Thursday, August 26, 2010


It's tempting to think of the 50s the way the fashion magazines portray that period (above), with every woman wearing space-age fashions.  i don't think that's the way it was, not in the early 50s, anyway.  So far as I can tell, most women then dressed simply, the way women dressed in the forties.  They all looked like Milt Gross women. 

Women of this period who couldn't afford Mink coats wore mink "stoles" instead.  Stoles  were entire dead animals: face, paws and tails, stitched together and draped over the shoulder.

But change was in the air. There must have been a lot of new wealth around because, by the mid fifties,  more and more women began to dress the way they did in magazines.  They even began to mimic the poses they saw there.  They'd linger coquettishly in doorways,  languorously lean on things, and playfully walk along anything elevated,  just to show off their new clothes.

Then as now,  photography always favors models who  look other-worldly (above),  and seem to have disdain for the human race.

I imagine that fashionable 50s women must have followed suit by snubbing  everyone around them.  If there were no strangers to snub, then they snubbed a friend.

"Brain" coats became popular at this time.  Somebody invented a fabric that looked like the kind of fur that poodles have, the kind that's curled into black brain convolutions.  The coat above is only partially brain-covered, as if the poodle it was removed from had mange. It looks good though.

Some high fashion never filtered down to street level, thank God.  Paris tried to foist ugly, tent dresses on women, and they refused to accept them.

Girdle ads of the period (above) are fascinating.  Models had to strike classical poses, frequently next to pillars.  They were very classy and aloof.

That's very odd, because the dresses that were made to show off the conservative girdles (above) were often outrageously sexy.

Lots of girls I knew when I was a little kid wore dresses like the  "Chubettes" one above.  The ad says they were for  "chubby lasses." Gee, maybe I live around a lot of fat girls.

Were pajamas (above) an invention of the fifties? I love wearing them, but I confess that in an entire lifetime I've never had a pair that fit.

If you can trust the magazines and films of the period, transparent baby doll nighties (above) were all the fashion. None of the women in my family wore them but when I a kid was I was convinced that all the beautiful women in the neighborhood had them, and thinking about it drove me nuts.

By the late 50s all that magazine fashion had evolved into the rock & roll look. What a decade! It started with the conservative Milt Gross look of the 40s,  morphed into Paris-influenced magazine fashion, and ended with the "Long Bang Fall (above)." Geez!


Jorge Garrido said...

I love the Milt Gross look, myself. It's conservative, but nice to look at. All business.

Steven M. said...

I wish there was still fashion like this. Today, we have heinous fashion.

Paul Penna said...

I think the stoles with the animal heads and feet were pretty much going out by the 50s. You still saw them, but on your mother or her friends who hauled them out of the mothballs when they needed to get dolled up. My mother had one, dating from the 30s or 40s, and I was alternately grossed out and fascinated by its little snout and desiccated paws. By the 50s, high-fashion stoles were pretty much free of these anatomical appurtenances.

"The Black Dahlia" is an example of one of those 50s-period films made today that gets the fashion angle wrong. There's a scene on the steps of the LA City Hall showing ordinary people coming and going, and every single guy is dressed like he just stepped out of a page of Esquire.

Pajamas not fitting was a feature, not a defect - it's what made them so comfy!

Amanda H. said...

I love how the pictures of women in the fifeties look so elegant. It makes me kind of jealous I can't look so elegant and gorgeous.
I always thought those filmy nightgowns were more of a sixties thing, what with the Baby Doll look. I guess there's some overlap with fifeties and sixties fashion.
Those valentines pajamas are cute, though :D

Anonymous said...

Unbelievable. What a metamorphosis of fashion trends within less than a decade! I liked both the "conservative" and the "snobby" style that you brought up in the fourth and fifth pictures in your post best. I still appreciate the stuff women generally wore in the early 50s, although at the time, I could imagine it being considered very outdated and "uncool" compared to the other fashion trends, just like swing music had gone out of style in favor of the hipper, avant garde bebop jazz style and the Dixieland revival and then later rock and roll or how the UPA style virtually wiped the 40s style out of most animated cartoons by the late 1950s.

