1950s Fashion – The Feminine Figure and Silhouette

Glamourdaze looks at the ‘golden age’ of the foundation garment – the 1950s fashion line –


1950’s Fashion – Women’s Figure and Silhouette.

The new silhouette demanded a new figure and a veritable deluge of undergarments filled the lingerie departments.
There were two distinct shapes,the waif like gamine figure epitomized in movies by Audrey Hepburn and the more womanly hourglass figure represented by Grace Kelly, with tiny waists, padded hips and circle skirts. It was also the golden age of the fashion model – with the ‘big three’ in 1950s fashion models being Jean Patchett, Dovima and Suzy Parker.


These women were seen in all the top style magazines – showcasing the two distinct skirt and dress lines which define the 1950s from the abundant Dior inspired umbrella look to the new pencil skirt. No matter what skirt you wore, the silhouette was to emphasize the curves. Large bust and hips and small waist.



Foundation wear was never more popular, with girdles, pantie girdles, corsets and corselettes flying off the shelves. Their mission – to give women as streamlined a figure as was possible. In Mike Browns 1950s Look – quoting the Academy of Charm – the ideal 1950s shape was described as follows:

“The largest part of the bust should equal the largest part of the hips and the waist should be ten inches smaller than either.That means that with a 36 inch bust, ideally the largest part of your buttocks should measure 36 inches and your waist should be 26 inches.”


Thus – with these austere instructions, women across the developed world sincerely determined to achieve this ‘ feminine’ look by squeezing themselves into restrictive garments that echoed Edwardian times.


Admittedly, fabrics like nylon and Elastine [ Lastex ]  made wearing girdles more tolerable and even pleasant. The Lastex /cotton roll on girdle with attached suspenders , which appeared in 1950 may have bade farewell to the old boned corsets and was of course a welcome relief to women. However in order to achieve the new hourglass look demanded by Paris designers such as Christian Dior, foundation wear became a necessity. No self respecting 1920s flapper would have tolerated this sort of dress code.

Girdles for a more Feminine figure.

The 1950’s glorified the foundation garment like no other decade. Unlike the strict Victorians or even the more liberated Edwardian women, figure enhancement no longer had to be a chore, thanks to the new stretch fabrics. Advertisements for girdle and bra combination foundations adorned fashion magazines and billboards and dictated outerwear designers significantly. Mike Browns 1950’s Look has a wonderful snippet from The Academy of Beauty and Charm, which pulls no punches in its insistence at the wearing of foundation garments ” Every woman or girl, no matter how thin, should wear a girdle! Our finest designers insist that even their slimmest models must wear girdles. Wear a pantie girdle if you are slender, a pantie girdle with an open crotch if you are heavier; or a girdle with boning if you are overweight! Your figure will look more youthful and you will protect your breasts from sagging by wearing a brassiere and girdle and not a one piece garment.”


The 1950’s Woman’s Silhouette.

The mode for tiny waists and accentuated hips and bust, along with the softer synthetics now available since the war,created a foundation wear boom, and with the tighter fitting look becoming increasingly popular; the sheath dress, the gamine look made famous by Audrey Hepburn, foundation design became a beauty science. The  French bustier, which sheathed a woman’s frame from the waist down over her hips was a sought after wedding foundation garment.


The significant change for the silhouette was the abandonment of padded shoulders [ the padded  look re-appeared in the 1980s, popularized by the stars of TV shows such as Dallas and Dynasty.]
Shoulders were still wide but softer, which helped emphasize her small waist and wide hips. Silhouettes however were many and varied when it came to outer-wear, from trim bodices, knee length pencil skirts, boxy jackets to wide circle skirts. But defining all dress wear was the 1950s fitted shoulder cut which then bloomed at the waist and hips. This overtly romanticized vision of womanhood persisted well into the 1960’s.
copyright Glamourdaze 2013.
Images – My Vintage Vogue and Private Collection and Corsetierre.net

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1 thought on “1950s Fashion – The Feminine Figure and Silhouette”

  1. I’m not sure I’d agree that the ’50s girdles were more comfortable than corsets! In hot weather, those elastic garments were hellish, not to mention hard to get in and out of. I’m a lot more comfortable in a corset, in part because it isn’t elastic but cotton.

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