1950s coats were beautifully constructed and varied slightly in styles, fabrics and design. Most coats were long, some coming all the way to the ankle and others just below the knee and others sat right around the hip. Typical fabrics included camel hair, wool velour, wool fleece, tweed, and fur or cashmere if you could afford it. Coats were often decorated with large buttons, belts or fur collars to add a little glamour to an otherwise simple design. Fur trimmings like beaver, lamb fur, astrakhan, and mink were all popular and a contrast lining on the inside was used to introduce interesting fashion features. 1950s coats and jackets usually were color coordinated with the rest of a woman’s ensemble.
1950s Style Coats
Coats were usually either very fitted, semi fitted, or full and swingy. The full coat was the most common style, although there was not a strict name for this style. For that matter, coat was not a common name in the ’50s. Instead, they were called toppers or top coats. Duster coat, Pea Coat, Long Coat, Swing Coat, Pyramid coat, Princess Coat, and Bell Coat were all used to identify ’50s full fitting coats. Full coats had wide sleeves, a triangular shape, large cuffs, and collars and usually large buttons, too. They came in long (to mid shin) or short (hip lengths). As we know, the fifties are synonymous with full skirts, and dresses and skirts with a fuller bottom were easily worn with a coat that had a straight slim style. Also, after the war we saw a boom in births, so coats that were swing style were very roomy and worked well for women who were pregnant. This was one more step a woman could take to be out in public without “showing” too much. This was a radical step at the time.
Trench Coat also called Princess Coat with Belt and full “skirt”
Much like the desired figure of the fifties, many vintage coats had belts that accented the waist and flared at the bottom. Sometimes known as the princess style, these coats were feminine, pretty and figure hugging. Popular colors were royal blue, dark red, gray, hunter green, dusty rose, black, and tan. Some coat sleeves had wide cuffs at the end or large covered buttons to add some decoration. Coats had buttons up the front, usually from the waist to the neck or just from the chest to the neck, and collars came up high and protected the back of the neck. Coats without buttons were a wrap over style similar to a trench coat.
Colorful 1950s Coats in Long, Trench and Swing Styles
Many coats added pretty details with contrast stitching or embroidery, self fabric belts and decorative elaborate buttons. Most coats conveniently had hidden pockets. Coat collars came in all shapes and sizes, and some were made of fur. The round over-sized “peter pan” or “puritan style” collar was especially popular on 1950s coats. It helped make coats appear childlike or doll-like, which was the goal for women’s 1950s fashion.
As for any well groomed woman of the fifties, it’s all about completing the look. That meant winter stockings, coordinating gloves, a matching hat, and usually a leather purse. A fur muff was borrowed by Victorian and earlier times and became a fashionable accessory to wear with fur or fur trimmed coats (See photo under 1950s Fur Coats).
The swagger coat was neatly tailored and fit close to the body through the waist and was wider at the bottom. It is the most common style available in repro and inspired 1950s clothing. Depending on the desired look, it usually had buttons from the chest to the waist or could be double breasted. Large pleats on the back added extra room for movement that “swung” as a woman walked, hence the swing coat name. Sometimes with a belt or sometimes without, this style coat was very flattering and mimicked the same hourglass shape that was popular at the time. The idea was to mimic the dress that was worn underneath the coat. It was a style also borrowed from Victorian ice skating coats.
In reverse, the coat dress was inspired by the swagger coat. It was a dress with the double breasted rows of buttons on the bodice and full swing skirt. It was a dress style only worn in the fall and winter. Read more about the coat dress here.
1950s Box Coat
1952 Half Coats or Box Coats
Another style is the box coat or half coat, which is arguably one of the most iconic styles of the 1940s and ’50s. It hung very wide and straight, much like the shape of a box. They either hit at the bottom of a woman’s hips or went all the way to mid-shin. The 1950s versions often had a fuller shape than the 1940s box coats. Large pleats at the back shoulder line created a swing coat meets box coat look.
Collars, pockets and buttons were large. Most came in solid colors: ivory/cream, black, blue, red, or brown. The only popular pattern was checks.
1950s Lightweight Spring Coats
Lightweight Dress Coats for Spring and Fall.
Many coats that came as coordinated sets with dresses were not heavy winter coats. Instead, they were lightweight Spring and Fall top coats that came in many names such as Clutch coat or Tuxedo coat. They often did not have pointed collars, but instead folded shawl collars that ran the length of the long coat. They were made of lightweight wools, cotton blends and new synthetics.
Unlike winter coats, sleeves were cut full but not wide, folded up to mid arm and the amount of “swing” at the back was minimal so that the coat hung straight over a dress. They hardly ever had buttons to hold them close, exposing the dress underneath and the matching lining found inside the coat. Decorative embroidery was more likely seen on fashion coats than on winter coats.
1950s Light Coats for Sheath Dresses
1950s Fur Coats
1957 Faux Fur Coat and Rabbit Fur Trimmed Coat and Barrel Muff
Fur coats were glamorous and dressier than the everyday coat (for most people). They were cut in the same shapes as other coats of the fifties. The box coat and swagger style looked best with thick fox, sable and seal fur. Faux furs were an option for the less affluent as well as cheap squirrel and marmot dyed to look like sable. Sleeves were wide and open and collars were high and closed with a longer hair fur piece trimming the collar. To keep with the simple and polished style of fur coats, only two or three buttons or clasps kept the coat closed. Some box styles only had a single clasp at the neckline. Pockets were hidden slashes on the coat sides. The beauty (and wealth) of the woman must be the showcase of her 1950s fur coat!
Late 1950s Short Mink Coat
While most fur coats were full length or at least hip length, a few came in shorter waist length styles. The cape coat, popular in the 1940s remained common into the 1950s as well. Coats like this short fur Diamond brand coat (right) became increasingly popular in the late ’50s and ’60s when styles favorited the slim sheath dress rather than the full circle dress.
