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TitleFashions of a Decade the 1950
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Fashions of a

Decade
The1950s

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32

The Man in the Gray
Flannel Suit
Corporation Man
Fifties man was much in demand at work, helping rebuild the economy, and also
on the social scene. War had proved his bravery, endurance, and ability to obey
orders. It was his turn to be waited on, after a day’s work, by his wife, the
homemaker. He didn’t have to be fashionable—that was her job—but as the
dependable breadwinner, his style of dress projected the image of a clean-cut,
white-collar company man: sober, mature, and anonymous.

This was the “man in the gray flannel suit,” the subject and title of a 1955
novel by Sloan Wilson. Such men
could be seen by the thousands
going to work every weekday
morning, all dressed in their
uniform of suit (usually single-
breasted), white shirt, silk tie, and
briefcase. Several fifties films
played on the idea of the man in
the gray flannel suit besides the
one based on Wilson’s novel,
which starred Gregory Peck. In
Alfred Hitchcock’s North by
Northwest, Cary Grant stars as a
Madison Avenue advertising man
accidentally caught up in Cold
War espionage through mistaken
identity. “Have you met our
distinguished guest?” asks the
chief villain, on capturing the
hero. “He’s certainly a well-
tailored one,” replies an
accomplice. After a hair-raising
adventure with a crop duster
armed with a machine gun, Grant
gets his suit dry-cleaned before
confronting the villains and finally
escaping death on the face of
Mount Rushmore. He overcomes
it all without changing his
executive suit.

.Hollywood’s men in gray flannel suits:
Cary Grant and James Mason star with ice
maiden Eva Marie Saint in Alfred Hitchcock’s
1959 thriller North by Northwest.

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Ivy Leaguers
The gray flannel suit had also long been a favorite among the Ivy Leaguers, the
college men of the long-established East Coast universities. The 1950s version
was usually charcoal gray with a two- or three-button (widely spaced), single-
breasted jacket, long and unwaisted, with narrow shoulders and one or
no back vent. It was said to conceal the bulkier form of the American man.
The English jacket was shorter and more fitted, usually with two back vents.
By the mid fifties, the softer “Continental” shape favored on the west coast of

America and in Europe emphasized a slimmer,
longer line, from lapel and shoulder widths

down to the more tapered trouser leg, now
without the cuff.

The introduction of man-made fibers
into men’s suits marked American

experiments in textures and color.

.Casual suits were now acceptable dress
not only for work but for many social
occasions, providing the trousers had knife
creases, the jacket fell well, and the shirt
cuffs were just visible under the sleeve
cuffs. Man-made fibers meant that the
weight of the suits could be reduced by
almost half. By the summer of 1957, jackets
were longer and the line emphasized by
softer shoulder padding and slim-cut lapels.

33

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Acknowledgments
The Publishers would like to thank the following for
permission to reproduce illustrations: B.T. Batsford 15,
29r, 33, 37, 39b, 43l, 44, 46r, 47bl, 48t, 51b, 54r, 56,
58l; BFI Stills 32, 39t, 48b, 51t, 53, 54l, 57; Getty
Images 9r, 14, 26t, 26b, 27l, 28r, 42, 45, 52;
International Wool Secretariat 27r; Kobal Collection 13,
28l, 34t, 50l; Lighthorne Pictures 8, 18, 21, 23, 34b,
47tl, 58r; Popperfoto 6, 29l, 30r, 31b, 36, 41r, 24/25;
Rex Features 11,12, 49, 50r; Topfoto 7b, 16, 17, 31t,
40t, 41l, 43r, 47r, 55, 59; Victoria & Albert Museum 30l;
Vintage Magazine Co. 7t, 9l, 10, 19, 20, 22, 35, 38, 40b,
46l

Key: b=bottom, t=top, l=left, r=right

63
Further Reading
A great deal has been written and published about the
1950s—this reading list is only a very small selection.
Magazines and movies of the period are another excellent
source of information.

Adult General Reference Sources
Calasibetta, Charlotte, Essential Terms of Fashion: A
Collection of Definitions (Fairchild, 1985).
Calasibetta, Charlotte, Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion,
2nd ed. (Fairchild, 1988).
Cumming, Valerie, Understanding Fashion History
(Chrysalis, 2004).
Gold, Annalee, 90 Years of Fashion (Fairchild, 1990).
O’Hara, Georgina, The Encyclopedia of Fashion (Harry N.
Abrams, 1986).
Olian, JoAnne, ed. Everyday Fashions of the Fifties as
Pictured in Sears Catalogs (Dover, 2002).
Peacock, John, Fashion Sourcebooks: The 1950s
(Thames & Hudson, 2000).
Peacock, John, Men’s Fashion: The Complete
Sourcebook (Thames & Hudson)
Peacock, John, Fashion Accessories: The Complete 20th
Century Sourcebook (Thames & Hudson, 2000).
Skinner, Tina, Fashionable Clothing from the Sears
Catalogs (Schiffer).
Trahey, Jane, ed., Harper’s Bazaar: 100 Years of the
American Female (Random House, 1967).
Watson, Linda, Twentieth–Century Fashion (Firefly,
2004).

Young Adult Sources
Ruby, Jennifer, The Nineteen Twenties & Nineteen
Thirties, “Costume in Context” series (David & Charles,
1989).
Wilcox, R. Turner, Five Centuries of American Costume
(Scribner’s, 1963).

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Index
Figures in italics refer to
illustrations.