I hope you write a post about women's fashion in the 2000s if you haven't already done so. I can't really describe it in any words, but the styles that girls wear nowadays (at least my age) vary considerably, IMO. The clothes almost seem to define how a girl is like now.

Alberto said...

People sure were classy back then. I don't know if this is going to be a two parter, but you can't talk about 50's fashion without bringing up Richard Avedon, and the beautiful Suzy Parker!

Paul Penna said...

Roberto: There was certainly a resurgence of interest in traditional (aka "Dixieland") jazz in the fifties - The Firehouse 5 Plus 2 sold a lot of records, and the careers of people like Louis Armstrong and Muggsy Spanier got a second wind - and Bop flourished among aficionados, but the predominant jazz of the 50s has to have been "cool" jazz, particularly in its West Coast flavor. People like Chet Baker, Shorty Rogers, Dave Brubeck, Stan Getz, Vince Guaraldi among lots of others. In fact, this was the closest jazz has ever come to going mainstream. You couldn't have a cop or detective TV show in the late-50s without a cool jazz score: Mr. Lucky, Peter Gunn, Richard Diamond, M Squad, Johnny Staccato. It's also interesting to see how often it's incorporated into the work of those we would otherwise term "easy-listening" artists of the time: Les Baxter, Nelson Riddle, even Jackie Gleason albums. On iTunes, check out Les Baxter's "Jungle Jazz," Henry Mancini's "Peter Gunn" and also "Music from M Squad."

Pokey said...

Hey, didn;t know it was Spumco's own Eddie Fitzgerald..on Paul Penna's comments:
The "Black Dahlia", btw is a forties period piece, btw,1947.
Louis Armstrong and bop were two different forces in jazz, and often famously fighting..other than that addition from myself good point about West Coast cool jazz all the way to the crime show comment.

Steve, August 26, 2010.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Roberto: With the exception of tatoos I don't think current girl fashion is all that bad. Guy fashion's been worse than gruesome for 15 years. I'm not a booster of the emo look, but it beats what preceded it, the combination baggy, bald and bling look.

jorge: yeah, I kinda like the Milt Gross look too.

Paul Penna said...

Remember when European men's fashion meant stylish and suave? Think Marcello Marcello Mastroianni, Yves Montand, James Bond. Now check out the guys in the "making of" doc on "A Town Called Panic." Practically every one has the same look: drab, slightly scruffy, slightly goofy in various degrees and combinations. Granted they're dressed casually or in work garb, but you get the feeling they're conscious stylistic choices. What happened?

Shawn Luke said...

Hi, Eddie.

Great post. BTW this site may interest you. It has many many fascinating clips from bygone days in the life.


Jorge Garrido said...

Hey, Eddie, RE: Your "I Hate Filler!" post, check THIS link out! David Mamet destroys filler in films.

Aaronphilby said...

Good ol fifties

Zoran Taylor said...

It always bugs me how even the golden age of fashion could be roughly divided between "hip/classy/snobby" and "awkward". I wish more clothes hit the same balance that makes people appealing - intelligent, funny, believable yet out of the ordinary. Sometimes I get to know people with great personalities who dress pretty much like everyone else and I think, "Now, if they had an outfit with that attitude, THAT would be amazing."

At the end of the day, it really all comes down to the fact that no matter what the design, it has to fit around a human body. That all by itself makes fashion inherently generic. All we can do is work within that limitation.

Really, it's ironic that I would have such strong opinions about this, since I haven't worn anything except completely average street clothes in over a year now, and the same has gone for most days in my life so far. But that's because I'm wildly disorganized and really bad with the practical points of shopping, not because I don't care. Maybe when I finish school I'll do all the crazy "self-made man" shit I think about but never act on. And maybe I'll buy a pet walrus....

Zoran Taylor said...

And for the record, the central girl in He Done Her Wrong is quite possibly the realest and thus the hottest cartoon girl of all time. Not the average Gross woman, I get that, but I just wanted to make that point.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Jorge: it looks like a fascinating Mamet link! I bookmarked it and will read it next time I'm infront of the computer!

