The "New Look"

Dior's 1947 Collection Begins the Revolution

The war was over, the boys were home, the restrictions were lifted, and the economy was reviving.
It was time.
       In February 1947, Christian Dior introduced the first major postwar collection, called the "Carolle Line" (16), but soon dubbed the "New Look" by American journalists in Life Magazine. Dior, along with every moderately fashion-conscious female of the times, was long wearied of the harsh Utility style clothes and their masculine quality. With his lavishly soft, purposefully elegant line, Dior did away with wartime fashions and began the flood of radical changes that were to follow. In a single movement he created one of the most distinct looks of the century.
What was the "New Look?"
       The "New Look" is most recognizable by its curvy shape and line, a far cry from its immediate predecessors. The desired look was a womanly hourglass figure, with a tiny waist, full hips, and a plentiful bust. Shoulders were no longer squared, but rounded and natural. Jackets were pinched in at the waist, and dresses had darts to accommodate the fabric increase from small waist to large chest and hips. Skirts were mid calf and full, flowing with layers of nylon petticoats. The freedom and grandeur of the skirts gave both a glamorous feeling and appearance. Variations on skirt line and length emerged as the decade progressed, and encompassed a great variety of styles. Women were adorned with hats, gloves, shoes, and purses; all the accessories to match.   
One of his more famous designs in the New Look line was "The Bar," pictured below (16)


The idea was to be an image, have a presence, and simply glow with feminine elegance and beauty.

What made it so appealing?
       Aesthetic sensibilities inevitably must take a backseat in times of crisis. So of course women found the wartime styles oppressive, restricting both their stylistic tastes and feminine inclinations.         The New Look quickly became an iconographic symbol of youth and beauty, as well as a herald for a hopeful and promising future.
       Without the constant economical oppressions of war, the American public was learning the beautiful art of spending money on themselves. The overtones of frivolity in Dior's and many others' styles became socially accepted, even if not publicly acknowledged. Dior himself was quoted in saying, "Novelty is the very essence of the fashion trade." (1, p. 40)
The Trickle-Down Effect
       Obviously, not every woman of the fifties could glide around in a brand-new formal Dior ball gown. This was particularly true in America, where the haute couture styles found on the streets of Paris had never been physically tangible. Despite the obvious price barriers, (Dior's gowns ranged from $300-$2400), they were clearly of little practical use in everyday life. For evening and formal affairs, a Dior would be totally acceptable; as would a comparable copy.
       Dior's designs were a conception, a model, an ideal to be strived for and sought after. He must be given credit for the vision of feminine grace and elegance that the majority of fifties styles came to strive for.
       But what about the average American housewife? Sears Catalogues from the era are an authentic indication of everyday style. The trickle-down effect of Dior's New Look style is distinct and marked all the way through the end of the decade. The most common adaptation was the shirtwaist dress, which showed the desired hourglass shape, but was more practical than formalwear.


Advertisement for classic shirtwaist dress (9, p. 8)