Body Decorations, 1946–60

Proper accessories, makeup, and undergarments were an extremely important part of women's fashion in the late 1940s through the 1950s. The major fashion trends of the late 1940s, inspired by the New Look fashions of designer Christian Dior (1905–1957), called for a carefully assembled outfit that included such accessories as white gloves and umbrellas to accompany carefully chosen shoes, hat, and dress. The New Look called for tasteful but understated jewelry. One of the most important accessories was the handbag, or purse. Most women would not go out without a handbag. According to a New York Times article from 1945: "A woman without her handbag feels as lost as a wanderer in the desert."

There were other items that a well-dressed woman considered indispensable. Makeup, for example, was very important to the well-put-together ensemble. Numerous manufacturers offered makeup to women, and makeup advertising accounted for 11 percent of all advertising by 1950. Nail polish on the toenails became an important part of a woman's collection, especially after the mass production of plastic shoes which revealed the toes began in the late 1940s. As with all other items of a wardrobe, nail polish and makeup were chosen so that the colors complemented the outfit. When tight sweaters came into style in the mid-1950s, there was a short-lived craze for what is known as a "sweater girl" bra. This bra shaped a woman's breasts into stiff, pointed cones. The look was popularized by film star Jane Russell (1921–), as well as by several other busty 1950s screen stars. Young girls were especially fond of charm bracelets, which became trendy in the 1950s and continues in a lesser form to this day.

Men did not accessorize as much as women, but they did have several items they might wear to distinguish their outfits. A well-dressed man could choose from a range of cuff links, tie bars, and collar pins, made in gold, silver, or a new metal called palladium. Wristwatches continued to be popular among men. A new wristwatch called a Timex was introduced in 1950 with an advertising campaign that boasted that the Timex could "take a licking and keep on ticking." By the late 1950s one in every three watches sold in the United States was a Timex.


Daniel, Anita. "Inside Story of a Handbag." New York Times (January 21, 1945).

Ewing, Elizabeth. History of Twentieth Century Fashion. Revised by Alice Mackrell. Lanham, MD: Barnes and Noble Books, 1992.

Jouve, Marie-Andrée. Balenciaga. New York: Rizzoli, 1980.

Miller, Lesley Ellis. Cristóbal Balenciaga (Fashion Designers Series). New York: Holmes and Meier Publishers, 1993.

Schoeffler, O. E., and William Gale. Esquire's Encyclopedia of 20th Century Men's Fashions. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1973.

Steele, Valerie. Fifty Years of Fashion: New Look to Now. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997.

Balenciaga, Cristóbal
Charm Bracelet

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