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Jorge: Thanks for the Mamet link! That may be the best discussion of story density that I've ever read. Even so, I don't entirely agree.

I like comedy and in that medium the story is often just an excuse to justify really funny performances. In comedy the way you do something is at least as important as what you do. A comedian who performed the physical motions as simply as Mamet indicates would be booed off the stage.

Even drama usually requires more texture and nuance than Mamet allows. Compare Mamet's color film version of The Winslow Boy with the older, black and white version. The older one works better IMO, because it has more meat on its bones. Mamets remake is just too sparse (of course Mamet's version had to made with a fraction of the time and budget).

But I'm nitpicking. Mamets method worked great in films like "The Spanish Prisoner" and "GlenGary (spelled right?)." His ideas are still valuable even if they don't apply to every situation.

I love the way he writes an essay. He gets right to the point, and doesn't waste the readers time like most writers do. I just love the guy.

BTW, I tried to comment on the guy's site who put up the blog. He uses one of those services that require tons of information about the commenter then...surprise!... refuses to post the comment because the commenter's cookies aren't enabled. What a hassle!

Well, at least he didn't require me to translate wavy nonsense words twice, as some blogs do.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Zoran: Thanks for permission on the video!

Jorge Garrido said...

Yeah, Mamet's an extremist (or maybe just highly principled), and you have to take everything he says with a grain of salt (remove everything that is deeply felt and meaningful from a movie? Are you joking?), and, in truth, some people say that Mamet's plays and films are liked not because of, as he'd like to think, the plot progression or story, but the individual jokes, comebacks, creative insults and one-liners, but I think he's an extreme in the right direction.

I mean, I'd take Mamet's 90 minute films over a 2 1/2 hour Transformers movie any day.

It seems to me that Mamet's ideas are a the perfect base on which to add things too. I read that James Spader's performance in Mamet's latest "Race" was good IN SPITE of Mamet's direction. Spader added a lot of character to his performance that seemed to go against Mamet's dictums, and they said it seemed like Spader was (thankfully) getting away with something while Mamet had his back turned.

Likewise, when Mamet refused to do rewrites for The Untouchables (not his best script) to make the film longer, Brian De Palma (not his best movie) added the Pachliacci and Odessa Steps scenes to pad the film out, because he didn't think he could write Mamet-esque dialogue. Those two scenes are the best thing in the film.

Those scenes didn't advance the plot much (after all, it's not important, according to Mamet, HOW Elliot Ness captured the Accountant in the Steps scene, only the fact THAT HE DID capture the accountant), but because Mamet had built a solid base on which to place those two silent set pieces, the film wasn't broken. It worked. And the two scenes were silent, which followed a different Mamet dictum, "the perfect film is the silent film." So Mamet can't have been too mad.

David's a good writer, I just wish someone else would direct his scripts. I was looking forward to his remake of "High and Low" (with Scorsese producing and Mike Nichols directing) until he got kicked off the project and they got Chris Rock in to rewrite Mamet's script. Phooey!

Have you seen his MMA film noir Redbelt?

Daniel said...

Great post Eddie. Funny how it was just two days ago I was looking around for some 50s hair style reference, and it comes to me with a comment on my blog (linking to this post). Sorry you had trouble commenting. Only the name and comment is actually required to comment as far as I know. I may be wrong, but that's how I intended it.

She-Thing said...

I think that both are nice to like. At least in both decades they changed to a look. From the year 2000-2010 I haven't noticed anything new. :Z

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Daniel: Sorry if I came off as too critical. I was very gratefull for your Mamet piece. It often happens that the creator of a blog isn't aware of the barriers to comments that the host company puts up.

If anyone has trouble making comments here, I hope you'll let me know.

Alberto: Davidon was great. The large negative view cameras he used really are the way to go!

Amanda: Yeah, they do look elegant. But a kind of Calvin Klein elegance is still possible. I used to be mad at Klein for making jeans expensive, but now I think of him as a genius who brought sophistication and elegance within reach of the common man.

Shawn: Pathe! I love their films!

Jorge: I agree for the most part. It's a base to build on. I didn't like Redbelt, but I'll still see any film that has Mamet's name on it.