The image of women wearing full skirts with fitted waists is the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of the fifties in fashion. The end of WW2 and subsequently the war time rationing meant that the sensible and minimalist looks of the 40s were soon replaced with more elaborate designs, luxury fabrics and revealing silhouettes. The 50s saw the emergence of Dior’s New Look, with its full skirts, generous embellishments such as buttons and trims as well as matching accessories. We allso saw a departure from sombre colour pallettes and the emergence of florals, pastels, ginghams and bright colours.
Women who had assisted in factories and offices during the war time effort increasingly maintained their war time jobs. Other women were all too happy to return to their lives at home but now had enough income to invest in a new wardrobe that would help them forget the dreariness of war time. Fashion houses and department stores saw this as an opportunity to market a new kind of clothing line, one that would maintain the functionality of the wartime outfits with their pockets, easy wash and no iron fabrics but at the same time were more elegant and cheerful to look at. They called it Day Wear.
These were outfits women could wear at home while keeping the house, doing the grocery run, picking the children up from school or visiting their hair salon. They were casual but chic. Day wear dresses with wide pockets, cap sleeves and matching jackets and boleros became a department store standard. Clothes were equal parts cute and utilitarian to boot! It was an exciting time for fashion, with former taboos around women’s lives being broken left right and centre.
Enter the Capri pant!
Originally part of a collection by designer Sonja De Lennart, these high waisted, hip hugging little numbers became a casual chic alternative to full skirted day dresses. Often paired with button down blouses or sweater twin sets, the pant hems varied from just below the knew or just above the ankle. They were often fastened at the side with buttons and zippers, or at the back. Some had large embroidered pockets at the front for the lady of the house to store important items of her arsenal like keys, dress maker chalk and her trusty little black book.
Audrey Hepburn famously paired hers with cute turtle neck sweaters and ballet flats, keeping up with her gamine pixie image that we all find so endearing today.
That’s not to say that pants were necessarily seen as lacking sex appeal. Cigarette pants were a variation on the housewife capris. Almost skin tight and made of new stretch fabrics such as bengaline, they were worn with waist cinching belts and the newly popular stiletto heels to accentuate an hourglass figure and (ahemm) other ASSets.
Jayne Mansfield’s feature in the fall 1956 issue of Laff (a popular lads magazine) had women equally fawning over her sexy stretch leopard print pants (albeit for a differentg reason than their boyfriends!). They were so popular that several companies recreated them for their collections.
Long and short of it, whether you were Suzie Homemaker or the Switchblade Dame in stiletto heels, capri and cigarette pants were one of the most versatile fashion items to come out of this decade.
Quick style guide:
Shoes to wear them with them:
- Ballet flats (casual and cute)
- Espadrilles or wedges (beach chic/ summer chic)
- Loafers (office chic)
- Springolaters, mules or stilletto heels (sexy, femme fatale
- Button down blouse
- Gingham off the shoulder tops (
- Sweater and chemise combo
- Peasant tops
Here’s where to buy some amazing reproduction ones: