Fashion is a historical representation of the times we live in. For example, it can help illustrate how modest or free society was at a time, or can indicate a person's status in society, or can highlight revolutionary changes in the world. I always like then and now perspectives to compare and contrast how we once were vs. where we are now, and for this take, let's take a look at women's fashion in the 1950s vs. what it is today.
The 50's really and truly were all about keeping up appearances. Man in his work suit, and his wife, expertly attired, sucked and tucked in, the perfect "happy" housewife. If ones wife looked put together, it was a sign the family was doing well. A woman's outfits at the time required serious amounts of work to maintain as did the rest of her look from her hair down to her shoes. Added to that was the pressure to maintain this air of perfection all the time in public. Although in the 21st century, women don't generally desire to look like all out slobs, there is a much more casual attitude to both men and women's attire. People wear gym clothes and outfits with holes purposely ripped into them for goodness sakes...I think we've long ago shed the 50's fashion skin of perfection.
DRESSES AND SKIRTS
Hourglass was the name of the game as was the "wasp waist." The silhouette flattered the bust, nipped in at the waist, and then flared out marvelously over the hips, a silhouette that has been said by many to be the most flattering silhouette for women, then and now. Other options for skirts and dresses included circle skirts or pencil skirts most definitely all to the knee or lower during this decade.
Just about anything goes from the mini all the way to the maxi. The 21st century is a buffet of choices when it comes to silhouette, fabrics, length, color, necklines, etc. The one major difference is a lack of crinolines and cages which one held the skirt or dress outward. Most women for everyday wear prefer a slimmer to the body silhouette or at least a skirt/dress that isn't as puffed out as it's crinoline bound predecessors.
Prior to the 40s war time era, pants were not acceptable wear for women. However in the 40's, women made their first foray into wearing pants because skirts presented such a hazard during war time era work. They were seen as practical as opposed to the fashion. In the 50s, rather than the big men's wear wide legged pant of war work jumpsuits, ladies opted for much more tailored and fitted pairs. There was to be no extra bulk in the knee in particular nor pooling of the pants around the ankles. The two major styles were capri and cigarette pants. Many women can only dream of the huge pocket length and width on denim of the day; a tie over from war era work jeans. Denim Dungarees as they were called, unfortunately were not to be worn in school or about town, but for casual evenings at home or around the house. A loose pair of shorts, to or above the knee, were also worn in this era, though much more for sporting and boating events or around the house rather than everyday wear.
Although the two styles remain in the 21st century, the carpi and cigarette pant, the silhouette of today is most certainly the skinny jean/pant. Tight through the hip following the line of the leg, and cut to the ankle with small pockets. Many women find the style flattering and comfortable as they are most certainly like the other popular style, the legging. Not quite a pant, but women sure do wear them as such. Popular in the 80s, but making an insane level of comeback in the 21st century minus the stirrup, leggings as everyday wear are staple pieces for most women who wear their more stylized versions to ones meant to be worn in the gym. As far as shorts, almost any length will do, although they do remain one of the least formal items a woman can wear.
This is where crinoline came out to play in full force. Wedding dresses were layers upon layers of crinolines underneath magnificently detailed lace and satin ball gowns, usually short sleeved or long and worn with gloves. These dresses were hand made quality works of art. Length was usually chapel length or tea length.
Just about anything goes these days from dresses in full color, to short mini dresses, to the old classic ball gown. The more popular and figuring flattering silhouette of today is reminiscent of the old school hourglass dresses of the 50's in the mermaid/fishtail style of dress. Flattering bust, nips in at the waist, rounds over the bottom and flares out about the knee emphasizing the wearers shape and detail. Chiffon, lace, satin, horsehair, beading, embellishments, etc all adorn the modern dresses. There is no real emphasis except in certain cultures/religions on the dress being modest and chaste as they were in the 50s. Modern dresses have slits down the front, lingerie styling, low backs, plunging fronts, bare shoulders, sheer fabrics--all to the wearers liking.
Around this time, more and more skin was in at the beach. These suits were no longer full shoulder to knee or mid thigh wool suits of previous decades. Shoulders, backs, and the waist could now be bare, though the belly button could not be shown and hips needed to be more full coverage. The bust also began to have supports built into them like regular bras.
Women are much more free with how much skin they can or want to show at the beach. Thong bikini's, microkinis, heck, nude beaches, are a possibility. For the most part, women wear to the beach what they wear in underwear form. Most beaches simply have a policy that the private parts must be covered.
The night "gown" and the night coat were real staples of this era. There were versions with shorts worn by the younger set. It can almost be looked back upon as formal sleep wear in comparison to what is worn to bed these days.
Most women toss on a pair of comfy cotton shorts/sleep pants and t-shirts for bed. There is of course night lingerie which one tends to wear in the company of others, but we all know when left to our own devices, it's 100% soft comfy cotton!
Beauty is pain know thy name is girdle. If you're looking through old pictures from the 50s, you will almost always notice that the waist is what we call today, "snatched." This was made so by girdles which are a bit less restrictive than the previous centuries corset, but still very confining to the body. This garment sucked you in tight creating the "wasp waist." Many found them to be uncomfortable and itchy especially in hot weather. At the time, foundation, as in one's undergarments, were definitely the key to maintaining the hourglass figure. Most girls also would be very familiar with petticoats, cages, crinolines, slips, and the conical bra of the time which definitely made the bust unnaturally perky.
Our version of the girdle today would be Spanks, though most women only wear such a garment for a big event such as a wedding or gala where a more formal gown or dress is to be worn and a slimmer or more hour glass silhouette is desired. For most women, a simple natural shape cup bra and panties (or thong to avoid VPL) is all that is needed for day to day wear. Many retro styles exist, but the majority just stick to what is now considered the standard. Most women will not see crinoline unless they go to a Quince or their wedding, and most have never worn a slip which was meant to give the wearer more modesty under thin fabrics. This has been replaced largely in part by designers building in underskirts and linings to their clothing.