Thursday, 15 November 2012

The Fabulous Fifties –

- or were they?

While the younger generations are drooling over the plethora of Mid-Century designs that are currently filling our shops, I have to confess to living up to my nickname as ‘The Awkward Squad’.

Yes, the 1950s certainly had the potential to be ‘fabulous’; just look at this list of thoroughly positive events, many of them hailing a new era of prosperity after the austerity of WW2 – though I also remember the threat of 'The Bomb' being very present in our everyday lives as we saw photos of test explosions in our newspapers and on television, once that arrived in our homes!

Prime Minister, Harold - you've never had it so good! - Macmillan

I remember making endless sketches of models
 in this pose and wearing outfits almost identical to this!

·    1947: Dior introduce the ‘New Look’ with longer, fuller skirts reflecting the availability of more fabric once WW2 was over. And by the fifties, these fashions had filtered through to ordinary people.


·    1951: The Festival of Britain, celebrating everything newly achieved, especially in the field of Technology.

·    1951: The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth ll. I watched it at a neighbour’s house on a tiny black and white screen, encased in a huge polished wood cabinet, along with several dozen other neighbours! And such was the atmosphere of optimism at this time of renewal that my generation were to be called, ‘The New Elizabethans’.

·    1956: The start of the Eurovision Song Contest. Now generally regarded as a ripe source of comedy, when it was introduced, we all marvelled at the coming together of so many European nations and at the miracle of television that could, when it worked, bring them all together!

 ·    1957: I remember seeing political posters on hoardings, telling us that we’d ‘Never had it so good!’

·    1957: The Treaty of Rome, which later gave rise to the European Union.

·    1957: Science and Space Exploration were beginning to make the news – the Russians launched their ‘Sputnik’.

So, yes, I agree that there was much to celebrate in the Fifties. 

But, for me, the fifties can be summed up in one word and that word is ‘synthetic’.

Although they had been invented a lot earlier, it was the decade when plastic and nylon began to replace the more traditional materials in the home. Obviously this made for some much more hygienic products, but my memory is of my plastic doll’s house chairs with easily broken – and un-mendable! – legs.

Bri-nylon sheets were all the rage and drip-dry shirts were welcomed as ‘labour-saving’ – but in reality both were pretty ghastly!

For the sake of keeping in fashion and saving on work at the same time, my mother began to replace some of our beautiful, old and solid, wooden furniture with lightweight ‘contemporary’ pieces – that word alone is enough send shivers down my spine!

Fablon and Formica appeared everywhere – again in the name of hygiene and ease of cleaning – and what horrified me most was when it was made to look like wood!!!

It was very much like the one on the left!
The fashionable colours tended to be drab. I particularly detested the ‘Mushroom’ paint which replaced the sparkling white in our large Victorian home and the 'tangerine' of my sister's 'duster coat' was a pale imitation of the current Tangerine Tango!

I suspect things were different in other parts of the world, but in my neck of the woods, there still wasn’t much of a ‘teenage’ transition from childhood to adulthood. The trip to the shoe shop to buy my first non-functional lace-ups or sandals, was a nightmare as the next step up was really ‘grown-up’ shoes, as worn by my much older sisters.

Gradually the idea of the ‘teenager’ did creep into our consciousness but it was associated with beehive hairstyles, hooped petticoats that rose up and biffed you in the nose if you sat down without taking due care! And really extreme winkle-picker shoes! These items seem to have been virtually left out of the current fashion for everything Mid-Century – maybe that’s why!

So maybe I can be forgiven for my lack of enthusiasm for all things Mid-Century? After all, if that era is now regarded as ‘vintage’, I suppose I must be ‘vintage too, something I tend to forget about! 


For the sake of 'flexing my design muscle', I've attempted to carry out a design brief for giftwrap in Tangerine Tango (the 2012 Pantone Colour of the Year - but far from my favourite) in a Mid-Century style -

I think it turned out a bit better than I expected - but I'm still looking forward to the day when 'Retro' is replaced with something genuinely NEW!

