Vintage Garden Party Fashion from the 40’s and 50’s by Nick Williams

Summer is the perfect time to host a fabulous traditional garden party whether it is a gathering for family and friends, a special occasion or wedding reception.  A garden party conjures images of gorgeous china, beautiful bunting, subtle lighting and stunning fashion.

Garden parties were originally a tradition in the UK and France and were enjoyed by the upper classes on larger estates and also our royal family.  Parties usually lavished in scrumptious and ample buffet style foods and games such as croquet and horseshoe were very popular.  Attendees of the traditional garden party wore elegant attire with women fashioned in gorgeous tea dresses and fit and flare styles and men in light colours and tailored blazers to give a sophisticated yet casual look.

gardenparty3Outdoor parties were popular in the 40’s and 50’s with women’s clothing becoming increasingly feminine and fashionable to wear.  After the utilitarian styles of a wartime era, dresses took a modest yet changing attitude towards women’s sexuality.  Silhouettes were enhanced with clinched waist belts and rising hemlines. Hollywood stars such as Katherine Hepburn gave inspiration to a new generation of stronger women sporting trousers rather than skirts that changed the perception of how women should dress.   A popular dress style loved by many women was the pretty tea dress, a classic and feminine style was perfect for the delicate modesty of the era but also experimented with on trend womanly style.

gardenparty4Moving into the fifties saw the rise of glamourous movie starlets such as Marilyn Munroe who inspired raw sexuality and the iconic ‘pin up’ look with the famous wiggle dress.  Another popular dress style featured a ‘fit and flare’ design with a figure hugging bodice and heavily flared skirt sometimes enhanced with a petticoat.

In the late forties, accessorising your outfit became a part of styling with trends including small hats or fascinator styles, larger squarer bags and shoes with heels.  Handbags went from practical use to something you could match with your outfit and in the 50’s this evolved into the ultimate fashion accessory.  Bags became smaller with shorter straps and ladies wore gloves to match the neat attire whilst colours and fabrics matched to compliment shoes and waist belts.  Shoes also became adventurous with the introduction of the stiletto heel and winkle picker style pointed shoe.

Hats and millinery were a popular choice during the 40’s and 50’s, with designs flattering hairstyles including bonnets or fascinators that could be styled with a gorgeous victory roll or pinned hairstyle.  The snood also became popular to wear with a small beret for a practicality and tidiness.  During the 50’s hats became as glamourous as the clothing with Balenciaga introducing the first pillbox style headwear.  Designs also included veiling which provided a feminine and alluring look to match the beauty of the era.

gardenparty1Garden parties and fashion have changed immensely since the 40s and 50s, yet even today we continue to take inspiration from this beautiful era.  Today’s fashion is about experimenting with vintage styling whilst incorporating a modern twist using vibrant on trend colours and spectacular prints and designs.  Vintage styling and celebrations have encouraged free expression of personal taste and greater social interactions. The host or hostess can enjoy a truly unique garden party experience with an individual twist to entertain and celebrate an intimate occasion.

This article was put together by Nick Williams at Mela Mela Vintage. Mela Mela is a vintage boutique which stocks a range of summer dresses, hats, bags and more.