Los Angeles County Museum Of Art Exhibit

move mouse to see the difference between Balenciaga and Lachasse

The Fifties:

   The ravages of war shaped the '40s, but the '50s were shaped by the pleasres and possibilities of peace - and the woman of the '50s was shaped with padding and corsetry.   Weary of the straight and functonal menswear fashion of the previous decade, women and men welcomed the return of what was considered the "female" figure - the hourglass or figre eight.   Following the model of Dior's New Look, garments were designed as architectutal structures, supported by built-in armatures of corsets and petticoats.
   Rationing ended in the United States right after the war (although it continued in Britain and Europe for several years), and restrictions on silks and other luxurious fabrics were lifted.   Opulence in evening wear, seen in the extravagant creations of designers such as Charles James, Christian Dior, Cristóbal Balenciaga, and Norman Norell, became the standard.   The image of woman as a dressed-up doll and exponent of conspicuous consumption was cemented.
   Postwar prosperity also provided more disposable income and more leisure time to enjoy it.   American designers such as Claire McCardell in New York and a large group working in California continued to develop fashionable, innovative sportswear for the demands of a casual lifesstyle and the active pursuit of leisure.   The consumer society was born n the '50s; because of mass-production techniques developed during the war, ready-to-wear triumphed over custom tailoring, allowing more people to have more clothes.    As a result, copies or "knock-offs" of high-fashion couture forced designers to change their lines every six months.   By the mid-'50s, Balenciaga, Rudi Gernreich, and Hubert de Givenchy were modifying the hourglass shape with a longer, looser, more fluid drape in daywear, and by the end of the decade, sac and trapeze dresses were challenging the supremacy of the wasp-waist silhouette.

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1940's         1960's


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