Body Decorations, 1946–60

views updated Jun 27 2018

Body Decorations, 194660

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 (19051957), 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

Body Decorations, 1919–29

views updated May 23 2018

Body Decorations, 191929

After World War I (191418) both women and men changed the way they adorned themselves. No longer needing to follow the rules set by the military, men began getting their fashion guidance from newly popular film actors and public figures, such as Edward VIII, the Prince of Wales (18941972), or created their own styles on college campuses throughout Europe and the United States. The decade brought more changes for women than for men.

Women began to experiment with makeup. Bold use of cosmetics marked the decade as women created dramatic looks that imitated movie stars such as Clara Bow (19051965) and Theda Bara (18851955). Women traced their eyes with black eyeliner, plucked their eyebrows out and drew new ones with a dark pencil, and re-shaped the line of their lips with red pencil to make them look like a cupid's bow. To complement their heavily painted faces, women slicked bright polish on their fingernails and adorned themselves with many accessories.

The accessories of the decade were influenced by many different sources. Women wore jewelry inspired by the unearthing in 1922 of the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamen, who lived in the fourteenth century b.c.e., and by the new art movements sweeping Europe and the United States, including cubism, art deco, and surrealism. The creation of costume jewelry allowed women to wear bigger, bolder jewels and to follow trends without spending a fortune. Brand names also became important during the decade, especially with the introduction of Chanel No. 5 in 1922, which would become the world's most famous perfume.


Dorner, Jane. Fashion in the Twenties and Thirties. London, England: Ian Allan Ltd., 1973.

Grafton, Carol Belanger. Shoes, Hats, and Fashion Accessories: A Pictorial Archive, 18501940. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1998.

Laver, James. Costume and Fashion: A Concise History. 4th ed. London, England: Thames and Hudson, 2002.

Payne, Blanche, Geitel Winakor, and Jane Farrell-Beck. The History of Costume. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.

Chanel No. 5
Costume Jewelry
Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel
Nail Polish

Body Decorations, 1900–18

views updated Jun 11 2018

Body Decorations, 190018

In an age of extravagant dresses and immense feathered hats for women, and conservative suits and carefully chosen hats for men, body decorations and accessories faded in significance. It wasn't that such items were not important to people in the early years of the twentieth century; rather, they were simply overshadowed by the showiness of other parts of the outfit, as in the case of women, or were very understated, as in the case of men.

Women were certainly highly ornamented, especially in the first decade of the twentieth century. Their exquisitely tailored long dresses were topped off by closely fitting collars that accented the length of the neck, and their hats were among the most extravagant items ever to be worn. After about 1908, when skirts lifted to reveal the feet and ankles, shoes also became a way to show off one's fashion sense. Accessories, however, were downplayed. Most women carried a purse or small handbag, and the beaded purse, with its great versatility, was among the favorites. For evening wear a woman might slip on long gloves that extended as high as the elbow, and for colder weather a fur muff kept the hands warm. Most women wore jewelry but it was typically rather understated. Smaller earrings, rings, and a necklace of pearls were considered quite tasteful. Women might also carry a watch on a gold chain.

Women's makeup began to go through major changes around the turn of the century. Most women continued to use their own homemade makeup to lighten their faces or add color to their lips or cheeks. But modern manufacturers and distributors soon offered help. The precursor to the Avon cosmetics company was founded in the United States in 1886 and by 1906 had over ten thousand representatives offering a line of 117 different products to women across the country. Madame C. J. Walker (18671919) invented a line of cosmetics for African American women in the same decade. Modern advertising made many more women aware of the "need" to wear cosmetics, driving the sale and use of such items to new levels among women of all social classes.

Men's costume in general was quite conservative during this period, which meant that accessories provided men with some small element of personal expression. Several items were popular among men. Many men carried pocket watches on a chain, and the quality and style of the chain was a mark of distinction. Men might also carry a walking stick, and these sticks could be decorated with a carved gold or wooden handle, or have a decorative metal tip. Finally, the most distinctive items of male jewelry were all forms of fasteners: cuff links to hold shirt cuffs together; a stickpin to hold the tie in place; or studs and buttons to fasten the shirt. Such small items, when made in fine gold, could signal the wearer's wealth and taste.


Avon Products, Inc. "Avon Timeline." : The Company for Women. (accessed on August 18, 2003).

Bundles, A'Lelia. On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker. New York: Scribner, 2001.

Lowry, Beverly. Biography of Madame C. J. Walker. New York: Knopf, 1999.

Payne, Blanche, Geitel Winakor, and Jane Farrell-Beck. The History of Costume. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.

Walker, Madame C. J.
Beaded Handbags

Body Decorations, 1930–45

views updated Jun 08 2018

Body Decorations, 193045

The extravagant, frivolous fashions of the 1920s were replaced by more practical decorations and accessories during the 1930s. The Great Depression (192941) and World War II (193945) put pressure on both men and women to simplify their wardrobes. The fanciful purses of the 1920s were replaced by the plainer clutch purse style, for example. Rather than buying different jewelry to adorn each different outfit, women instead favored simple styles or wore meaningful pieces to which they could add decoration, such as charm bracelets.

