The year 1951 was one in which looking smart meant also looking youthful and pretty. There were few if any bizarre fads. the arts and skills of fashion designers were directed toward giving a woman a very "pretty body," with small waist high, usually draped bosom, natural, graceful shoulders, a decorative head and always a very full skirt. To emphasize a small dainty torso, skirts were deliberately magnified and stiffened by interlinings and worn over crinolines and coats. Even tailor-mades had their petticoats.
The suit, always a guidepost on the general path of fashion, blended impeccable tailoring with "young" and feminine touches; it was a "little" suit with elegance in its outline and material. The typical suit jacket was molded close to the figure through the shoulders; the waist and bosom were noticeably rounded out at the hips and front. High-placed lapels or a small round collar replaced the mannish suit necklines of other years.
Featherboning and interlinings were revived to give dresses a delicate yet firm "body." This technique was coupled with an echo of the high-bosomed, beltless empire line to achieve a distinctively 1951 silhouette.
The fitted coat shared prominence with the loose full coat. Both were notable for their large, picturesque collars and pockets. Toward the end of 1951 a new duster coat made its appearance; it hung straight at the back but had a slightly fitted front.
Very large balloon sleeves in light sheer fabrics were shown on dresses of dark taffeta. Tailored sleeves were set on below the edge of the shoulder and were interestingly cut to give the effect of forward or backward movement. Long sleeves stopped well above the wrist and most short sleeves covered the elbow.
A major style factor in 1951 lay in the texture of fabrics. Pure silks of great beauty and variety, particularly stiff brocades, taffetas and failles and sheer gauzy evening silks were seen. Wools were featherweight but bulky, with magnified weaves or shaggy surfaces. Tweed appeared for town as well as for country clothes. Velvet, taffeta, chiffon and silk organdy became established as year-round fabrics.
During 1951, color was considered more fashionable than black. The gray suit replaced the black or navy-blue suit. The cloth coat was apt to be red, gray, beige or sapphire blue. Evening clothes were festive in color as well as rich in fabric. The staid black dinner dress was in eclipse.
Added to the traditional American love of suits was the widespread interest in separate skirts and blouses both for day and evening, chosen a la carte and mixed by individual taste. Sweaters played a key part in this fashion, and there were unusual combinations, such as lace and wool jersey, or lace and cotton pique.
Perhaps because of television and a renaissance of entertaining at home, a new kind of informal yet decorative fashion was developed in the at-home costume. These were usually two-piece dinner skirts of rich fabrics worn with sweater tops and a great deal of jewelry.
In 1951 it seemed that even the woman who thought she could never wear a short evening dress decided she had been wrong. Only debutante dresses and ball gowns remained long. Short dresses appeared in the richest fabrics, and with elaborate skirt drapery and embroidery. Many short dresses were also strapless.
Hats were piquant, colorful and charming. They were invariably small and slanted somewhat to the side, front or back of the head. The contour veil, glittering with jewels, was an evening essential.
Stockings returned to flesh tones. Shoes were designed to give the foot a long aristocratic shape, with narrow heels and rather pointed closed toes. For evening, however, very open strip sandals, often covered with jewels, were seen.
Cloth coats outshone fur in 1951 fashion, but the small fur was extremely popular. These were cut and shaped to stay snug around the shoulders. Blonde furs such as otter, clipped fox and dyed moleskin were seen in sport coats and linings.
The well-groomed woman of 1951 wore light, unobtrusive make-up to enhance her particular features and coloring. The eyes were accented, sometimes subtly elongated, the complexion was freshly pink and white, lips and eyebrows natural. Hair was worn short, brushed up and back. Toward the end of the year the short "poodle" haircut became popular.
1951 Vintage Fashion
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PAPER TRAIL: YEAR BY YEAR ADS
How hemlines changed and the maxi vs the mini