Tuesday 23 January 2018

Why Saoirse loves Fifties fashion

The actress has a penchant for vintage clothes because they suit women's curves. She's spot on

Christina Hendricks of 'Mad Men' in a '50s style dress.
Christina Hendricks of 'Mad Men' in a '50s style dress.
Saoirse Ronan admits she loves the era's look.

Tanya Sweeney

As an A-lister with yet more Oscar glory in her cross hairs, Saoirse Ronan has her pick of couture designers and labels. But as it happens, the Carlow beauty has revealed that a dash of 1950s vintage excites her more than today's silhouettes.

In Brooklyn, the film in which Ronan plays Eilis Lacey, a young Irish migrant who moves to New York, the waist-cinching costumes are certainly dazzling.

Said Ronan of the 50s look: "The 50s outfits were so womanly, and it encouraged women - as opposed to now - it encouraged women to have the curves and a bum and boobs and all that stuff. Girls are so strongly encouraged to be almost waif-like now, and not have any shape at all."

It's easy to see why 50s fashion, with its full skirts, wiggle dresses and pencil skirts, work so well with modern day women not built for heroin chic. It was an era in which, for better or worse, women were encouraged to be feminine and ladylike. Ergo, the outfits were glamorous, plushly detailed and bright. It was a curious moment in the 20th century for many reasons. The 1950s was seen as a period of post-war decadence; after the great Depression in the US (or wartime London), it was roundly believed in both American and British society that things could only get better. It was a time of unbridled hope and optimism. Women were emboldened after their brief stint in the workplace (they picked up the slack while their men fought during the wars), and it started to show in their attire. Glamour, creativity and sartorial freedom marked the decade. The 50s ushered in a mood of sleek, slender elegance - at once young and sophisticated. What was not to like?

Fast forward via time's giant wheel to the present day, and there is something truly forgiving about a cinched waist. Our bodies have changed in the last 60 years, certainly, but a wide skirt, snug knit and pencil dresses are universally flattering. The revival of 50s fashion is the most egalitarian and accessible there is; no more so than on women who don't have fashionably boyish figures.

In my 20s, before I discovered prom dresses and vintage skirts, I trudged glumly into Topshop and Oasis, ultimately in vain. I'd attempt to batter my breasts into tops not designed for curves, and sighed when shirt buttons gaped and strained. Jeans were out of the question. My skinny size six friend, blessed with a more boyish and minimalist silhouette, could walk into Topshop and have her pick. I, meanwhile, felt like the proverbial eunuch at the orgy.

One day, there came a moment of enlightenment. On a whim, my friend and I decided to visit Retro, a vintage-inspired store in George's Street Arcade, Dublin. It was a revelation; rather than battle my curves, the dresses and skirts worked with them. The hemlines and modest sleeves forgave a multitude of sins (and there are a multitude, trust me). For the first time in ages, it looked as though that extra couple of stone may have in fact been deliberate. The same dresses sagged and hung limply on my model-esque friend. The shop assistant winked at me, slightly conspiratorially. "You kind of need something to… fill these out," she whispered. The afternoon kick-started a love of fashion, and in some ways, a new love affair with my own body. The celebration of curves - kick-started in the late noughties by the magnificently pneumatic Christina Hendricks on Mad Men - was a delightful moment for us womanly types. Where Christina blazed a trail, Kelly Brook and Nigella Lawson followed; women who looked luscious, sexy and who wouldn't cry at the sight of a hamburger (unless they were tears of joy). After decades of what body image expert Suzi Orbach called the 'visual Muzak' of waif-like teenage models, the creamy-skinned, doe-eyed Hendricks was eye-poppingly exotic.

Even evolutionary psychologists have observed that the hourglass figure is seen as an ideal body type for men. Research from the University Of Texas revealed that curves tap into important biological information about women's fertility and reproductive potential (well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it).

However, curves have come under fire in recent years. In today's celebrity system, stars like Daisy Lowe, Ariana Grande and Gigi Hadid are considered 'curvy'. Unless you are enslaved to a macrobiotic kale smoothie regime, you are fair game for body fascists. Even Kylie Jenner and Selena Gomez - both fairly waif-life to begin with - have had to fight back against body shamers. Online misogyny has further heaped shame on women with any semblance of a womanly figure. Perhaps Saoirse Ronan was right after all. Either way, it's an insidious, unhealthy and unforgiving turn of events.

This is precisely where 50s fashion comes back in. Today's 50s style has been upcycled for the 21st century, oozing kitsch and sexiness. In its own way, it's a nostalgic nod to a simpler time (simpler, certainly for women, though not always in positive ways).

Much like charm and humour, unabashed glamour is a woman's great armour for detractors. Fifties fashion helps us normal, non-skinny women tell the world, 'yes, I may have eaten too many Doritos, but I don't care. In fact, the Doritos have helped me really fill out this dress'.

If you, as a woman, have enjoyed a staple diet of skinny jeans and fitted shirts for the last decade, try the 50s silhouette on for size. I defy you not to be entranced by its forgiving qualities, its full-on glamour and its timeless appeal.

And if Saoirse's ladylike wardrobe in Brooklyn doesn't provide at least a little fash-spo, then nothing will.

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Life Newsletter

Our digest of the week's juiciest lifestyle titbits.

Promoted Links

Editors Choice

Also in Life