Recently I have been particularly taken with ‘The New Look’, which was the major shift in post-war fashion in the late forties. I find this style particularly interesting as you can really see the beginning of the 1950s shapes which are so popular today. The New Look is the brainchild of the ever fabulous Christian Dior and was part of a post-war attempt to revive France’s internationally acclaimed fashion industry.
The collection was launched in 1947 and was actually Dior’s first. He had been invited by a friend, Marcel Boussac, to breathe new life into his struggling clothing company. Boussac also had investments in textile mills so Dior’s vision of billowing skirts and excess use of fabric appealed to him. Boussac invested an unprecedented 60million Francs in launching Dior’s couture house which went on to be one of, if not the, biggest influence on post-war fashion.
This 1947 spring/summer collection was originally made up of two lines, ‘Corolle’ and ‘Huit’ however the term ‘New Look’ is said to have came about after Harper’s Bazaar’s editor-in-chief, Carmel Snow, exclaimed “It’s such a new look!”. The signature style was made up of certain key elements; full-skirts, waspy waists and soft shoulders. After wartime rationing the yards and yards of fabric used in the designs was a refreshing change. As we all know, after the war women were encouraged to become homemakers once again, moving out of the workplace, and therefore the feminine, flowery and certainly impractical nature of this fashion was positively encouraged in Western countries.
This Bar Suit is one of the iconic images from the collection as it encompasses the central themes of the style. The suit delicately displays the feminine body however the tailored jacket adds just the perfect touch of structure to the overall look. During this period, there was still a slightly sombre tone as the Western world tried to re-build itself economically and the New Look accounts for this as it has a mature feel, attempting to avoid frivolity and girlishness which may have been criticised as poor taste. For example King George V, of British royalty, forbade his daughters from wearing the look as rationing was still prominent in some areas.
Although Dior used a slightly masculine edge, as it was popular in the 1940s, he wanted to veer away from this and encourage women to embrace more feminine styles again – he was particularly fond of the 1930s version of femininity in fashion. He claimed that he wanted ‘to bring back beauty, feminine clothing, soft rounded shapes and full flowing skirts’. Above, we can see a couple of examples from this collection which incorporates softer touches such as the ruffling at the collar of the jacket. The white dress puts emphasis on the bust and hips, another trademark of this collection which enhances the hourglass form beyond the mere nipping in of waists.
After his initial 1947 collection, Dior became much more extreme in his designs as rationing and the war became a distant memory he used fabric in excess and his styles oozed opulence. He put particular emphasis on further highlighting the waspy waist by excess layering of materials so as the exaggerate the hourglass curves. He also used in-built padding around the hip and shoulder areas to create the silhouette.
Dior particularly loved to be flamboyant when it came to his evening dresses where he could really experiment with mass quantities of fabric. He was particularly fond of strapless evening dresses and used built-in feather boning to hold the dresses up which was a feat of engineering in itself as they were rather on the large side. Tulle was often the fabric of choice for his evening wear skirts as it naturally creates light-weight volume. These two dresses are examples from his 1949 collections.
The New Look really did change fashion at the time and its influences are still prominent today. Even within this year’s designer collections, the basic principles of the iconic Bar Suit can clearly be seen on some catwalks – even Christian Dior’s! The striking silhouette of tiny waists with emphasis on the hourglass curves creating an almost caricature body shape has had a recent resurgence in popularity.
Dior’s trademark evening dress from the New Look period has become a staple style among formal wear, particularly among brides where it is can sometimes be pejoratively referred to as the ‘meringue’. However, it is also popular among the more eccentric designers and again it can be seen on catwalks as recently as this year.
The New Look was a fabulous part of fashion history which paved the way for fashion as art. Clothes were no longer merely practical garments with vague trends attached but masterpieces in themselves which created a silhouette with no need or regard for the body inside. Dior was certainly a visionary and his vision continues to be at the forefront of fashion today, over 60 years later.