Fashion in the 1950s
In the 1950s, clothes were elegant, carefully designed and well made. Soft wide shoulders, tight nipped-in waists and full hips were hallmarks of 50s style, and gave a flattering hourglass shape to even the frumpiest figure. Dolman sleeves, swing-back coats, standaway collars and a choice of long pencil skirts or full flared skirts were in fashion.
For evening wear, gowns were flowing billowing affairs with heart-shaped bodices. Alternatively they could be sleek skin-tight sheaths, the wearer barely able to walk in the narrow skirt and stiletto heels! Peacock blues and hot pinks were among the favourite colours. Evening gowns could be floor-length but the cocktail dress was slightly shorter.
Haute couture appeared as a welcome relief to the rationing and frugality of the war years. Dior styled his 'new look' - a feminine figure with narrow-waisted tight-fitted bodices and full pleated skirts - in 1947. The conservative elegance of Coco Chanel was also influential, with her smart tailored two-piece suits and accessories. Hats, gloves, shoes and bags were designed to match and enhance the dress or suit. Well-dressed women wore outfits with matching accessories to give the 'total look'.
In the 1950s there were still conventions as to what was to be worn where and when, and a sharp distinction between various social occasions. In 1959 Vogue ran a feature on 'Clothes for the Occasion'. This defined what the smart woman would wear to a lunch date, the races, a committee meeting, a garden party, a cocktail party, dinner, the theatre, a dance or a wedding. Every one of the outfits was different. There were different styles of hat for all occasions, both day and evening.
This hat was made in California. The label 'Caspar-Davis California Model' is inside the beige felt crown at the rear. It has been carefully made by hand with the duck feathers glued on firmly, beginning at the front of the hat and working towards the rear. The felt crown has been cut to size and shaped for the wearer's head. There is a brown ribbon border around the felt crown and wire strengthens the shape. It is likely that this hat was specially made for an individual client, especially as the feathers would have made it an expensive hat at the time.
Hat design had a renaissance in the 1950s. French milliner Paulette produced haute couture hats for designers and Hollywood stars. She was best known for her turban and she often trimmed her hats with feathers. Her designs were frequently copied. This was common practice - Paris designers set the fashions, and makers and retailers would copy their styles for individual clients or high street stores.
Everyday hat styles complemented the long slim lines of the clothes by either being very small - flat pancake berets and pillbox hats - or very large - like the wide-brimmed romantic picture hat. Evening hats were small - more than a coiffure, less than a hat. Tiny clusters of feathers on a hatband was one style, neat turbans trimmed with beads another. Evening hats were made from exotic materials, like silk, velvet, satin, feathers, tassels and flowers. Feather wigs were sometimes worn.