In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Historic Clothing Collection

1950-1960

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Denim jeans and more casual dress, the uniform of the emergent youth culture, became synonymous with rebellion against established culture and society. This attitude played out in the now classic movies, "The Wild One" with Marlon Brando (1953), and "Rebel Without a Cause" with James Dean (1955). At this point the T-shirt moved out from being underwear to become an icon of masculinity and rebelliousness. As a vehicle of expression, the T-shirt has since moved on to its present position as the message T-shirt or graphic tee we know in the 2020s. The collection holds numerous more modern message T-shirts, but as of yet, no roll hemmed '50s jeans, or much in the area of 1950s teen clothing.

The 1950s were not only the years of the "New Look," and rebellion, they were the years when new fabrics made of new synthetic fibers began to appear. Nylon, hitherto retained for war purposes, now reached the fashion scene, to be followed by polyester, wool-like acrylic and many others. Nylon's crease resistant, wash and drip-dry qualities were novel and exciting at that time.


"Betty Barclay Frock," ca. 1955Maine Historical Society

From young and casual versions, to the more mature and formal, the collection's "New Look" examples all have fitted waists and are well below knee in length. Ida May Lane's speckled navy and pale blue dolman sleeve dress, with a long back zip and black belt, is mid-calf length with a fully flared skirt stiffened with a navy rayon taffeta lining. Another example, associated with Mabel Graney, is a special occasion square neck, mushroom colored heavy rayon taffeta dress featuring machine embroidered swirls embellishing the full skirt, which is designed to be worn with a supportive underskirt. The label reads "The Betty Barclay Frocks Collection," which was used by manufacturer Jonathan Logan.