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31 Most Glamorous Vintage Photos of Life in the 1950s

The end of World War II ushered in a happy, prosperous time in America, with the 1950s being the height of glamour.

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VARIOUS England: 1954 Terry-cloth coverups look delightful on these two models standing on a beach.
Underwood Archives/Shutterstock

Beachside modesty

In 1954, these terry-cloth coverups were considered racy. Wait till you see what they were covering up…

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VARIOUS United States: c. 1952. Six attractive young women in two piece bathing suits sit in a row on modern stools.
Underwood Archives/UIG/Shutterstock

Two-piece style

Bikinis had been introduced only six years before this photo was taken in 1952. That was also the year that 17-year-old Brigette Bardot made waves starring in Manina, The Girl In The Bikini.

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Farah Diba

Bridal style

Farah Diba, on her way to marry Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi at the Marble Palace in Tehran, shows off some of the most glamorous bridal styles of the time.

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Cyd Charisse - 1953

Seams in her stockings

“A 1950s wardrobe would be incomplete without classic vintage seamed stockings, also simply known as nylons,” according to Vintage Dancer, a vintage-themed costume consultant. Because nylons back then were knit into the shape of a leg, rather than in the shape of a stretchy tube like they are today, women in the 1950s were often seen straightening out their seams. Here are 18 vintage photos depicting everyday life in the 1950s.

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VARIOUS c. 1950 A fashionable mannequin and her unclothed version in the background.
Underwood Archives/UIG/Shutterstock

“Circle” skirts

“The fuller the skirt, the better in the 1950s,” Vintage Dancer advises, along with a fitted waist that actually sat at the natural waist. Why? Because the curvaceous look was considered flattering (and arguably still is). Skirts retained their fanned-out circle shape through the use of stiff petticoats and even boning.

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Early 1950s hair

Hairstyles from the early 1950s, whether short, medium, or long, were, believe it or not, less “styled” than in the previous decade. Still, thick and wavy bangs (as seen here on film star Barbara Stanwyck) were pretty work-intensive, and many women booked weekly hairdresser appointments, sat under the dryer, and then tried to retain the given style for as long as possible.

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Michele Mok
Ernest Allen/ANL/REX/Shutterstock

Beauty queens

Michele Mok won Miss Hong Kong in 1959 and went onto the Miss World pageant before going to England to pursue a modeling career.

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Kim Novak - 1954
Bob Coburn/Columbia/Kobal/Shutterstock

Poodle hair

Another popular hairstyle from the 1950s was the poodle cut, named for its resemblance to the coiffed look of a poodle (tight curls, exaggerated shaping) and made popular by actresses including Lucille Ball and Kim Novak. Novak, seen here, is wearing the cardigan from a twinset without the underlying shell for a “vixen”-look.

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Beauty Culture, New York, USA
Robert Wands/AP/Shutterstock

A new wave

Waves, dips, and flips continued to be all the hairstyle rage throughout the 1950s, with the hair curving high at the forehead and then dipping into a deep horizontal wave from a side-part. Throughout the decade, the waves kept getting bigger, leading up to the bouffant styles of the late 1950s.

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Victoire Dior Model Wearing An Evening Dress By Christian Dior. Box 0559 080515 00432a.jpg.
Associated Newspapers/Shutterstock

The bouffant

By the late 1950s, waves and dips had loosened further, lending a “bigger” look for hair. Inspired by stars like Sophia Loren and Connie Francis, women began teasing their hair for exaggerated height.

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The Marchioness Of Winchester
Tony Marshall/ANL/REX/Shutterstock

Invaluable saris

The Marchioness of Winchester  wearing a black sari with a 300-year-old gold border.

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Fashion Women 1952 Model Wearing Various Fur Fashions.
Henry Bush/Associated Newspapers/Shutterstock

Tiny waist, a peplum, and a fur collar

Along with circle skirts, pencil skirts were having a heyday in the 1950s. To keep the silhouette as curvy as possible, the skirts were paired with a fitted jacket featuring a peplum like this one. The addition of fur also helped keep the look soft, as well as high in glamour.

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Lord And Lady Mancroft Stop To Chat To Film Star Ava Gardner And Her Husband Frank Sinatra At The Primrose League Coronation Ball At The Dorchester Hotel.
Associated Newspapers/Shutterstock

American royalty in a tiara

Tiaras had started making their way into non-royal fashion a century earlier, but Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) started debuting what would become a truly impressive tiara collection in the late 1940s, bringing them into the forefront of fashion. Here, Hollywood royal Ava Gardner, with her husband Frank Sinatra, wears a tiara at an event in London as she mingles with Peers of the Queen. Don’t miss these 27 rarely seen photos of Queen Elizabeth II and her father, King George VI.

