Friday, 16 November 2012

The New Look

One of the most iconic looks for a vintage loving gal is the full skirted dresses, or circle skirts, this was due a to a huge post war backlash at the effects rationing had on fashion (restrictions on seams, hems and trimming were immense), the 'New Look' introduced (or more accurately re-introduced) in the late 1940s by Christian Dior was supposed to be feminine stylish, extravagant and sensational. Given it has lasted as a style often emulated in the decades since it is clear it achieved these aims.

Paris is a city synomonous with high fashion, but during the war in its occupied years it was isolated and lost much of its influence on fashion- until 1947. Christian Dior launched his most famous and controversial range- the Corolle line, or as it is mroe commonly know the 'New Look'. It was controversial because rationing was still in force and the amount of fabrics required for this style was huge (as anyone who has made or indeed worn a circle skirt would know), and it was sensational because the wartime tailored sharp lines were changed in not in stages but abruptly and completely (although the styles took some time to filter through society). Although this was shocking at the time it was not a totally new idea as just prior to the war some other designers had showed similar directions until the war put a stop to any form of extravagance.

The New look specifically introduced huge skirts- billowing or circular, the hem-lines dropped significantly (to mid-calf), waists were shrunk, hips and busts emphasised.  The hard edges so prominent in the 1940s were softened and shaped.  Details, trimmings and fabrics were plentiful and luxurious.  It was not just outer garments that changed but under-garments too suffered an overhaul to help construct the new shape this fashion requried (see foundation garment series).  Bullet bras, corsets, girdles and huge stiffened petticoats were all considered vital components of this fashion.  However, it was not just the bigger skirts which were fashionable but the sheath or wiggle dresses which were produced throughout the era, although the skirts were narrower (far narrower!) at the hem they still had the same principles of the 'New Look' with the same softer more feminine look and the same curvaceous emphasis- in fact there were not just two shapes but a different silhouette every season seemed to be introduced.  
Left: 1980s does 1950s red shirt-waister dress available here; right: 1950s dance skirt- not yet listed contact us for info

Dior's look did not just dominate 1947.  Nor the rest of that decade.  It was a look that dominated the majority of the following decade too.  Which is why although introduced in the 1940s, the vintage garments that are found of this fashion are usually form the 1950s as it takes some time to filter down from the designers   If you like this style or are looking to create a vintage look for an event this is a fairly easy one to emulate, as you can get original vintage items from the era, vintage revivals - there was a huge 1950s style revival in the 1980s - and now there are several companies who specialise in creating reproduction dresses and skirts, such as Collectif or Vivien of Holloway.  At Lesley's Girls we are continually getting dresses in that look nothing much except reams of skirt fabric until you put them on (either yourself or the mannequin) and realise that all they need is the right foundation  garment or belt to create the shape that the item was intended for.  Or if you are feeling ambitious you can make your own circle by getting a vintage pattern (you can find hundreds on Etsy) and recreating your own unique piece.

One of the reasons it was so loved and taken into the heart of western fashion in the era is not just because it was new, different and beautiful- but because it reflected a new hope prevalent in society. A hope that rationing would soon be over, and that a better more prosperous future lay ahead.  Once again, showing fashion is not simply a shallow occupation for the clothes horses but can be a mirror for the state of mind and the events in the life of an individual or even a society.

Sources: Laver, James: "Costumes & Fashion" Thames and Hudson 1996; Peacock, John: "The Complete Fashion Sourcebook" Thames and Hudson, 2009; Rhodes, Zandra (foreword) "Vintage Fashion" Carlton 2010

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful post and accompanying images. There is no look in mid-twentieth century fashion that I adore more than Dior's New Look. From the wasp waists to the full skirts, the return to more feminine tailoring to the wide platter hats that often accompanied his sublime outfits, I can never, ever get enough of this game changing style of vintage design, and often let it inspire many of my own outfits.

    ♥ Jessica


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