Adrian 41
Amies, Hardy 24–25, 27
Armstrong, Louis 19

Baby Doll night wear 39, 51
Baker, Carroll 39, 51
Balenciaga, Cristobal 26,

40, 43
Ball, Lucille 7, 28
Balmain, Pierre 20
Bardot, Brigitte 26, 51, 53
beatniks 18, 52
Bermuda shorts 31, 35
Berry, Chuck 19
Bettina 26
bikini 31, 41, 51
Blackboard Jungle 59
Blakey, Art 19
Boone, Pat 48, 48
Brando, Marlon 15, 56

capri pants 12, 55
Cardin, Pierre 34
Cashin, Bonnie 42
Castro, Fidel 27
Cavanagh, John 24–25
chain stores 16, 26
Chanel, Coco 41, 43
Charles, Ray 52
China, People’s Republic of

6
civil rights movement 11
coffeehouses 54
Cold War 22, 32
Coleman, Ornette 19
Coltrane, John 19
Communism 8, 8, 16, 22,

52
cosmetics 46, 47
Cuba 27
Czechoslovakia 22

Davis, Miles 19, 52
Day, Doris 26, 48, 50
Dean, James 57, 59
Dior, Christian 20, 22,

24–25, 26, 27, 29, 40,
40, 41, 44, 50, 57, 59

drainpipe trousers 58
DuPont 36

Eckford, Elizabeth 9
Egypt 6, 23
Eisenhower, Dwight D. 6, 35
Elizabeth II, Queen 16
Explorer I 13

Fath, Jacques 18, 20
Ferragamo, Salvatore 46

Galanos, James 41
Ginsberg, Allen 54
Givenchy, Hubert de 26, 40
Goalen, Barbara 9
Grant, Cary 32

hairstyles 16, 47, 48, 54, 59
Haley, Bill 59
Harrison, Rex 16, 17
haute couture 20, 27, 40,

51
Hawaiian shirts 31, 34, 35
Hepburn, Audrey 55
Hitchcock, Alfred 32, 32, 50
Hollywood 8, 32, 48, 51
housewives 22, 28, 28, 36
Hungary 22

India 6
interior design 7, 20

Jackson, Mahalia 19
Jackson, Milt 52
jazz 19, 52, 54
jeans 12, 15, 26, 49, 50,

54, 56, 57, 59
Jones, Shirley 48

Kelly, Grace, 29, 50, 51, 51
Kendall, Kay 51
Kerouac, Jack 52, 54
Kerr, Deborah 51
King, Martin Luther, Jr. 9
Klein of Montreal 6
Korean War 8, 16
Kramer, Stanley 56
Khrushchev, Nikita 22

Lanvin, House of 20
Latin music 14

Leigh, Dorian 26
leisure wear 12, 14, 18, 20,

31, 34, 34, 35, 35
Lewis, Jerry Lee 58
Little Richard 14
Lockwood, Margaret 51
London 54, 58
Loos, Anita 41

Mainbocher 41
Mangano, Silvana 51
Marvin, Lee 56
Mason, James 32
Mattli, Guiseppe 9, 24–25
McCardell, Claire 30, 31,

42, 44
McCarthy, Joseph 8, 8, 52,

56
migration 9
Miller, Arthur 26, 26
Monroe, Marilyn 12, 26, 26,

51
motorcycles 15, 56

Nasser, President Gamal
Abdel 23

“New Look” 22, 26, 29, 40,
50

New York 41, 54
Norell, Norman 41
Novak, Kim 51
nuclear bomb 8, 13

O’Day, Anita 19

Page, Patti 7
Paris 24–25, 27, 27, 40, 41,

42, 46, 51, 54
Peck, Gregory 32
pedal pushers 12, 30, 55
pencil skirt 12, 41, 46, 59
Presley, Elvis 14, 59
Pucci, Emilio 31
Pugh, Bronwen 23

racial discrimination 9, 52
ready-to-wear 16, 26
Reard, Louis 31
Rebel Without a Cause 57,

59
rebellion, youth 14, 15, 56,

59

Reynolds, Debbie 13, 26,
29, 48

rock and roll 14, 14, 19
Rome 55
Russell, Jane 26, 51, 51

Saint, Eva Marie 32
Saint Laurent, Yves 26, 40
segregation 9
shoes 14, 18, 29, 29, 30,

47, 48, 50, 54, 55, 58
sloppy Joe sweaters 54, 54
space race 13
sportswear 18, 19, 20, 31,

31, 34
Sputnik 13
Stalin, Joseph 8, 22
Stiebel, Victor 24–25
Suez crisis 23
suits 11, 14, 29, 31, 32, 32,

33, 33, 34, 34, 35, 39,
40, 43, 58, 59

swimwear 6, 31, 31, 41, 44,
51

synthetic fabrics 9, 14, 19,
20, 22, 30, 31, 33, 33,
34, 36, 37, 38, 39, 39, 47

Taylor, Elizabeth 51
Teddy Boys 58
television 7, 7, 14, 28, 48,

49, 56
Truman, Harry 16, 35
twinset 12, 59

underwear 19, 20, 29, 36,
44, 45, 46, 47, 47

United Nations 23
USSR 8, 13, 16, 22, 23

Washington, Dinah 19
Williams, Esther 31, 31
Wilson, Sloan 32
World War II 6, 8, 9, 14, 22,

26, 28, 32, 35, 36, 42,
52, 56

young fashion 11, 11, 12,
14, 30, 51, 53, 54, 54,
55, 55, 58, 59

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