In the meantime, here's something I grew up with - a far cry from the Queen Elizabeth who parachuted into the Olympic Stadium, alongside James Bond just a few months ago!


Michele said...

I too am sick of vintage. I was a teenager in the 80's, now I have to watch my teenager wearing 'skinny jeans' (we called them drainpipes), hideously unflattering to all shapes and sizes. As for history, nothing changes, last time I went to London my mother warned me about extremeist islamist terrorist attacks, I reminded her that I worked in London aged 17 when the IRA were regularly blowing things up. Same trousers, same terrorists, just new names...

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Michele - very pleased to see that I'm not alone in my dislike of 'retro' and 'vintage'.

Those skinny jeans that you mention were also the 'drainpipe trousers' favoured by 'Teddy Boys' - the name being coined in 1953!

jean pell said...

Judy, This is a fun post. You brought back a few memories. Can't say the styles were the best but neither were the 70's. Remember the Leisure Suits?

Glad you are enjoying your birds!:)

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Jean

I'm sure you're not really old enough to have memories of the Fifties!!! And yes, I remember those suits and I'm glad to say I was never persuaded into one!

It's funny the way we love the styles at the time and then look back and laugh at them, isn't it! My problem with the Fifties is that I didn't even like the fashions at the time!

nadine mnemoi said...

I guess it's a question of taste. I like the 50's, actually , the period that I'm not fond at all is 80's with the fluorescent color everywhere, lol !

Liz Minton said...

Your post really made me laugh Judy. I must confess I am a bit of a vintage fan. I was born in 1960, but there was a lot of that dreary stuff still hanging around from the 50s while I was a child. I do think there was some lovely textile designs in the 50s, but the designs from the 50s that we see now is probably the very best of it. I'm sure there was plenty of uninspiring stuff too.

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Nadine - thank you very much for your comments. Yes, it is a matter of taste and you've just reminded me of the fluorescents in the 80s that I had forgotten! the things I associate most with the 80s are the huge shoulder pads white socks for men!

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Liz - really glad I made you laugh! I think we tend to take ourselves too seriously when it comes to fashion - aka 'trends'! - not thinking about the fact that we'll probably look back in amusement/horror when the next fashion takes over!

Judy Adamson said... said...

50's not fantastic to me...but the now the 60's they were awesome. The Beatles, wild colors and long straight hair. Oh, well, guess I am vintage too since now anything from the 60's is made into a Halloween costume! :-)

Hi Crystal - I loved the Sixties too, for very much the same reasons as yours, plus all the really pretty flowery fabrics etc!

If you're 'vintage', is there a stage beyond that for me? :)

Carole Barkett said...

Great post so much I'd forgotten. Those beehive hairdos. I saw a group of girls yesterday and had to remind myself that it wasn't the 70's. They had the bell bottom pants and fringed leather jackets which were all the rage here.
I love your patterns but just cannot abide orange for some reason.

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Carole - thank you for your comments. Yes, I was glad when Vidal Sasson/Mary Quant came along and liberated us from the beehives! In fact, I agree with Crystal about the Sixties - everything about them was liberating after the Fifties!

Mariana said...

I'm a sixties baby, but oh, do I remember pretend-wood formica ... ack unfortunately yes. Not for me ta.

Love your Autumn Leaves pattern collection though!

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Mariana - thank you for your kind comments on my Autumn Leaves. I'm glad I'm not the only person who remembers all that pretend-wood that is probably best forgotten!

Jayne said...

Great post Judy. I was born in 56 so my memories of the fifties are few, except what I have since on TV and in magazines. I'm not a fan of the retro style. Vintage I think of as more the Victorian or Edwardian eras.

Judy Adamson said...

Thank you, Jayne - I'm exactly the same as you when it comes to thinking of the Victorian/Edwardian styles as 'vintage' - we must be out of date! LOL - but those are styles I love and I think a lot of others do as well, judging by all the 'shabby chic' boards on Pinterest!