The New Look clothing designs for women that emerged from the studio of French designer Christian Dior (1905–1957) in 1947 put an end to the wartime styles that had dominated fashion ever since 1939. During World War II (1939-1945) designers and clothes makers had been forced to adjust their styles to wartime cloth restrictions and rationing due to lack of materials; women's clothes were close fitting, with square shoulders and short skirts. Though clothing restrictions were still in effect in France, Great Britain, and the United States in 1947, Dior's New Look collection violated all the rules of wartime fashion: his outfits had rounded shoulders; full, billowing skirts; and a narrow waist. The dresses were lined with expensive and luxurious fabrics such as cambric or taffeta and were beautifully detailed. Outfits were accessorized with a hat, often worn to one side, long gloves, and simple jewelry. As Valerie Steele wrote in Fifty Years of Fashion: New Look to Now : "The longing for elegance and luxury had been suppressed for the years of the war, and the New Look promised to gratify it." As Dior described it when the clothing line was introduced, the New Look was "symbolic of youth and the future."
Dior had entered the fashion industry in 1938 as a designer with the French house of Robert Piguet. In 1942 he joined the house of Lucien Lelong, where he learned a great deal about dressmaking. In 1946, with the financial support of textile manufacturer Marcel Boussac, Dior launched his own design house. The New Look designs were Dior's first collection, and in the following years Dior became one of the world leaders in haute couture, exclusive and trendsetting high fashion design. He introduced several other notable women's fashion styles, including the H-line of 1954, the Y-line of 1955, and the A-line of 1956, all named for the silhouette the design gave to women. Perhaps even more notably, Dior's house set the tone for the modern fashion house by branching out to design and license a whole line of fashion accessories and perfumes for women as well as ties for men. Though Christian Dior died suddenly in 1957, his vast fashion company still exists today.
Dior's New Look clothes created an international sensation. Critics scolded the designer for ignoring the continued rationing and the economic distress of the war years. They complained that manufacturers didn't have enough cloth to make Dior's full skirts and that women didn't have enough money to buy them. One British politician claimed that the longer skirt was the "ridiculous whim of idle people," while protestors in Paris called out, "40,000 francs for a dress and our children have no milk," according to Nigel Cawthorne, author of The New Look: The Dior Revolution. But women and other designers disagreed. The first women to see the designs at Paris fashion shows raved that femininity had returned to women's clothes. Designers imitated Dior's look for their collections and quickly produced ready-to-wear New Look-inspired clothing lines. (Ready-to-wear refers to clothes that can be bought "off the rack" as opposed to custom designed, tailored clothing.) The New Look killed off the utility clothing of the war years and ushered in a new era in fashion. By 1948 the New Look was the dominant fashion in Paris, France; London, England; and New York, and it continued to be popular for several years.
Cawthorne, Nigel. The New Look: The Dior Revolution. London, England: Reed Consumer Books, 1996.
Ewing, Elizabeth. History of Twentieth Century Fashion. Revised by Alice Mackrell. Lanham, MD: Barnes and Noble Books, 1992.
Steele, Valerie. Fifty Years of Fashion: New Look to Now. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997.
[ See also Volume 5, 1946–60: American Look ]