, continued for summer in linen and shantung, and carried through the fall in faille, tweed, and other wools.
For summer, designers presented sleeveless dresses which harked back to the 1920's, the only period influence of the year, and actually considered contemporary. Some had cover-up jackets or stoles, while others were frankly "bare." Accepted first by younger women, sleeveless dresses became the favorite of all by the end of the unusually hot summer.
The dress with an all-around knife-pleated or accordion-pleated skirt was one of the first fall successes. Rita Hayworth, an American movie star, had worn a dress with accordion pleated skirt for her marriage to Moslem prince Aly Khan on the French Riviera in May. Pleated skirts also received strong Paris sponsorship in the August collections, as a phase of the trend toward modern design in clothes.
The most important over-all dress classification for the year was the cocktail or after-five dress which became the dressy dress for the average American woman, in both small and big cities. Cocktail dresses were characterized by full skirts in rich, stiff fabrics—as taffeta, brocades, and ottoman—and by low or wide necklines.
As noted before, the street-length evening dress was revolutionary. Contrary to the usual revolutionary change in fashion, it evoked no controversy and was accepted almost at once because it was smart and keyed to modern life. Ankle-length evening dresses (about six inches from the floor), introduced the year before, became the mass fashion; while floor-length dresses were worn by the most conservative. Low or strapless decolletages continued in evening dresses, as did the rich, stiff fabrics and nets of several seasons past.
Casual dresses were exemplified in the widely favored designs of American designer Claire Mc-Cardell. Her dresses mirrored the "young American look" with their high, tight midriffs, softly draped bodices, plunging necklines, and multifold variations of full skirts.
Coats. Coats divided into two classifications: dress coats and casual coats. Deep armholes or butterfly sleeves, big pockets, and many buttons characterized all. The belted and fitted coat rose fast to a major fashion expression in all fabrics.While not so smart as the fitted coat, the modified flared coat, often worn belted, was numerically most popular. Short coats were the third big coat fashion of the year and spanned both dressy and casual styles. Many fall and winter short coats were fur-lined or fur-trimmed. Worsted wools of the gabardine family in navy blue prevailed for spring dressy coats, though taffeta, faille, and alpaca made the smartest spring coats. Broadcloth was the big early fall fabric. Beaver, Persian lamb, and mink were favored for coats with fur.
The most significant coat fashion was the casual coat, expressed in fleeces, followed by monotone or classic tweeds and chinchilla. Thus i00% cash-mere and t00% camel's hair became the gems among fabrics. Color was important in casual coats, especially in fleeces and chinchilla which dye so well. Camel shades, red, navy blue, and green stood out. Though these casual fabrics were used in fitted, citified casual coats, they were seen more often in modified flared coats or in short coats.
Furs. Mink continued its lead in fur coats. Alaska seal returned to fashion, and Hudson seal (dyed muskrat) grew in popularity in the medium price range. Sheared beaver, sheared raccoon, and muskrat scored as the big medium-priced furs, while mouton was the college and career girls' budget-priced fur. The three-quarter length, or 4o-in. fur coat predominated in fashion from mink to mouton because of the high price of furs, but as winter approached more full-length fur coats appeared. Fur coat fashion details were: a straighter, more boxy silhouette, softer shoulders, small collars, and wide sleeves with big cuffs.
The fashion for "little furs" increased tremendously. Stoles, capes, some jackets and animal skin scarfs were worn by rich and not-so-rich alike—mink preferred by the former, and squirrel, American broadtail, and mole by the latter. Because of the ubiquity of these "little furs," which fashion-able women formerly wore as evening wraps, the smart woman turned to a cloth wrap for evening, sometimes with fur cuffs. These wraps were capes or short coats in velvet, slipper satin, or lame.
Suits. Suits had major fashion status during 1949 and in the fall were often preferred to dresses. Early in the year, the two-tone suit with contrasting jacket and skirt, or contrasting details, appeared successfully. Many of these took inspiration from the tailored, long-jacket suits of California designers. Before Easter, the suit fashion turned to a feminine dressmaker suit in navy blue gabardine with shorter jacket, lower neckline, and rounded hip emphasis. The feminine suit continued most important throughout the year, influenced in the fall by the padded-hip suits of Balenciaga, the couturier with houses in Paris and Madrid.
Other suit fashions of the year were belted suits, sponsored by Dior, and box jacket suits, stimulated by strong sponsorship of the Paris couture. Fashion details which spanned all suits were natural shoulders, small collars, many pockets, many but-tons, and slim skirts.
Patterned worsted fabrics (in beige and gray) and tweeds challenged the long-standing popularity of gabardine in suits for both spring and fall, but gabardine still predominated. Navy blue and the beige-to-cocoa family reigned in solid-color worsted fabrics. Faille and bengaline in black or navy blue were well liked for spring dressy suits, while broadcloth and velvet in black starred in fall and winter.
