The Nifty '50s

By Katie Neipris

September 25, 2014 5 min read

The 1950s remain one of the most iconic fashion decades ever, leaving us with a roster of timeless well-dressed characters -- the put-together housewife, the voluptuous pinup, the doe-eyed girl giggling over a milkshake. Whether you prefer the ever so demure Grace Kelly, the bold rockabilly queen or the ruthlessly impeccable homemaker, the '50s have something for everyone. Though you may worry that emulating these classic style icons might look a bit dated, we're confident that you can incorporate these trends into your modern wardrobe.

--Prints. Every girl has a few staple prints in her closet. If you have anything floral, plaid (the bigger the better) or polka-dotted, congratulations! You are now one step closer to embracing your inner '50s goddess. Prints are best done in moderation, and the modern pieces in your closet can help set them off without having them look overwhelming, e.g., a large-polka-dot top with dark skinny jeans.

--Accessories. Pearls! Saddle shoes! Even something as small as contrasting visible buttons can lend a vintage vibe to any outfit. The key to maintaining a hint of '50s glamour without going overboard is to balance the old and new; let the accessories supplement the outfit but never dominate it. Complementary accents are everything. Pale pink or bright red nails are a must. If you want to play with a vibrant head accessory -- such as a bandanna or cat-eye glasses -- try pairing it with a modern dress, and balance them out with plain bright flats or nude sandals. The most important rule of emulating the nifty '50s is to be put together, and this means coordination among every element of your outfit. Fingers and toes must complement the lips. Remember, ladies, that if your fingernails match your toenails and your bra matches your panties, you can conquer the world.

--Statement pieces. Remember that poodle skirt you wore to your sixth-grade decades dance? Comfortable, right? The '50s were all about iconic pieces that women could still move around in -- and, most importantly, felt confident in. We began to get the idea that a piece of clothing was connected to an identity in and of itself. (Who could forget James Dean's red jacket?) If you want to rock your own poodle skirt today, by all means do so. Just remember to balance noteworthy with neutral. A plain article of clothing does not mean a boring article of clothing; it's simply giving the spotlight to another element of your appearance, whether it's dress, hair or makeup. Even the simplest staple can still be used to your advantage. The '50s redefined the little black dress, bringing it to a whole new level of essential femininity. Other necessary staples are also enjoying recent comebacks. Remember how Marilyn Monroe rocked those high-waisted shorts in "Some Like It Hot"? Now you can, too! If you're feeling a little more "Jailhouse Rock" than "Chantilly Lace," break out your old leather jacket. You can keep it looking sweet by wearing it over a floral dress, or maintain your modern rocker vibe with dark skinny jeans and Urban Outfitters-approved boots. Want to pump up your outfit with an appropriate level of midcentury sex appeal? Pair a bustier with a skirt or shorts and a giant comfy sweater. You'll show a little without showing too much; just what Dr. Liz Taylor ordered!

--Silhouettes. My favorite part about 1950s fashion is that it's designed for the female body as it is, birthing hips and all. It celebrates femininity instead of creating unrealistic standards for how our clothes should look. If you're trying to re-create a truly '50s-inspired outfit, consider creating an hourglass shape. Look for dresses that are slimmest at the waist. You can also create an hourglass by belting dresses with a sweetheart neckline. Don't like wearing dresses? Try capris (black, true to Pink Ladies style) with a shirt-sleeve button-down.

The '50s offer something for everyone, from cute to classic to vixen to wholesome. The wise words of Edith Head capture the spirit of the decade: "Your dresses should be tight enough to show you're a woman and loose enough to show you're a lady."

Check out online retailers ModCloth and Blue Velvet Vintage for both reproduction and original pieces.

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