For those who could not afford a full full coat, fur stoles, muffs and shawls were a popular alternative. Fur trim on short or long jackets also added a touch of richness without the shocking price tag.
1957 Fur Trim Jackets over Suits
1950s Rain Coats
1957 Long Rain Coats for Women and Girls
1956 trench and tweed box raincoats
1950s raincoats were not longer, just utilitarian and plain. They now came in fun patterns, such as the raining umbrellas in the above ad. They were made of a cotton+ synthetic blended fabric for light waterproofing. Some were made of plastic (clear, color or patterned) that fit like a poncho hood and an elastic or wrap belt. Non-rubberized raincoats existed in the form of waterproof tweed, corduroy and gabardine fabrics with an optional zip-in lining for warmth.
1950s raincoats mostly came in trench coat style with a single or double breast and belt. They often had matching hats, too. The above are Jockey style hats, while most others were detached hoods with the brim folded back (or not when raining). Popular colors were bright red, navy blue, medium blue, turquoise, and grey.
For the rebellious youth and especially Art students, the trend was to wear black raincoats. These also became associated with prostitutes, although I don’t know why. “Good women” chose brighter colors (pink, turquoise, red, yellow) and avoided dark colors, which were hard to be seen in the rain anyways. Read more details about vintage raincoats.
Late 1950s straight or tent shaped raincoats
1950s Winter Jackets
While the most fashionable coat was the long coat or half coat, there were numerous needs for less formal, but very practical winter jackets. Jackets were worn paired with long skirts or pants and were reserved for colder climate with excessive rain and snow. While useful, they were not entirely void of styles. Hip length, with tie belts and point or round collars were trademarks of the ’50s. They came in warm quilted lined flannel, cotton or fur insides with leather, faux leather, tweed or corduroy exteriors.
Less winter friendly jackets had fashionable style all of their own. Many were influenced by western styles featuring fringe leather, plaid patterns, and leather or suede looking materials. The “motorcycle” jacket below, top, right, was a style borrowed from menswear. Jacket styles have a whole other history unto themselves, but they are also difficult to research.
1950s Jackets- Leather on top, quilted cotton and corduroy on the bottom
Fur is one of the oldest known forms of clothing, and has been worn by men and women for a variety of reasons throughout history. While quite desirable, real fur had the disadvantage of being expensive and in short supply. For this reason, fake furs were introduced on the market in 1929. These early attempts at imitation fur were made using hair from the alpaca, a South American mammal. From a fashion standpoint, they were of low quality, typically colored gray or tan, and could not compare to exquisite furs like mink or beaver. But the fabric was inexpensive and warm, so manufacturers continued to develop improved versions of the fake fur, trying to give it a denser look, better abrasion resistance, and more interesting colors.
In the 1940s, the quality of fake furs was vastly improved by advances in textile manufacture technology. However, the true modern fake furs were not developed until the mid 1950s, with the introduction of acrylic polymers as replacements for alpaca hair. These polymers were particularly important because they could provide the bulk required to imitate real fur without the weight associated with other fake fur fabrics. They were also easier to color and texture than alpaca fibers. Later in the decade, polymer producers found that acrylic polymers could be made even more fur-like and fire resistant by mixing them with other polymers. These new fabrics, called modacrylics, are now the primary polymer used in fake fur manufacture.
Fake furs are known as pile fabrics, which are engineered to have the appearance and warmth of animal furs. They are attached to a backing using various techniques. Although they can never match the characteristics of natural furs, fake furs do have certain advantages over their natural counterparts. Unlike natural furs, fake furs can be colored almost any shade, allowing for more dramatic color combinations. Additionally, fake furs are more durable and resistant to environmental assaults. In fact, some are even labeled hand washable. With concerns over the enviromnent and animal rights, more and more fashion designers are developing garments using fake fur. Lastly, fake furs are much less expensive than natural furs, making them an attractive option for many people.
Fake furs are made with a variety of materials. The bulk fibers are typically composed of polymers, including acrylics, modacrylics, or appropriate blends of these polymers. Acrylic polymers are made from chemicals derived from coal, air, water, petroleum, and limestone. They are the result of a chemical reaction of an acrylonitrile monomer under conditions of elevated pressure and heat. For fake furs, secondary monomers are also added to improve the ability of the acrylic fibers to absorb dyes. Modacrylic polymers are copolymers made by the reaction of acrylonitrile and vinyl chloride monomers. These fibers are particularly useful for fake furs because they can be easily dyed with animal-like colors and have a natural fire retardance.
Modacrylic and acrylic polymers have other characteristics that make them useful in fake fur manufacture. They are light-weight and springy, imparting a fluffy quality to the garment. They are also highly resistant to heat, sunlight, soot, and smoke, are strong and resilient, and show good stability during laundering. Since they are thermoplastic polymers, they can be heatset. They resist mildew and are not susceptible to attack from insects. These polymers also have very low moisture absorbency and will dry quickly.
Other naturally occurring fabrics are also used to make fake furs and improve the look and feel of the overall garment. These include materials such as silk, wool, and mohair. Cotton or wool, along with polypropylene, are typically used to make the backings to which the fibers are attached. Rayon, a semisynthetic fiber made from cellulose and cotton linters, is used to supplement acrylic and modacrylic fibers on the garment, as are polyester and nylon. Materials such as silicones and various resins are used to improve the smoothness and luster of fake furs. To complete the look of a fake fur, dyes and colorants are used. If a true imitation is desired, designers match the color with natural fur. However, fashion designers have found that the fake fur fabric has merits of its own and have started using colors and styles that give it its own new, unique look.