25 Most Glamorous Vintage Photos of Life in the 1950s
The end of World War II ushered in a happy, prosperous time in North America, with the 1950s being the height of glamour.
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Bikinis had been introduced only six years before this photo was taken in 1952. That was also the year that 17-year-old Brigette Bardot made waves starring in Manina, The Girl In The Bikini.
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Seams in her stockings
“A 1950s wardrobe would be incomplete without classic vintage seamed stockings, also simply known as nylons,” according to Vintage Dancer, a vintage-themed costume consultant. Because nylons back then were knit into the shape of a leg, rather than in the shape of a stretchy tube like they are today, women in the 1950s were often seen straightening out their seams.
“The fuller the skirt, the better in the 1950s,” Vintage Dancer advises, along with a fitted waist that actually sat at the natural waist. Why? Because the curvaceous look was considered flattering (and arguably still is). Skirts retained their fanned-out circle shape through the use of stiff petticoats and even boning.
Early 1950s hair
Hairstyles from the early 1950s, whether short, medium, or long, were, believe it or not, less “styled” than in the previous decade. Still, thick and wavy bangs (as seen here on film star Barbara Stanwyck) were pretty work-intensive, and many women booked weekly hairdresser appointments, sat under the dryer, and then tried to retain the given style for as long as possible.
Another popular hairstyle from the 1950s was the poodle cut, named for its resemblance to the coiffed look of a poodle (tight curls, exaggerated shaping) and made popular by actresses including Lucille Ball and Kim Novak. Novak, seen here, is wearing the cardigan from a twinset without the underlying shell for a “vixen”-look.
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A new wave
Waves, dips, and flips continued to be all the hairstyle rage throughout the 1950s, with the hair curving high at the forehead and then dipping into a deep horizontal wave from a side-part. Throughout the decade, the waves kept getting bigger, leading up to the bouffant styles of the late 1950s.
By the late 1950s, waves and dips had loosened further, lending a “bigger” look for hair. Inspired by stars like Sophia Loren and Connie Francis, women began teasing their hair for exaggerated height.
Tiny waist, a peplum, and a fur collar
Along with circle skirts, pencil skirts were having a heyday in the 1950s. To keep the silhouette as curvy as possible, the skirts were paired with a fitted jacket featuring a peplum like this one. The addition of fur also helped keep the look soft, as well as high in glamour.
American royalty in a tiara
Tiaras had started making their way into non-royal fashion a century earlier, but Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) started debuting what would become a truly impressive tiara collection in the late 1940s, bringing them into the forefront of fashion. Here, Hollywood royal Ava Gardner, with her husband Frank Sinatra, wears a tiara at an event in London as she mingles with Peers of the Queen.
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“Back in the 1950s, when commercial flights were a relatively new novelty, people dressed for the occasion,” explains Town & Country, and no one did airport glamour quite like Hollywood’s elite. Here, it’s 1954, and Ava Gardner, now divorcing Frank Sinatra, dresses up for her arrival from Paris at Idlewild Airport (now John F. Kennedy International Airport).
Pedal pushers pushing limits
Women in the 1950s were the first ever to enjoy the freedom of wearing pants as acceptable women’s clothing, explains Vintage Dancer, but it was still rare to see women wearing them in public. One exception was Lucille Ball and her I Love Lucy costar Vivian Vance, both of whom occasionally appeared on the Lucy series in cropped pants called “pedal pushers.” Here Ball is seen in cuffed pedal pushers on the set of The Long, Long Trailer in 1954.
“Street” style had an entirely different meaning in the 1950s from today’s meaning. “[The] 1950s fashion moved style from the salons to the streets, as inventions in easy-care fabrics and speedier manufacturing systems meant that new silhouettes could be made for the masses,” writes Marie Claire. So by the mid-1950s, women were more apt to be seen wearing the glamorous styles for everyday wear.
Dressing for errands
In the 1950s, women didn’t slip into their yoga pants and head out to run errands but rather, they dressed for every occasion. Here, a woman stopping by a theatre box office to purchase tickets in 1953 pulls out all the glamorous stops with a lightweight “casual” suit with a pleated skirt and a cardigan-style jacket—and let’s not forget the jaunty little hat and white gloves.
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For the “fashionable woman” with a “narrow budget”
In 1953, the year Queen Elizabeth II was crowned, this outfit was advertised as “a charming afternoon ensemble…ideal for the coronation summer” and priced “for a woman with a narrow budget.”
Grace Kelly’s equestrian glamour
Grace Kelly was Hollywood royalty even before she became Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco when she married Prince Rainier III of Monaco in April 1956. Pictured here in March 1956, the soon-to-be-princess strikes the very image of equestrian glamour in New York City’s Central Park wearing sunglasses and a babushka-style headscarf. Notice that she’s riding side saddle, which was still a thing in the 1950s, although increasingly less-so.
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How affordable fur “stole” hearts
The 1920s saw the introduction of long fur coats as fashion. In keeping with the theme of accessible (read: affordable) fashion for the masses, the 1950s became the decade of the stole (a fur wrap). Of course, the fact that it debuted in Paris meant that the stole was also popular among the uber-glam like Princess Grace, seen here with her husband, Prince Rainier, at a gala celebrating the christening of their son, Prince Albert of Monaco.
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The “va-va-voom” decade
Although we might look back at the 1950s and think of the relatively conservative culture as “quaint,” if you were living back then, you were actually a witness to a revolution of sorts—as women in the post World War II era were becoming increasingly autonomous. As a result, sex symbols started looking less like the raven-haired, elegantly coiffed Louise Brooks and more like Marilyn Monroe.
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During the 1950s, smoking cigarettes were the height of glamour, and it didn’t get much more glamorous than Princess Margaret and her long cigarette holder. Sadly, Princess Margaret’s smoking eventually caught up with her. The younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II died in 2002 of a stroke.
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Elizabeth Taylor’s lingerie chic
On the set of 1958’s film, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Elizabeth Taylor smolders in a slip and holding a highball but the reality is, the slip was carefully designed to reveal, well, not all that much. As tame as it may seem by today’s standards, this glamorous look was considered highly provocative in its day.
Sporty but feminine
A professional athlete, the cricket-player Diana Ferry is seen adjusting her makeup during a match. It’s not just that her team was playing a team of men; it’s that women in the 1950s were held to a very high standard of femininity, even while playing serious sports.
A match made in glamour heaven
Hubert de Givenchy and Audrey Hepburn were the archetypal designer and muse combination. “Mr. Givenchy and Ms. Hepburn defined a relationship that has become the gold standard of almost every brand,” according to the New York Times. They worked together through seven films, and he designed the white dress she wore to win her Best Actress Oscar in 1954 and this dress, which she wore in 1954’s Sabrina.
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A regal tone
Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation took place on June 2, 1953. The sparkling, diamond-bedecked gown worn by the Queen for the event, made of white satin and embroidered with silver and gold thread, was designed specially by British Fashion designer Norman Hartnell and epitomizes 1950s glamour. Her Majesty was so awed by Hartnell’s design and craftsmanship that she requested this photo be taken in order to showcase it. Since the Coronation, the Queen has worn the dress no less than six times, according to the royal family’s official website.
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What Prince Philip wore
Glamour in the 1950s wasn’t reserved for women alone. Here Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh models a dashing suit featuring short pants and a long jacket.
A night at the opera
Traditionally, a night at the opera called for formal evening wear. If that seems like a lot of effort today, imagine back in 1952 when it involved white tie and an “opera cloak,” as modeled by the actor, Derek Bond.
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