an undergraduate research project at the University of Maryland, College Park

       Bobby socks. Poodle skirts. James Dean's red leather jacket. These are just some of the iconographic images we associate with the 1950's. In these images, it looks like a time of blissful happiness and normality, with the fashion world being no exception.

       Fashion in the fifties was indeed a vibrant, thriving industry, with styles that relished the postwar freedom and prosperity. Production improved by leaps and bounds as manufacturers learned to apply wartime mass production techniques. There was no more shortage of the more refined fabrics, and people had enough money to dress as they pleased. Designers wasted no time, with Christian Dior coming out with the first major postwar collection in 1947. Launching themselves into an era of doubtless hope and prosperity, society at large began to dress the part immediately.
       But it goes far beyond that. Fashion designers of the times seemed to tap into the vein of the collective subconscious, bringing to life the numerous social struggles. Women's roles changed drastically as the soldiers returned home, reclaimed their jobs, and shooed a herd of newly independent women back to their "proper" place in the home. As fashion was a male dominated industry, the new designs emphasized a force feeling of a 'return to normality.' As the decade progressed, more designers introduced various landmark collections, shifting in a slightly less formal direction. With social tensions so well reflected in period fashions, it is easy to see continuing changes in appearance and its relative importance as it progresses into the hippie sixties.
       Women have dominated the realm of personal appearance throughout modern history, and continue to be its focus more and more everyday. For that reason, this project will revolve around female fashion. In this light, the project will also focus on how the fashion industry and its increasing importance was used to design a standard for postwar women as to what their new identities ought to be.
       It is often said that you can't judge a book by its cover. In this case, however, the cover lets use see right through into the story itself.



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