1950s Jewelry & Fashion
A guide to help you identify and date vintage jewelry and fashion
Dating jewelry can be tricky, even for those with experience in handling and wearing it! This is due to the fact that styles were revived from previous decades. Elements that were considered common to specific time periods often carried over to the next, at least in part. This page should give you a feel of 1950s jewelry and the fashions that went along with it. This knowledge can help you date your own vintage jewelry! For more jewelry examples, see our selection of 1950s vintage jewelry.
So what were the 50s like and what styles and ideologies helped guide the general population? Here’s a list of trends that will help you decide if you’re a 50s soul at heart.
You know you should have been born in the 1950s if you:
- are politically conservative
- love shiny new things
- own a pair of dungarees that you wear with your father’s shirt
- own a chemise
- dream about the Yves Saint Laurent ‘trapeze’
- love to sport a pair of capris and a flat ballet-style shoe
- own a petticoat and you wear it under your circle skirt
- own a ‘bucket’ or ‘pillbox’ hat
- ♥ ‘kitten heels’
- adore Audrey Hepburn’s style
- have one of these cuts or hairstyles
- ‘flip’ over the following types of jewelry
1950s jewelry was more refined than that of the 40s big retro styles. It was glitzy, sometimes emulating fine jewelry, and sometimes obviously faux. Faux pearls were common and multi-strand necklaces were immensely popular. Brooches were a wardrobe staple, often being worn in groups on the shoulder. Gold-tone pieces such as wide bracelets and big button earrings were worn as daytime jewelry and the “diamond look” was often seen in the evenings. Sets of matching pieces completed the modern women’s look. As post-war incomes increased and women desired more choice in their accessories, copper and plastics provided the variety they were looking for. What follows is a window into the past of how women adorned themselves in the 1950s.
Above is a 1950s vintage jewelry advertisement from Eisenberg showing flexible crystal bracelets popular in the 50’s. Much of the popular costume jewelry of the 1950s was made to resemble fine jewelry, utilizing quality crystals and gold and rhodium plating. Manufacturing techniques employed a combination of hand craftsmanship and modern production innovations.
Above is a chiffon 1950s Dress by Herbert Sondheim in Vogue May 1957. This image shows a number of popular jewelry trends. Big rings, flexible rhinestone bracelets, and multi-strand necklaces, were all popular in the 50s. Although sets were commonly worn, this image shows the styling of various different pieces together which gives the look a timeless appeal.
Multi-strand beaded necklaces were immensely popular. The image above is for Richelieu ‘Tahiti’ jewelry produced in the 1950’s. According to Harrice Miller, “beads ranged from the monochromatic in 1957 to vivid shades in 1958 that come in all textures, including faceted baroque pearls and brushed gold”. source
As popular as the fine look of rhinestones was, the faux look was also quite chic! Women looked for variety in their jewelry as post-war incomes were stabilizing and evening socializing was becoming commonplace. Also, rhinestones did not appeal to everyone. Copper jewelry was the preferred choice for the beatnik generation who craved an alternate to the glamorous look of crystals. The ad above shows two bracelet sets by Renoir in the patterns ‘flame’ (top) and ‘rhythm’ (bottom). The copper designs in the 50’s were influenced by the Arts and Crafts era which also showed a popularity in this artisan friendly metal.
In addition to rhinestones and copper, plastics were commonly used in jewelry in the 1950’s. Being less expensive to manufacture and more chemically stable, lucite came to dominate the plastic jewelry manufacturing industry. It could be made clear like glass or rock crystal or more opaque or frosted as shown in this vintage Lisner jewelry advertisement from 1958. It’s interesting to note that the set of necklace, bracelet, pin, and earrings had cost $8.00 USD in 1958 (as stated in the ad). That’s equivalent to $65.87 USD in 2015 according to the US inflation calculator! Lucite was versatile and could be used to embed objects such as seashells and pieces of confetti. Another popular way to use lucite in jewelry was to carve and paint it from the back so the design would show through the front as seen here. This is known as ‘reverse carved lucite’.
The distinction of jewelry to be worn at night versus daytime was apparent for the first time in the 50’s. This excellent article which is part of the vintage jewelry workshop by Lynn Alber tells us that “Jewelry set in goldtone finishes had colored stones but no diamonds – for day. “Cocktail” jewelry was worn in the evening”, and this Boucher ad shows jewelry destined to be worn in the evening.
1950s Jewelry varied on the spectrum of glamorous and elegant to fun and artsy. Looking at the styles of the decades that came before and after can help you to date your vintage jewelry. New fashions evolved from the previous styles, which helps in pinpointing years of manufacture.