The Fabulous Forties and Flirtatious Fifties

Following last week’s blog, my mother has informed me that she bought a pair of tartan trousers from M&S in 1961. She is very pleased to see that they’ve come back into fashion (and indeed, M&S) and looks forward to replacing those original ones which have long since passed out of her wardrobe. Seeing that she has only recently adopted jeans (and I don’t think she’ll mind me telling you that she is now in her seventies) and looks very trim in them, I’m saying “Go For It!”

So carrying on my personal look at the main fashions this season, I’m looking at two decades running back to back. While each has it’s own iconic style – think severely cut skirt-suits with more than a suggestion of military tailoring for the Forties and the circle skirt worn with a neat top for the fifties (with the mandatory high flippy ponytail of course), there are more similarities than you might think.

One of the things I have noticed about each of these looks is the skinny belt. Those mannish jackets are notably waisted with the belt going over the top and the fifties’ feminine cardigans are often belted too. Hmmm – that was the sound of me wincing. For those of us not blessed with slim torsos, skinny belts are usually best avoided. By the way, my mother  tells me that everyone was much slimmer in the Forties and Fifties owing to rationing, having to walk everywhere and hard physical housework, so skinny belts worked much better for more people. Note that I don’t say avoid belts – you’ll rarely catch me without one, but we, the unskinny, normally look better with a slightly wider belt, just so there’s no risk of the (rarely flattering) “potato sack tied round the middle with string” look. Oh believe me – I’ve been there and have the photos to prove it. Well, OK,  I did have the photos until I threw then away: no girl could have borne to have those terrible images remaining out there. If any of you knew me back in the day, and still have photos, then I give you fair warning that anything posted on Facebook will result in immediate de-friending!

Let’s have a look at how the Forties feel is reflected in the real clothes out there. Now, if you’re thinking tailoring and smart suits for work, then Hobbs is the “go to” site. This season they’re offering this nipped in semi-peplum jacket:

Lola Jacket from Hobbs £199
Lola Jacket from Hobbs £199

Or how about this adorable little dress – available in black or purple with the sweetest little detachable collar (for easy laundering together with your silk stockings, darling, bought on the black market of course!)

Lola Dress from hobbs, £118
Lola Dress from Hobbs, £118

Isn’t that just too, too “Take a letter, Miss Jones”?

I am reminded of a line from Terry Prachett’s “Going Postal” where the hero, meeting the heroine for the first time, finds his mental processes “fully occupied with the growing realisation of how well some women could look in a severely plain dress”

Again, not one for any of us who need a spot of feminine prettiness, some luxurious glamour or a hint of quirky fun. Sad. Don’t we all, secretly, in just a small part of our soul, long to be that girl who looks wonderful in austere black? Oh, again just me then. You are all so much better adjusted than I!

So, onto the Fifties and, knowing that there were circle skirts on the catwalk I have been looking in vain for any real ones out there. Nothing in John Lewis, nothing in M&S, Thinking maybe that costing had been an issue and bearing in mind that a full circle skirt will take at least four metres of fabric, I searched Selfridges (dribbling over the Roberto Cavalli Leopard print skirt at a mere £1010, and the Alexander McQueen splashy printed mini skirt at £450) but no – it seems that this is one style that has remained firmly on the catwalk and has not (yet) transferred to any shops that we mere mortals might enter.

What I did find was lots of “fit and flare” styles out there, with skater skirts and dresses. Lots of these skirts were firmly in the “mini” department, so that one would have to be very certain of one’s legs and clothing personality to wear them with confidence (oh, let us thank the god of Petroleum for opaque support tights; a real boon to the more mature woman who still wishes to expose her knees), but the occasional one came in at knee-length. This was my favourite (again M&S and very reasonable at £59) but, oh, why do they only do it in black?

black lace skater dress from M&S £59

It’s not just dresses. Where winter coats are not shapeless cocoons (a very difficult look to wear successfully) they seem to be tightly waisted. How about this one from L K Bennett?

L K Bennett Double Breasted coat £450
L K Bennett Double Breasted coat £450

We’re trying to find my 11 year old a traditional winter coat and the children’s departments have nothing suitable. Even if this one above comes in petite however, I don’t think she’ll be getting it. A “considered investment” is what I would call it.

And, before I go, just a quick word about headscarves: yes, they’re back. Remember the iconic images of Jackie K in headscarf and glamorous sunglasses? Again, the traditionally tied headscarf is a difficult style to do well. Jackie K managed it, but she was American. In Britain we fall into two traps. The first accessorises the look with a well cut tweed skirt, leather driving gloves and either a carriage and team of four horses or a shotgun and grouse moor (not many of us are in this income bracket), the second is the dreadful pitfall of visible curlers, slippers and the cigarette with requisite inch of ash at the end. Please, I beg of you, keep your headscarves for your neck. There are about 202 ways of tying a scarf around your neck, but use a hat or snood over your head – it’s so much more flattering – and just as fashionable!

Cashmere Snood from Denner £35
Cashmere Snood from Denner £35

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