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Airport glamour

“Back in the 1950s, when commercial flights were a relatively new novelty, people dressed for the occasion,” explains Town & Country, and no one did airport glamour quite like Hollywood’s elite. Here, it’s 1954, and Ava Gardner, now divorcing Frank Sinatra, dresses up for her arrival from Paris at Idlewild Airport (now John F. Kennedy International Airport). Don’t miss these rare photos that show what flying was really like in the 1950s.

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Chamberlain wearing a Harlem Globetrotters uniform
Underwood Archives/REX/Shutterstock

Itty, bitty uniforms

All-Star basketball player Wilt Chamberlain wearing a Harlem Globetrotters uniform in 1959 shows how different athletic uniformed used to look.

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Long, Long Trailer, The - 1954

Pedal pushers pushing limits

Women in the 1950s were the first ever to enjoy the freedom of wearing pants as acceptable women’s clothing, explains Vintage Dancer, but it was still rare to see women wearing them in public. One exception was Lucille Ball and her I Love Lucy costar Vivian Vance, both of whom occasionally appeared on the Lucy series in cropped pants called “pedal pushers.” Here Ball is seen in cuffed pedal pushers on the set of The Long, Long Trailer in 1954.

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Fashion Women 1953 Model Wearing Various Street Fashions.
Jones/Associated Newspapers/Shutterstock

“Street” style

“Street” style had an entirely different meaning in the 1950s from today’s meaning. “[The] 1950s fashion moved style from the salons to the streets, as inventions in easy-care fabrics and speedier manufacturing systems meant that new silhouettes could be made for the masses,” writes Marie Claire. So by the mid-1950s, women were more apt to be seen wearing the glamorous styles for everyday wear.

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Historical Collection 170 A Stylishly Dressed Woman Books Tickets For the Theatre Wearing A Slim-fitting Featherweight Suit by Wetherall's Made of Snuff-colour Pin Check Rayon It Has A Very Full Pleated Skirt and A Collarless Cardigan-shaped Jacket the Ensemble is Completed by A White Lin-cord Cap and Scarf 1953

Dressing for errands

In the 1950s, women didn’t slip into their yoga pants and head out to run errands but rather, they dressed for every occasion. Here, a woman stopping by a theater box office to purchase tickets in 1953 pulls out all the glamorous stops with a lightweight “casual” suit with a pleated skirt and a cardigan-style jacket—and let’s not forget the jaunty little hat and white gloves. This 1950s marriage advice still makes good sense today.

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Fay Craig (l) And Fay Sparks (r)
Ernest Allen/ANL/REX/Shutterstock

Formfitting dresses

Fay Craig (left) and Fay Sparks (right) show off two different styles of the time: Craig in a more traditional voluminous skirt and Sparks in a structured dress.

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Historical Collection 84 A Charming Afternoon Ensemble 'For A Woman with A Narrow Budget' A Dress of Printed Rayon Taffeta with A Pretty Cowl Collar and Wide Spreading Skirt Over A Net Petticoat Only Costing 12 Guineas the Little Lace Straw Cap is Priced at ú4 18s 6d One of A Quartette of Outfits From Marshall and Snelgrove Showcased in the Tatler As Being Ideal For the Coronation Summer of 1953 1953

For the “fashionable woman” with a “narrow budget”

In 1953, the year Queen Elizabeth II was crowned, this outfit was advertised as “a charming afternoon ensemble…ideal for the coronation summer” and priced “for a woman with a narrow budget.”

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Actress Grace Kelly, New York, USA

Grace Kelly’s equestrian glamour

Grace Kelly was Hollywood royalty even before she became Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco when she married Prince Rainier III of Monaco in April 1956. Pictured here in March 1956, the soon-to-be-princess strikes the very image of equestrian glamour in New York City’s Central Park wearing sunglasses and a babushka-style headscarf. Notice that she’s riding side saddle, which was still a thing in the 1950s, although increasingly less-so. Learn about 11 still-unanswered questions about Grace Kelly’s death.

