fashions of the 1940's & 1950's

Fashions changed very noticeably when the men and women of the services were demobolised after the Second World War. Khaki and green disappeared from the streets almost overnight and people returned to traditional fashions for business wear, but looked for brighter colours and smarter styles in casual clothes.

Civilian clothing of the early 1940's were constrained by the restrictions of the War. The rationing of essential commodities that was introduced during World War II in Australia, continued on some items until 1950, but on meat and clothing it was lifted in mid 1948. This obviously had an effect on the range of material available. Most clothes were still hand made, up until the late 50's and dressmakers and tailors were in high demand. Worn out shoes and leather goods were repaired by boot makers and clothes, like everything else, were made to last. The built-in obsolescence of the throw away generations had not yet started.

Neatness in dress and appearance were the stand out fashions through the late 1940's and the 1950's. For men in business the pinstripe suit was the universal uniform and up until the 1960's, many companies applied dress rules that required male staff to wear suits and hats to work. There was some relaxation for junior staff, who, while it was preferred that they wear hats to the office, it was not a requirement for them to do so. However there was a strict rule that if a male employee was wearing a cardigan, he had to keep his coat on in the office. These were some of the rules I remember from a company I worked for in 1959 for a short time.

Men's wartime hairstyle of short back and sides was pretty-much standard until the early 60's, with a little dab of "Brilcream" to keep it parted and in place. It wasn't until the late 50's that crew cuts and ducksbum hairstyles for the teenage set started to creep in from America. I guess that was part of the Rock and Roll fashion that that young generation aspired to.

Mens ties, immediately after the War shot to bright patterns and colours, but soon went back to more conservative styles. The width of ties went to wide then back to very narrow with square ends, then settled around a medium width for some years.

Casual, beach and party wear for men consisted of short shorts, usually white, with a brightly patterned shirt in the Hawaiian style. Leather sandles gave way to universal rubber thongs in the 50's. Striped T shirts appeared around that time too. Manufacturers labels were always concealed. Jeans did not become popular until the 1960's or 70's.

In the 50's, girls hair was generally worn short, as were shorts at the beach or at the Island dances, generally worn with colourful tops. At the town dances it was mostly calf length skirts or dresses. Rope petticoats supported the skirts to provide a wide hemline. Gloves and stockings were worn on all formal occasions.

It seems to me that fashion simply dictates the uniform of the day. Whether it is the short shorts, rubber thongs and coloured shirts of the 1950's, the blue jeans and T shirts of the 70's or the calf length baggy pants, dull colours and manufacturers advertising of the new century, it is the uniform of the day that has to be worn to show that you conform to whatever everyone else conforms to.

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