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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