Friday, 03 March 2017

The History of the Fit and Flare Dress

Written by Kate Beavis
In the 1940s, fabric was rationed and there were strict guidelines as to what women's dresses could look like, down to the length, the number of buttons sewn on and how much fabric could be used. However, one man was to change this. Christian Dior literally rocked the establishment by designing his New Look Collection in 1947, aged 42, radically changing the way women dressed until well into the 1960s.

590Photo by Mark Newton

It was his first collection, having been tasked to breathe new life into French fashion, where he showed women wearing full skirts with nipped in "waspie" waists and soft shoulders, with a renewed focus on the female form. Wartime fashion hadn't shown off a lady's shape to the full (as of course the focus was on survival and doing your bit for the war effort) so Dior wanted to create designs that made women look and feel fabulous. One of the most iconic pieces in the collection was the "Bar Suit" with a soft tailored jacket, fitted waist and peplum worn with a wide skirt using a lot of material.

Many people were shocked as money was still tight; rationing on fabric continued until 1954, so felt that this was excessive and in poor taste. George V even forbid his daughters, Princess Margaret and the then Princess Elizabeth from wearing them!

The-Lady-50s-dressesDress by London Vintage

However, this key look was here to stay and dresses were designed with the same silhouette, with fitted bodices and wide skirts and are now known as a Fit and Flare Dress. This shape is one we are all familiar with, and still wear today as they are a perfect summer dress, great for weddings and proms primarily because they are so flattering. A nipped in waist at our thinnest part, full skirts worn over our widest part creates an hourglass effect that women all over the world simply love.
There are 3 ways you can wear a Fit and Flare dress:

Vintage Reproduction

A vintage reproduction 1950s dress is a modern piece based closely on the original design. Expect to see details that reflect the era; they should hang the same, have similar boning in the bodice, be made from the same materials and be the same length which is just below the knee. There are also satirical vintage reproductions of the fit and flare dress which will be made from patterned fabric with images on that we associate with the 1950s such as flamingos and poodles however these would not have been worn at the time. Many of these will have a halter neck and be slightly shorter too.

Both are a fun way to enjoy this look; team up with a cute neck scarf, a pair of wedges and a fun vintage style handbag.

2016-01-13---85Photo by Mark Newton


Just type in Fit and Flare Dress into any search engine and you will find pages of retailers selling this style especially now we are in spring. A modern style tends to be shorter than the original, ending above the knee and have a circle skirt which were much rarer back in the 1950s. Some will have a fine layer of tulle underneath to give extra depth. The main difference between a modern 1950s dress and the originals are the fabric; modern designs will be made in tried and tested fabric such a polyester which are easy to care for and affordable to buy. Patterns and colours will also be reflective of what is currently on trend rather than what would have been popular back then.
Wear with a short cardigan or bolero so you still show off your waist, pointy shoes, and a cute clutch bag.


Original vintage is obviously harder to find, however as this design was so popular you can find it at vintage fairs and festivals. 1950s fit and flare dresses were made from cotton, often using colourful, patterned fabric. Another version of the dress is the shirtwaister, which has the same silhouette but with a collar and buttons to the waist. Most originals had a matching fabric belt and were made to measure so can be unusual sizes; remember that the 1950s woman would have worn a corset or girdle to create a smaller waist. This look was replicated in the 1980s – so if you want a more affordable option then keep your eyes peeled for the younger version.

compDresses from Revival Vintage

Wear with an original vintage box handbag, reproduction 1950s shoes and flowers in your hair.

Places to buy

For both vintage and vintage reproduction visit The Festival of Vintage where you can buy from the vintage shopping arcade and watch them in the fashion shows.

Alternatively, shop online at Maggie Mae's Vintage, London Vintage and Revival Vintage for authentic vintage, The House of Foxy for vintage reproduction and Silly Old Sea Dog for a satirical take on it.

There are so many modern visions to choose from but my favourites are this evening dress in navy blue from House of Frazer, the Minerva floral dress by Coast perfect for a wedding and the satin prom dress by Warehouse.

Forgot your password?
Click to read our digital edition

Boarders Dormitory Master-Mistress
We are looking to appoint a Dormitory Mistress/Master for 5 nights per week, weekday evenings and nights only, term time. (35 weeks). [...]


Housekeeper to Headmaster
We have an opportunity for an experienced live-out housekeeper. You will provide a cleaning and hospitality service for the Headmaster and his guests and help to ensure the household runs efficiently. [...]


Full Time Housekeeper, Nanny
We are looking for a full time, live-out housekeeper/nanny. We are a relaxed young couple living in a large country house, and will have one newborn baby. [...]


Experienced Carer, Companion, Housekeeper needed
Our elderly mother needs a live in carer/companion on a part time basis. Must be warm hearted, calm & compassionate, with a good sense of humour. [...]


Cook, Housekeeper wanted
Good cooking skills required to cater for light meals for the Principal and a small staff, as well as occasional lunch/dinner parties. [...]




What the stars have in store for you this week.2017

Capricorn Aquarius Pisces Aries Taurus Gemini Cancer Leo Virgo Libra Scorpio Sagittarius

Sign up to receive our weekly newsletter