One trend for excess continued during these lean years, however. The fashion for wearing heavy makeup started during the 1920s lasted well into the next decades. Women blushed their cheeks with rouge, darkened their lips with a variety of lipsticks, and lengthened and thickened their eyelashes with mascara. According to Jane Mulvagh in Vogue History of 20th Century Fashion, in 1931 Vogue magazine reported that "we are all painted ladies today," adding: "Now we feel undressed unless we have the right shade of face powder, and if we lose our lipstick, we lose our strongest moral support." The rationing, or limiting, of luxuries during World War II highlighted the importance of makeup. Mulvagh noted that the British government "tried to ban cosmetics at the outbreak of war, but fortunately withdrew this ruling." Lipstick and rouge, she pointed out, were "the last unrationed, if scarce, indulgences of feminine expression during austerity [seriousness], and were vital for morale."

Men simplified their looks more than women did. With the rising popularity of sporty clothing styles during the 1930s and beyond, men abandoned other forms of ornament such as canes and pocket watches. The only pieces of jewelry men typically wore were a wedding ring if they were married, pins to hold down the collars of their button-up shirts when they wore a tie and, if they were in the military, a metal identification bracelet.


Lister, Margot. Costume: An Illustrated Survey from Ancient Times to the Twentieth Century. London, England: Herbert Jenkins, 1967.

Mulvagh, Jane. Vogue History of 20th Century Fashion. New York: Viking, 1988.

Payne, Blanche, Geitel Winakor, and Jane Farrell-Beck. The History of Costume. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.

Charm Bracelet
Clutch Purse
Identification Bracelet

Body Decorations, 1980–2003

views updated May 23 2018

Body Decorations, 19802003

Since the 1980s body decoration and accessories have become a highly lucrative business. The intense interest in designer fashions in the 1980s created a demand for cosmetics, jewelry, handbags, and other items made by these makers of high fashion. For many, these accessories, with their designer labels or distinctive scents, were the only way to afford designer luxuries. At the beginning of this period the brand names of a few designers, such as Gucci and Prada, were the most sought after, but by the twenty-first century a multitude of brands offered men and women accessories in a variety of styles. Some social groups began to identify themselves by the brand names they wore rather than the particular style of accessory they chose. Some wore Tommy Hilfiger's (1951) fashion lines, while others preferred Calvin Klein's (1942) selections, for example.

As brand names rose in popularity, some people sought out unique adornments to set themselves apart. During the 1990s and into the twenty-first century, body piercing and tattooing became increasingly popular, especially among youth. The unique designs permanently drawn on the skin and the collection of jewelry pierced into the body were once only worn by groups such as punks. But by the 1990s these adornments had become accepted by a wider group of people, and many high school and college students chose to tattoo themselves and pierce their belly buttons, noses, or tongues.

Beginning in the 1980s the most coveted perfumes, colognes, lotions, and makeup were only available at high-end retail stores, but by the late 1990s people seeking more convenience had started buying their cosmetics through the mail, over the Internet, and in grocery stores. These changes did not reflect an abandonment of brand name status, as these outlets started to carry luxurious products.


Gay, Kathlyn. Body Marks: Tattooing, Piercing, and Scarification. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook Press, 2002.

Graves, Bonnie B. Tattooing and Body Piercing. Mankato, MN: Life Matters, 2000.

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

Backpack Purses
Gucci Bags
Milan Fashion Scene
Leg Warmers
Sunless Tanning Lotion

Body Decorations, 1961–79

views updated May 18 2018

Body Decorations, 196179

People adorned their bodies in widely varying ways in the 1960s and 1970s. The popularity of modern styles at the beginning of the 1960s brought huge plastic flower ornaments, heavy makeup, especially around the eyes, and false eyelashes for women. Men accepted jewelry as part of their wardrobe, starting with the love beads hung around their necks in the 1960s and ending the period with multiple chains of gold adorning their necks and chests, bracelets around their wrists, and rings on their fingers.

The middle years of this time period were punctuated by the antifashion of the hippies, or people who rejected society's conventional customs and embraced free personal expression. Although hippies were relatively few in number, they brought natural, homemade adornment and political symbols into the limelight. Both men and women tucked real flowers behind their ears and wore homemade jewelry. Many wore strings of love beads around their necks, peace symbols, and buttons protesting theVietnam War (195475) to signal their desire for peace. Hippies also made Native American jewelry and headbands fashionable for whites to wear.

After the Vietnam War ended, fashion shifted again toward artificial, flamboyant styles. The gaudiest styles were developed by dancers at discotheques, or bars where people gathered to dance to music, and punks, who created a deliberately aggressive style of dress. Disco style was glamorous, with glittery jewelry and colored glasses complementing the bold clothes. Punk style was the opposite. Punks stuck safety pins through their skin, wore heavy metal chains and spiky dog collars around their necks, and painted themselves with black eye makeup, fingernail polish, and lipstick.


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.

Body Piercing
Mood Rings
Puka Chokers