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Fabulous Fifties Fashion


There's a certain fun and frivolous nature about 1950s fashion - full billowing skirts, nipped in waists, and colours like 'Daffodil Flame' and 'Powder Blue'.

Free from the austerity of war and the restrictions of rations, the 1950s ushered in a new era of women's fashion that left the cold military look behind and embraced femininity whole-heartedly. Delve into the clothing collection at the Waikato Museum and you'll find that it well represents th

e new trends of the 1950s.

A navy blue dress with tiny yellow polka dots epitomises 1950s flair. Brought for the museum collection in 1996, its small waist and full skirt make it a classic fifties piece. Complete with a wide banded belt, the dress wouldn't be out of place in many women's clothing stores today, as the 1950s is terribly 'in'. The dress is not only a reflection of new and daring trends, but also of the new materials available in the post war period. New synthetic fabrics became more common, with nylon, polyester and acrylic all heralded for their easy care, wash and wear qualities.

The 1950s feminine fashion really began with Christian Dior's 'New Look' line, launched in Paris in 1947. After years of wartime restrictions, Dior wowed the crowds with his daring and extravagant use of material. Hemlines were longer, waists smaller, and bosoms received unprecedented attention - ultra feminine was en vogue. It was a key change in women's fashion, and is thus important that the Museum has a number of items that reflect this social change. As well as the pretty navy number, a selection of other dresses including cocktail frocks, ball gowns and cotton day dresses can be found in the museum collection. Many are home made, as sewing was the norm, but others are made by Miss Deb, Lady in Waiting and Terry. They all exhibit the nipped in waist that exude femininity and make them hallmark dresses of the era.

Muriel House worked at local fashion house Milne and Choyce during the 1950s, and well remembers the fashion of the day. "There were lovely gowns, shot taffetas and sashes - very pretty and very elegant after all the drabness we went through during the war". Clothing rations continued in New Zealand until 1947, so the early 1950s meant women had access to a quantity and variety of fabrics they had only dreamed over during the war years. Sewing machines would have been whirring once more, and the Museum holds dozens of patterns for fabulously retro outfits. They were donated in 1986 by Mrs Sheryll Campbell of Hamilton, and combine with the clothing to create a real taste of the fashion. As Miss House continued - "It was lovely to wear pretty clothes again".

Of course under it all, you couldn't really get the right fifties look without the right foundations - girdles, longline bras and suspender belts were all typical fifties garb. It was during this decade that manufacturers began to experiment with nylon, which made underwear lighter, prettier and easier to wash. The museum has a longline bra in its matching box, part of the collection since 1992, that gives one a good impression of the 1950s 'missile bust'.

Certainly then, though fashion may seem frivolous, it provides us with important insights into social changes in New Zealand. Not to mention a fun look at the fabulous fifties!