What Midcentury Fashion Really Looked Like
Midcentury styles are not just for furniture – and nobody captured the era more perfectly than Milton Greene, famous for his fashion and celebrity photography during Hollywood’s golden age. From conservative designs to simple yet elegant ways to accentuate your natural features, here are ten examples of what midcentury fashion looked like in its heyday, as captured by Greene himself.
High fashion was all the rage during the Midcentury, as captured in Milton Greene’s tasteful photograph, Paris Fashion. In this black and white still, you can see model Sophie Litvak posing confidently in white, elbow-length gloves and a sleek black dress, topped off with an oversized fur coat, perfectly accentuating the 1950s vibe.
Simple and Elegant Accessories
Simple and elegant accessories, such as headwear, earrings, and necklaces, are a perfect example of Midcentury fashion. Greene captured this style perfectly in his photograph, Italian Fashion, which touts a beautiful Italian model donning pearl earrings and a necklace, which perfectly complements her matching dress and black headwear.
Bold, Yet Simple Makeup
Midcentury fashion did not exist without bold yet simple makeup applications, as seen in Greene’s elegant closeup, Eyes. Smokey and sepia-toned, this photograph captures the stunning, sensational eyes of a model whose gloved hand is covering her face, revealing only her eyes. Seemingly caught in a candid moment, one of Milton’s gifts was his timing. This subject uses dark, dramatic eyeliner to draw subtle yet loud attention rather than the modern flair for colors that we see today in many fashion influencers.
Unlike modern wedding dresses, many of which don’t leave much to the imagination, those designed during the midcentury boast a more subtle design. Greene, a pioneer of shooting fashion on-location, captured a midcentury wedding dress in all its glory, Irish Fashion (IRF 353). At the forefront of this photograph is house model, Ann Gunning, wearing a long-sleeved dress produced by rising designer Sybill Connelly. Notice the big veil and pleats on the bottom, a stark contrast from what modern-day women wear today.
Patterns were another style of fashion found at the height of the midcentury, as seen in Greene’s photo Irish Fashion (IRF-281). Featuring another grand design by Sybil Connelly, house model Anne Gunning sports an understated houndstooth patterned jacket that makes enough of a statement while continuing to blend in with the stylish preferences of the time.
Nothing says turn of the century fashion more than dramatic headwear, as seen in Greene’s work Life English Fashion. This stunning image showcases an English model wearing a bold sunhat complemented by a flashy fur shawl in 1953. Even over 60 years ago, young adult fashion prioritized a sense of adventurous and empowering individualism.
Could you imagine going to the beach dressed like model Lillian Marcuson as seen in Greene’s work, Fashion Virgin Islands? Outfits from this time show a preference for lounging in the sun rather than swimming along the coast. Notice the vintage elements she wears, such as the headscarf, large earrings, and belted dress-like swimsuit, all of which would not be considered a part of most standard beachwear ensembles today.
Believe it or not, midcentury formal attire is nothing like the fashion of today. An example of such attire is seen in Greene’s image, Norell, which captures 1960’s designer Norman Norell with his entourage of “mermaids.” The name certainly fits the style, as the long, slender dresses might easily remind one of a sequined mermaid’s tail.
Back in the day, everyday hairstyles were often medium-length and styled to compliment the person’s facial structure. A great example of what you could expect from a hairstylist in the midcentury can be found in Greene’s photograph Betsy, where the model is wearing a medium-length style curled inwards at the end with the top brushed back.
Whereas we might now associate flying in comfy clothes and a pair of headphones, vintage travel attire looked much different. As seen in Greene’s Vogue Airport image, midcentury travel fashion included elegant headwear, gloves, and a simple yet stylish outfit. Other must-accessories included sleek luggage and an accompanying walking stick if you wanted to look best out of the arrival gate.
Own a Piece of Midcentury Fashion History for Yourself
Midcentury fashion is undoubtedly a stark contrast from what we are used to today, from high fashion to travel wear and everything in between. If you enjoyed admiring such styles in these photographs, we invite you to browse the rest of our fashion archives, where you can order prints that may capture a stylish moment in history for yourself.