Dior New Look: The Epitome of 1950s Fashion

What is the Dior New Look? The New Look by Dior was perhaps the most popular fashion movement in the 1950s. It dominated every fashion magazine, squirmed its way into movie wardrobes, and every-day folks tried as they could to keep with this unique style. But what kind of style is it really? The New Look really is just that: a new look.

The Look was drastically different from the style of clothing immediately preceding it, that is, the practical war-time wear of knee-length skirts, wide-legged pants, and shoulder pads. The fashion of the late thirties and forties was also heavily determined on rationing materials for the war, which left the world of fashion on the backburner for several years. At the time, civilians were primarily concerned with supporting the war effort, though sometimes they were not quite ready to part with some of their clothing staples despite the rationing.

A well-known example concerns women’s nylon stockings, the material of which they were made of being heavily rationed, but since many women of the time would not want to be seen without stockings with their characteristic seam running down the back of each leg, women took to painting their legs to make it seem like they were wearing stockings. They usually painted their legs with cheap, easy-to-find dark materials such as gravy.

Dior New Look

Needless to say, once the war was over and there was no more need for rationing, everyone was very happy. However, it was just a couple years after the war when the familiar wartime fashion would be left behind in favor of a completely different style. In February of 1947, Christian Dior presented his newest clothing collection in Paris, featuring a dress suit that remains famous to this day: the Bar Suit. The suit displayed a white jacket with rounded shoulders, a tightly cinched waist, and a long, A-line black skirt that emphasized the curves of the hips, the entire design being much more feminine than clothing of the previous years. Everyone was stunned and fascinated with this type of fashion, naturally calling it “a new look.”

dior new look
The famous Bar Suit

The New Look became an instant hit, especially among the haute couture scene of Paris. Many were excited to part with the practical, basic designs of the twenties, thirties, and forties in favor of something new and fresh. Dior’s inspiration for his new designs stemmed from the Victorian age when women did not usually have much need to dress practically, rather focusing on dressing elegantly and spectacularly. More than that, The New Look almost seemed to act as a symbol of peace after the long wartime years. No longer did women have to work grueling hours in factories if they did not want to. They could now decide, at their own volition, to part with their laboring clothes and embrace an interesting new style focused on nostalgic elegance.

The New Look Gets Another Look | Vintage couture, Christian dior vintage,  Christian dior haute couture

The essential foundation wear for The New Look commonly included padded hips and a waist cinched either by a girdle or corset. The every-day woman would obviously not don the most restricting corsets as professional models would during their photoshoots, but the average woman would typically wear a girdle to smooth out her silhouette, emphasize her waist and hips, and even to improve posture. Other popular characteristics of The Look included pleats, the occasional petticoat, and A-line circle skirts (or pencil skirts) that fell below the knees. Many feminists of the time were not happy with Dior’s designs, specifically denouncing the longer skirts and corsets. Interestingly enough, even Coco Channel, whose fashion designs were especially popular during the war, did not care for Dior’s designs.

The Details

Tracing Christian Dior's Changing Silhouettes in Vogue | Vogue

Nevertheless, like any kind of fashion, the extreme elegance and femininity of The New Look would not last forever. In 1957, Christian Dior died suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack while playing a game of cards in Italy. Following his death, The New Look quickly fell out of fashion in favor of the more casual, young, rebellious style of the sixties that featured bright colors and striking patterns, as well as skirts that fell above the knee and long hair. There have been some revivals of Dior’s New Look in the nineties and even in current times, but the height of its popularity still remains in the past.

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