The 50s: a decade when women wore pink meringues

Prom frocks and arch glamour from the Fifties are returning to the forefront of fashion and to the cinema screen. Marion Hume reports

This is a tale about fashion, film and coincidence. First, fashion: the clothes you see here are in the style of the 1950s - either current designer versions or second-hand finds of the real thing - and very much the thing for spring 1995.

Second, film: the person you see here is not a model but an actress, Kate Winslet, who co-stars in what looks likely to be one of the films of 1995, which is set in the Fifties.

As for the coincidence, well, that's a personal aside - the character Kate plays is called Juliet Marion Hulme, which is, close to my name. However, Kate's character is a teenage murderess, so there the similarity ends.

The film in question is Heavenly Creatures, to be released here on 10 February. It has nothing to do with fashion, any more than did the fashion world's last favourite movie, The Piano. Yet it has captured the attention of the international fashion pack.

Actually, it has captured a lot more than that. One of the stars of the Venice film festival, Heavenly Creatures is garnering great reviews. In the fashion media, it is managing to grab all the gold stars Robert Altman must have thought would be his for the too-much talked about Pret a Porter, which will be released here in March. Meanwhile, Heavenly Creatures has been rapturously reviewed in American Vogue and selected by Women's Wear Daily as the number one film of 1994.

It tells the true story of two obsessive teenage girls in Fifties New Zealand who create a world of fantasy so precious to them that their thoughts turn to murder when this is threatened. One of these girls is Kate Winslet's character.

Winslet was 17 and working part-time in a delicatessen in Reading, her home town, when she won the role that has thrust her into the spotlight. Now a self-assured 19-year-old, she explains that although the clothes you see here are the right period, theyare not like those she wore in the film, "where I wear rather dowdy, young girl's clothes."

Instead, these glamorous Fifties styles remind Winslet of the clothes worn by another actress in Heavenly Creatures, Diana Kent, who played her mother, Hilda Hulme. "I loved all the clothes she had to wear. I've always adored dressing up so while we wereon set, I used to sneak off to her wardrobe and slip on her costumes.

Now Fifties glamour has returned. The prom dress you see here is an original, but should you want a new version, Dries van Noten can provide. Van Noten has something of an obsession with the prim and proper day wear of the Fifties and with its fit and flare evening glamour. His prom dresses are powdery pink with satin binding.

Also playing with history is Jean Paul Gaultier, whose dress, shown here, is designed to make an entrance and, with its bone bodice and bell-shaped skirt, it offers a fast (but pricey) route to instant glamour.

There are plenty of original pieces to be found in second-hand shops.While you would be hard pressed to find anything truly Seventies-groovy left at your local Help the Aged there are plenty of opportunities to snap up Fifties clothes. Pretty beaded cardigans, sculpted little jackets and big flouncy party dresses can be found nationwide.

"Although there is not as much as there was, of course," says Pat Fox who runs an antique clothing shop called Modes in Norwich. She has been in business for 17 years and a collector of vintage clothing for 30 years.

She confirms that there is a renewed interest in Fifties style, "although here, the customer tends to be rather young. She might be a student wanting a ballgown for a social "do" at the university and I also get a lot of interest from young people who are learning to rock and roll. I was a teenager in the Fifties, so I know what was worn and am able to help them with what should go with what."

"I have maybe 40 jackets from the 1950s," says Janet Stokes of London's antiques emporium Cornucopia. "The tailoring, the bound buttonholes, the beautiful construction of Fifties jackets would be impossible to find in modern clothes unless you paid hundreds of pounds, and perhaps not even then."

Stokes recommends Fifties style for women as well as young girls, "I've been here 17 years. I am not young, but Fifties clothes are so good for the figure, they give you a very nice shape."

Stokes believes designers are rediscovering the decade of arch elegance in the nick of time: "There are still originals around, but the really extraordinary stuff, well you just can't find it any more."

A search for a huge, sweeping entrance dress in lavender moire satin plus 25 yards of tulle, an original of the version John Galliano is now offering would prove difficult. However, the search for less fabulous, but very wearable Fifties pieces is not impossible, as Kate Winslet can bear witness.

She is pretty busy now, what with being one of the hottest young English actresses around, but she finds time to trawl the shops. "I've fallen in love with Fifties style," she says, "and find myself going into every second-hand store with an open door."

v Cotton chintz dress with buttons to the waist, three-quarter sleeves and a full skirt, £25, from a selection at Cornucopia, 12 Upper Tatchbrook Street, London SW1; sequin leaf hat, £15, and lace gloves, £2.50, from Modes, St Benedict's Antique Centre, 80-84 St Benedict's Street, Norwich; diamante leaf ear-rings, by Schiaparelli, £120, from Maze, Alfie's Antique Market, 13-25 Church Street, London NW8

cPrinted silk chiffon halterneck ballgown with rushed bodice, £381, from the Gallery of Antique Costume - and Textiles, 2 Church Street, London NW8. Crystal dangle ear-rings, £80, by Stanley Hagler, from Maze, as before cPrinted silk fitted slip dress with attached silk under-dress, £230, and satin high-heeled pumps, £165, both by Dries van Noten, from Browns, 23-27 South Molton Street, London W1 and Harvey Nichols, Knightsbridge, London SW1; seed pearl ear-rings, £65, by Stanley Hagler, from The Maze, as before; sheer Nylons, £3.50, by Pretty Polly, from selected department stores nationwide cCotton/metal/rayon fitted dress with boned bodice and full skirt, £925, and orchid corsage brooch, £165, both by Jean Paul Gaultier, from 171-175 Draycott Avenue, London SW3; long lace gloves, £6, from Modes, as before; patent stilletoes, £34.99, by She lly's, Oxford Circus, London W1 and branches; inquiries: 081-450 0066; glass Gripoix earings, £150, by Chanel, from The Maze, as before; diamante hairpin, £32, by Colette Malouf, from Space NK, 41 Earlham Street, London WC2

v Net and lace calf length ballgown, £40, and short lace gloves, £2.50, from a selection at Modes, as before; patent stilletoes, £34.99, by Shelly's, as before; black suede tassled bag, £50 and crystal lucite and diamante necklace, £165, by Stanley Hagler, from The Maze, as before; diamante hair grips, £21 a pair, by Colette Malouf, as before

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Relations Officer

    £13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Help Desk Support

    £14500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An IT Help Desk Support individ...

    Recruitment Genius: Interim HR Advisor

    £27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are going through an excitin...

    Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

    £37500 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced Quantity Surveyor r...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable