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Suburban Conformity & Cutting-Edge Couture: The Dualistic Forces Behind 1950’s Fashion

Bodysnatchers, couture, & the suburbs

Ah, the 1950’s: an era of suburban sprawl, festering social unrest, the threat of nuclear war, and a new guard of fashion icons.  To me, the 1950’s represents the best and worst of American culture and fashion in particular.  While at once characterized by a need to suburbanize, conform, and forget the violence and tragedy of the 1940’s, the 1950’s also provided the seeds to the inspiring changes that would occur in the next decade, both socially and culturally.  Often viewed as a decade of prosperity, many American families in the 1950’s enjoyed newly affordable luxuries: a family car, modern kitchen appliances, television sets.  The traditional, nuclear family was heavily emphasized, and was promoted by the entertainment of the day.  Television shows and films reinforced traditional women’s roles, displaying the role of wife and mother as the only priority in a woman’s life.  Finding a husband, settling down to a newly built home in the suburbs, and raising two charming mini-citizens (also known as children) was the goal here.

Meanwhile, across the pond, European culture was revitalized after the slow recovery from war.  Fashion-wise, this meant the best and the brightest were allowed the freedom to be as creative as they wished without the restrictions of war-time rations.  The greatest fashion designer of the era (just an opinion, of course), Cristobal Balenciaga, flourished in this time, and reinvented what it meant to be fashionable.  Christian Dior, whose “New Look” debuted in 1947, also pioneered new fashion trends, while houses like Chanel found inventive ways to change with the times and stay ahead of the competition.  Keep reading for more on the strange dualistic nature of the 1950’s, the era of conformity and invention…

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