Review: 1950s Fashion Exhibition

I like to think my weekends start on Thursday. This is not because I’m slacking at work, but rather because I look forward to my Thursday evening cultural expeditions almost as much as my Saturday brunches. After a virtuous Musée D’Orsay visit last week, I decided to do something a bit more fun this Thursday, and headed off to the Paris Galliera Musée de la mode de la Ville de Paris (bit of a mouthful!) to visit the 1950s Fashion exhibition.

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This was the first exhibition I’ve had to pay for (€6 with a student card), but it was definitely one of the best. The 1950s were ‘l’âge d’or d’haute couture’ (the golden age), bringing French fashion back to life after the war and establishing it as the powerful fashion centre that it remains today. In 1947 Dior’s first collection completely shook up conventional expectations of fashion and femininity, setting a trend amongst other designers like Balengiaca, Balmain and Chanel. The silouettes became less structured, the skirts became shorter, and the designers starting experimenting with unusual patterns and materials; nothing like it had ever been seen before.

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Fortunately, I managed to join in on a tour of the exhibition, which was led by a tiny little French woman who was charmingly enthusiastic about the clothes. It was so lovely to be shown around by someone so passionate about the dresses and the exhibition, and it was obviously very good for my French! She took us through the various rooms, explaining the story behind every dress and silhouette and the consequences that these new styles had on the fashion industry.
The evening dresses were amazing: women either wore neat little outfits in black or enormous, wedding dress-style, white creations – completely the opposite ends of the spectrum. The cocktail dresses were incredibly detailed; it was amazing to imagine the women of la haute société changing into these extravagant outfits merely to show off at drinks time. However, my favourite part was the beachwear. Our tour guide explained the controversy caused by some of the patterns, such as a dress covered in petits pois (bizarrely named ‘L’Eccossais’), and one that was printed with abstract pictures of cats – so not what you’d expect to see! I was also amazed by the swimwear. I know that 1950s-style two-pieces are really trendy at the moment, but I would have expected the originals to be slightly more old-fashioned. However there were a couple of pieces that I would most definitely wear myself (if I had the money to afford a Balenciaga bikini, of course!)

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I don’t think we were supposed to take photos, hence the really poor-quality of my surreptitious snaps:

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The exhibition is on until the 2nd of November. I would definitely recommend it. I also think it’s worth trying to join in on the tour, as you learn so much more than you would simply reading the plaques and it makes it much easier to visualise! Although I’m big on my fashion magazines and I like knowing what’s ‘in style’, I’m not hugely interested in haute couture and all the details of the dressmaking. However, for an amateur like me, it was fascinating to learn about the story behind the dresses and the reverberations that they caused in the fashion world. A Thursday evening well spent.

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