Iconic Historical Movie Costumes of the 1950s

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This is an occasional series highlighting historical movie and TV costumes that best represent the decade they were produced in. They may or may not be the most historically accurate, but we think these costumes stand out as icons of when they were made. Comment with your faves, and watch the blog for the next decade we review!

 

The decade of the biblical epic, the spaghetti western, and the swashbuckler, the 1950s has a lot to offer in terms of quasi-historical costume flicks. That said, we’re going to focus on the films that defined the historical costume genre, for good or for ill!

 

The African Queen (1951)

Never let Katharine Hepburn near your supply of hooch.

 

Showboat (1951)

Aka, “Slowboat.”

 

Ivanhoe (1952)

An interesting take on the Ivanhoe legend that is sort of based on the expulsion of Jews from York in the 13th century.

 

My Cousin Rachel (1952)

#imtoocutetomurderanyonehonest

 

Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

Debbie Reynolds was cute and all, but Jean Hagen as Norma Sheerer Lina Lamont BRINGS IT.

 

Julius Caesar (1953)

Back when Marlon Brando didn’t look like an unshaved troll living under a bridge in LA.

 

Young Bess (1953)

I legit thought this was one of those custom Sims costumes for a second…

 

Brigadoon (1954)

Allegedly the 18th century. Allegedly.

 

Désirée (1954)

Jean Simmons, not to be confused with Gene Simmons.

 

Seven Samurai (1954)

I just love this photo so much.

 

Nana (1955)

( • )( • )

 

Richard III (1955)

Hey girl. Wanna ride my kingdom for a horse? (That was way funnier in my head…)

 

Sissi (1955)

Sissi (1955)

Probably one of the top 10 historical gowns of all time, this is based on a portrait of Empress Sissi by Winterhalter.

 

The Virgin Queen (1955)

Bette Davis realness or Elizabeth I realness? Hard to say.

 

Diane (1956)

Diane (1956)

MFW watching the costumes in this film.

 

The King and I (1956)

Yul Brenner is never not sexy AF.

 

The Ten Commandments (1956)

*bites fist*

 

Raintree County (1957)

All bullet-bras, all the time in Raintree County.

 

Auntie Mame (1958)

#lifegoals

 

Dracula (1958)

#deathgoals

 

The Vikings (1958)

Bullet bras, like smokey eyeshadow, are totes Viking.

 

Ben-Hur (1959)

This film was totally not a gay romance. Nope. Not at all.

 

Some Like It Hot (1959)

Some Like It Hot

My kinda party!

 

What’s your favorite iconic historical movie costume of the 1950s? What would you add to the list?

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About the author

Sarah Lorraine

Website

Sarah discovered her dual passion for history and costume right around the age of twelve. Dragged kicking and screaming to her first Renaissance Faire at Black Point, she was convinced she was going to hate it, but to her surprise, she fell head over heels in love with the world of reenactment and dress up immediately. Her undergraduate degree is in Clothing & Textile Design, and she has a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture. When she’s not hauling crap to SCA events and ren faires, Sarah enjoys reading true crime books, writing fiction, and sewing historical clothing from the Middle Ages through the 20th-century. One of these days, she might even start updating her old costuming blog again.

26 Responses

  1. thestoryenthusiast

    Um, totally loving your snarky photo captions. I laughed out loud on a couple of them. And bonus, you listed two Yul Brynner films. Plus, I don’t know if Liz Taylor was ever more ethereally gorgeous than in Ivanhoe.

    Reply
    • SaucyMarla

      Exactly what I was thinking! I had to do a triple take because I’m SURE nip-edges are showing!

      Reply
      • hsc

        It was a French film, so the Hollywood standards wouldn’t have applied. It only played “art houses” in the U.S., where they could even get away with brief nudity at the time.

        Reply
    • Teresa

      That was ancient Egypt? I had to look at the title.

      By the way, there’s that hairstyle again–the one that was mentioned in “Hairstyles of the 30s part I.” Straight hair and bangs. And the only thing in the costume that looks even remotely Egyptian is the pair of pleated oversleeves (if that’s what they’re called). And if they’re not made of linen, they’re wrong.

      Reply
      • SarahV

        There are more um, “stylized” Egyptian costumes in the actual movie, mostly with Anne Baxter wearing slinky gowns with pleats and spectacular Egyptian jewelry, like those shoulder covering jeweled collars, and adornments attached to her wigs.

        Reply
  2. karena333

    Elizabeth Taylor’s Ivanhoe bullet bra beats out Raintree County (and all other) bullet bras.

    Reply
  3. hsc

    Love the list and the comments, but that’s not a still of Chris Lee from “Dracula/Horror of Dracula” (1958). That’s from “Taste the Blood of Dracula” (1970).

    Reply
  4. Lynne Connolly

    whoa, how did she keep them in?
    I’d add one of my favourites, Renoir’s “French Can-Can,” not to be confused (ever!) with the Hollywood version with Frank Sinatra. I love me some Frank, but…

    Reply
    • Lady Hermina De Pagan

      My Mother and I both adore this movie! Missy Gooch, Missy Gooch!

      Reply
    • MoHub

      Historical accuracy be damned! I will take everything Russell wore in that film!

      Reply
      • SarahV

        I’ll just take the coat when she goes to meet the dreadful prospective in-laws and that elegant black mourning dress she somehow makes sexy when she meets the rakish Irish ghostwriter.

        Okay, fine, throw in that golden sari-wrap dress from the end.

        Reply
  5. Adina

    I seriously suspect the dress from nana was from the weird vampire twins movie

    Reply
  6. EAG46

    I have a story to tell about the Vikings movie. I was watching it on cable one day and my dad came into the room and watched a bit with me. [My dad is a retired engineer, this is relevant.] At the scene where the Vikings are dragging a big tree to make a battering ram, he talks about how that’s not very efficient, they surely would have thought of a better way, etc. “Dad,” I said. “If we’re supposed to buy that Tony Curtis and Kirk Douglas were both Ernest Borgnine’s sons, I think we can overlook inefficient weapon-making.” “Fair enough.”

    Reply
  7. SarahV

    Anne Baxter was EVERYTHING in the 10 Commandments. I know that Elizabeth Taylor’s tacktacular Cleopatra launched an Egyptian style fad, but Nefertiri was divine. I am surprised she didn’t kick it off a decade early That aqua colored dress! Her cat-like purr. The naked longing in her eyes for the manly manliness that was prime Charlton Heston.

    Reply

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