Sportswear. Separates gained great fashion momentum and ran the fabric gamut from jersey to beautiful brocades and even laces. The coordinated pieces were designed to resemble a one-piece dress when worn together. For summer, separates appeared in taffetized cottons, silk shantung, linen, and spun rayons. Worsted jersey separates were keynoters for daytime while velveteen skirts with low-necked blouses in various fabrics from jersey to brocade defined after-five and evening separates. The cardigan sweater became a favorite sportswear fashion, taking the place of the casual jacket as a toss-on wrap to wear over everything from bathing suits to evening dresses. A new sweater fashion, stemming from Paris, was the dressmaker dolman-sleeved, slip-over sweater. Knitted suits and dresses grew during the year, with yarns for hand-knitting making news.
Blouses. Nylon and wool jersey blouses were starred throughout the year. The important new blouse fashions were: sleeveless blouses, the big summer fashion; the torso or middy blouse worn with a pleated skirt; the pink cotton boy's shirt, championed by college girls and popular through-out the winter season; the blouse with "little boy" stiffened white collar; and the chiffon sweater-blouse of two or more layers of chiffon accented with sweater ribbing—the latter two fashions stemming from Paris.
Shorts. either very short or knee-length Bermuda shorts, were the summer resort uniform. Beach devotees overwhelmingly preferred feminine bathing suits, usually one-piece.
Lingerie. The plunging-neckline fashion in the spring necessitated a new fashion in slips—the plunging-neckline slip, or strapless camisole bodices. Nylon became increasingly important for all lingerie, both woven nylon and nylon tricot. New nylon fabrics with textures comparable to pure silk crepe de Chine were introduced in lingerie. Negligees followed the fashion course and appeared in stiff slipper satins or Lyons-type velvets, for at-home lounging or entertaining.
Accessories. Hats for the year divided sharply into very little hats or very big hats. More important numerically were the small head-capping hats designed to complement the generally accepted short-haired coiffure. The three most popular Easter hats were small-brimmed sailors, flowered bonnets, and big-brimmed hats, while the smart vote went to Paris-inspired bicornes, both big and little. Straw was the choice for spring hats, trimmed with flowers and ribbons. Summer saw the wide acceptance of big-brimmed straw or dark sheer braid hats.
Luxurious textures characterized fall and win-ter hats: imported Melusine beavers, velours, and velvets, in the beautiful pastel or rich deep colors these soft textures take so well. The small cap-like silhouette predominated again, usually with a tilt to one side. Feathers, embroidery, and veils were the restrained adornment. Three important silhouettes arrived from Paris to influence American fall hat fashions: a higher conical crown, the bicorn silhouette, and the pillbox worn straight on the head. The pure white hat in Melusine, velours, or fur was a glamorous note for afterdark.
The casual fashion trend brought with it a renewed interest in colored accessories which were worn to match one tone of a tweed, or to harmonize with the colors of casual coats, suits, or dresses. Calfskin was of first importance in colored accessories, and especially good in slate blue, taupe, the brown tones, red, and mulberry.
The calf handbag was the year's important bag, smartest in horizontal satchel types. In tune with the trend to blonde accessories, the beige calf bag was an individual smart fashion for spring. Summer saw a big swing to straw bags or fabric bags in faille, silk shantung, or linen. In fact, the big accessory fashion of the summer was straw color: in hats, bags, shoes, belts, gloves.
Low necklines and short sleeves on coats, suits, and dresses demanded necklaces and bracelets. Thus attention focused on chokers, dog collars, lariats, pendant necklaces and ropes, and on dangle bracelets. Earrings held good for all occasions. Newest were the giant dangling chandelier ear-rings. Pearls led in popularity, with giant smooth pearls the news. Cultured pearls were brought back by increased supply and lower prices. Real diamonds or rhinestones were preferred after dark. The casual fashion revival had its reflection in jewelry by the return of tailored real gold and gold-like jewelry.
Closed shoes in suede attained widespread acceptance in 1949, with the opera jump the most widely accepted shoe. Two new opposing trends in shoes were the opened-up, lacy look achieved through vamp cut-outs; and the high-riding look. The calf walking shoe with Cuban heel was revived to wear with casual fashions. Midway and flat heels enjoyed wide acceptance and appeared in dress shoes as well as casuals. took the spotlight when the hemlines of formal dresses went up. The two big evening shoe fashions were the nude sandal of narrow strips, and the low, shell-cut pump. These were smart in new media such as velvet, lace, brocade, and satin, often augmented by jeweled, lace, or embroidered heels.
Stocking colors lightened a little for spring from the dark tones that had prevailed, and remained in the somewhat lighter color range throughout the remainder of the year.
Two further accessory notes: (I) Shorter sleeves in clothes turned attention to gloves and influenced longer lengths. Also, Christian Dior's August collection in Paris emphasized above-elbow gloves with dinner and evening clothes. The glace glove began a return to fashion after having been relegated to the staple class for several years. (2) Artificial flowers returned to fashion—roses, violets, and carnations were pinned at neck-lines, on lapels, or on belts.