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Princes Grace and Prince Rainier, Monte Carlo, Monaco

How affordable fur “stole” hearts

The 1920s saw the introduction of long fur coats as fashion. In keeping with the theme of accessible (read: affordable) fashion for the masses, the 1950s became the decade of the stole (a fur wrap). Of course, the fact that it debuted in Paris meant that the stole was also popular among the uber-glam like Princess Grace, seen here with her husband, Prince Rainier, at a gala celebrating the christening of their son, Prince Albert of Monaco.

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Chita Rivera American Actress

A classic set of pearls

Famed American actress and dancer Chita Rivera shows the value of a simple strand of pearls which were a popular accessory at the time.

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Gentlemen Prefer Blondes - 1953
20th Century Fox/Kobal/Shutterstock

The “vavavoom” decade

Although we might look back at the 1950s and think of the relatively conservative culture as “quaint,” if you were living back then, you were actually a witness to a revolution of sorts—as women in the post World War II era were becoming increasingly autonomous. As a result, sex symbols started looking less like the raven-haired, elegantly coiffed Louise Brooks and more like Marilyn Monroe. Don’t miss these 20 rarely seen photos of Marilyn.

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Princess Margaret

During the 1950s, smoking cigarettes were the height of glamour, and it didn’t get much more glamorous than Princess Margaret and her long cigarette holder. Sadly, Princess Margaret’s smoking eventually caught up with her. The younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II died in 2002 of a stroke.

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VARIOUS Elizabeth Taylor, On-set of the Film, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, 1958
Glasshouse Images/Shutterstock

Elizabeth Taylor’s lingerie chic

On the set of 1958’s film, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Elizabeth Taylor smolders in a slip and holding a highball but the reality is, the slip was carefully designed to reveal, well, not all that much. As tame as it may seem by today’s standards, this glamorous look was considered highly provocative in its day.

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Diana Ferry Of The Lucy Clayton Cricket Team Adjusting Her Make Up During A Cricket Match Against A Men's Team In The Village Of Puttenham.
Ernest Jones/Associated Newspapers/Shutterstock

Sporty but feminine

A professional athlete, the cricket-player Diana Ferry is seen adjusting her makeup during a match. It’s not just that her team was playing a team of men; it’s that women in the 1950s were held to a very high standard of femininity, even while playing serious sports. Don’t miss these 17 ridiculous dating etiquette rules from the 1950s.

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Sabrina - 1954
Bud Fraker/Paramount/Kobal/Shutterstock

A match made in glamour heaven

Hubert de Givenchy and Audrey Hepburn were the archetypal designer and muse combination. “Mr. Givenchy and Ms. Hepburn defined a relationship that has become the gold standard of almost every brand,” according to the New York Times. They worked together through seven films, and he designed the white dress she wore to win her Best Actress Oscar in 1954 and this dress, which she wore in 1954’s Sabrina.

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Historical Collection 84 A Photograph Taken at the Special Request of the Queen in Order to Showcase the Workmanship of the Gown the Work of Norman Hartnell It is White Satin with A Fitted Bodice and Neck-line Cut Square Over the Shoulders Before Curving Into A Heart Shape the Gown Features Golden Crystals Graduated Diamonds and Pearls As Well As Representations of the Leek of Wales Thistle of Scotland Shamrock of Ireland and Tudor Rose of England 1953

A regal tone

Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation took place on June 2, 1953. The sparkling, diamond-bedecked gown worn by the Queen for the event, made of white satin and embroidered with silver and gold thread, was designed specially by British Fashion designer Norman Hartnell and epitomizes 1950s glamour. Her Majesty was so awed by Hartnell’s design and craftsmanship that she requested this photo be taken in order to showcase it. Since the Coronation, the Queen has worn the dress no less than six times, according to the royal family’s official website.

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Fashion - Men - 1952 - The Duke Of Edinburgh Norfolk Suit Modelled.
Associated Newspapers/Shutterstock

What Prince Philip wore

Glamour in the 1950s wasn’t reserved for women alone. Here Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh models a dashing suit featuring short pants and a long jacket. Don’t miss the sweet story of how Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II fell in love.

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Actor Derek Bond Wearing An Opera Cloak And Full Evening Dress At A Men's Fashion Show At The Royal Festival Hall. Box 720 305121625 A.jpg.
Associated Newspapers/Shutterstock

A night at the opera

Traditionally, a night at the opera called for formal evening wear. If that seems like a lot of effort today, imagine back in 1952 when it involved white tie and an “opera cloak,” as modeled by the actor, Derek Bond. Next up, check out these 21 rarely seen photos you won’t find in history books.

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York–based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest and in a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction, and her first full-length manuscript, "The Trust Game," was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.