Freedom, tolerance and well-being: the principles of a decade that had just emerged from the war. The same desire for autonomy and youth that the stars of American films made us dream of in packed out cinemas is in the air.
Fashion too is a symbol in these years of economic and social revival. Women, who during the war had put on men’s shirts to tackle the lack of manpower, can now reclaim their femininity. Wardrobes are updated: Christian Dior at the end of the ‘40s launched the New Look, a style that dominated in the ‘50s and was addressed to a woman of class. The well-known Coco Chanel, with sober, elegant lines, anticipated the prêt-à-porter of the ‘60s, with the move from tailor-made clothing to standardized sizes.
However, it is menswear that really reflects social change in action. Style and elegance coexist in anyone from the stars of the big screen to the New Jersey office worker and the new citizens of the future Italian metropolises. In North by Northwest Cary Grant seduces women all over the world with the charm of an English gentleman, refined in both manners and dress. The key elements: man’s shirt strictly white, grey jacket and a tie of the same shade. In Italy Vittorio De Sica’s Miracle in Milan came out and the typical outfit of the cinema goer is the man’s shirt with the straight-point collar and decidedly long collar points, single and double breasted jackets and trousers that are narrower than the previous decade.
Italian fashion at the time distinguished itself abroad by focusing on quality tailoring. It was precisely in the ‘50s that the concept of Made in Italy as an indicator of excellence came about.
Along with this classic, timeless fashion, there was also more transgressive and provocative clothing. If at home and in the office men start to wear mismatched jackets and trousers and the man’s shirt is sometimes worn without a jacket, in England the first boys in blazers with shiny buttons are seen on the streets, a symbol of belonging to a college or club. However, it is the combination of jeans and white T-shirts that personify the myth of the Hollywood rebels. The most prominent were James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause and Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront, representing an absolute novelty and becoming revolutionary icons of the time. Then the magnificent ‘60s made clothing the way to express one’s identity.
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