The 1950s was a time of incredible growth and prosperity in the United States—the war was over, rationing was over, new styles were emerging, and cultural norms were expanding and changing all the time. Fashion of the 1950s embraced the idea of ‘seen and be seen.’ Women were always on stage, whether at home with the children, or at the country club’s cocktail party with their husband. Dior’s New Look of the late 1940s (that great cinched waist and full skirt look) continued into the 1950s, and the hourglass figure became the ideal. Foundation garments became essential to achieve this look. With society beginning to place a bigger emphasis on media—newspapers and magazines, television and radio shows—models of the 1950s quickly became the women any fashionable woman of the 1950s looked to for the latest fashion trends.
There was a handful of core models everyone knew about. First, Jean Patchett. Jerry Ford of Ford Models once said that Jean was “a super model decades before the term ‘super model’ was coined.” With dark hair, dark eyes, long and graceful limbs, and a signature mole nestled next to her right eye, Jean Patchett became a star. Born in Preston, Maryland, Jean set her sights on the modeling world after several unsuccessful stints exploring other avenues of employment, including secretarial school. In 1948, she signed with Harry Conover’s agency, but she soon left for the newly formed Ford modeling agency—and that September, Jean land her first Vogue cover. From there, her career sky-rocketed and Jean Patchett became a household name.
Next, Dovima. Dorothy Virginia Margaret Juba was born in Queens in 1927. When she was just ten, she contracted rheumatic fever (which requires bedrest) and was kept home (and home-schooled) for the next seven years—during that time, she explored her interest in art and signed her pieces Dovima, a combination of the first two letters of her full name. In 1949 she was discovered by a Vogue staff member, and soon signed with the Ford modeling agency, becoming a famous 1950 fashion icon and model. She even became the muse of the infamous photographer Richard Avedon.
Perhaps the model most aspired-to by women and revered by men was Dorian Leigh, the face of Revlon’s Fire and Ice campaign of 1952. Born in Texas, Dorian had worked as a mechanical engineer during the war, designing airplane parts and earning $0.65/hour. Eventually she had to switch from engineering to copywriting for Republic Pictures because of vision problems—a co-worker there suggested she try modeling (which was probably the best suggestion she was ever given). An absolute knock-out, Dorian would go on to pose for 50 magazine covers and was one of the first models to become a household name. Obviously the modeling gene ran in the family, because Dorian’s (real name Dorian Leigh Parker) little sister Suzy Parker was another 1950s fashion icon and total success story. Signed by Eileen Ford in 1948 and introduced to Richard Avedon by Dorian soon after, Suzy went to the Paris collection showings with her sister and the famous photographer in 1950, and she career took of from there. Suzy’s pictures were all about her individuality and her personality shining through (her 1952 cover for Vogue pictured here makes us smile).
conic 50s women of fashion come in all shapes and styles, from the taste and style of Dorian Leigh, Suzy Parker, Jean Patchett, and Dovima. These 50s fashion icons paved the way for not only the models and soon-to-be-supermodels of the coming decades, but they also set the stage for the importance media/women/designers/society would place on the profession.
written by Heather Cox & Edited by Sarah Korsiak Cellier for Rice and Beans Vintage