Costume Society Ambassadors, Costume Society, News, Reviews  |  May 14, 2018

My 1950s: Women. Fashion. Everyday Life. - Exhibition Review

Eanna Morrison Barrs 

‘My 1950s: Women. Fashion. Everyday Life.’ opened in November 2017 at the Nordiska Museet in Stockholm. The exhibition explores women’s fashions from the 1950s, an era which is familiar to most fashion-loving museum goers. However, this exhibition provides a unique perspective to an international audience by focusing exclusively on fashions from Sweden, which lies on the periphery of fashion capitals such as London, New York and Paris.

Upon entering the exhibition a timeline from 1950-1959 places Sweden’s social, political and cultural achievements amongst key moments of international influence. Grace Kelly being photographed with her Hermès ‘Kelly’ bag in 1956 and the death of Christian Dior in 1957 mark important moments in fashion that emphasise the influence of Hollywood stars and Dior’s ‘New Look’ on Swedish fashion. A display case showing mainly cotton dresses worn by Swedish women further demonstrates the impact of international fashion trends. Sweden, with its cold climate, was more suited to making wool garments. However, a major shift occurred in 1954, when cotton dresses became the largest garment category produced in Sweden. [1]

Another major influence on Swedish Fashion were French fashion designers. Several of the garments in the exhibition are examples of Parisian couture patterns adapted for a Swedish clientele. Swedish dressmaking firms, such as The Märtha School and the French section of NK (Nordiska Kompaniet), bought the rights to the original patterns from French fashion houses. Two dresses in the exhibition were made from patterns by the French fashion designers Maggy Rouff and Madeleine de Rauch. Another dress, worn by Sweden’s first female ambassador, Alva Myrdal, was a Dior design made by The Märtha School. These examples demonstrate an overwhelming preference for French fashion styles in Sweden during the 1950s.  

The dichotomy between French haute couture and the newly emerging teenage fashion is a central theme of the exhibition. Items such as Icelandic sweaters and jeans bought at Sweden’s most fashionable department store, NK, show 50s fashions that went against the trend for feminine dresses with narrow waists. NK was a pioneer of youth fashion in the 1950s, organising fashion shows for teens and stocking the ‘cowboy style’ from America. Teenage fashion shown in the exhibition is an example of the ‘reaction against traditional haute couture fashion’. [2]

A major strength of the exhibition is the focus on everyday clothing of women. Some particularly interesting examples of this are the professional uniforms on display. These include the SAS air stewardess uniform and clerical gown for Sweden’s first female priest. These uniforms demonstrate the need for new clothing to adapt to the changing roles of women. Aprons and housedresses are displayed next to the uniforms, juxtaposing new professional opportunities with the domestic role many women occupied during this period.

‘My 1950s’ offers its visitors a glimpse into the unique position of Swedish fashion in the 1950s and how it related to global trends and socio-political change. Not only garments and wall texts, this exhibition inserts the voices of the women who embraced fashion during this period. Family photographs capture women wearing the garments in the exhibition and many women share personal stories that convey the emotional attachment they have to their clothing. One woman, Cecilia Loohufvud, recalls that her mother’s beach dress was worn around the time she was conceived and later handed down to her. Stories like these are a reminder that the garments shown in museums embody not only a historical period, but also the memories and experiences of their previous owners.

The exhibition is on at the Nordiska Museet in Stockholm, Sweden until January 31, 2019. The exhibition texts are in English and Swedish. 



1 Kyaga, Ulrika. Swedish Fashion 1930-1960: Rethinking the Swedish Textile and Clothing Industry. Stockholm University, 2017, p. 91.

2 Kyaga, Ulrika. Swedish Fashion 1930-1960: Rethinking the Swedish Textile and Clothing Industry. Stockholm University, 2017, p. 93.

Further Reading:

  • Cotton dresses
  • Dresses made from patterns by the French fashion designers Maggy Rouff and Madeleine de Rauch
  • (From left to right) Alva Myrdal’s Ambassador’s Suit, doctor’s coat, clerical women’s uniform, SAS air stewardess uniform
  • Display case of teenage fashions (left), and display case of women’s undergarments (right)