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Fashion in France exhibition

Fashion in France, 1947-1957

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Why you will love it?

The exhibition Fashion in France, 1947 - 1957, presented at the Palais Galliera, is a window into the past. Although it focuses uniquely on fashion in the Fifties, it also gives a wider insight into post-war French society. A way to understand what life was like 65 years ago. Enjoy! Parisianist.

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About this place

10 Avenue Pierre 1er de Serbie, 75016 Paris
Line 9 - Iéna / Alma-Marceau

Friday : 10:00 am - 18:00 pm
more less
Monday : Closed Tuesday : 10:00 am - 18:00 pm Wednesday : 10:00 am - 18:00 pm Thursday : 10:00 am - 18:00 pm Friday : 10:00 am - 18:00 pm Saturday : 10:00 am - 18:00 pm Sunday : 10:00 am - 18:00 pm

Our Insiders' Article


Although the exhibition at the Palais Galliera focuses uniquely on fashion in the Fifties, it also gives a wider insight into post-war French society. Almost like a looking through window into the past, you gain a deeper understanding of what life was like 65 years ago. At the time, people were seeking to break free from the deep-seated, restrictive wartime limits. In fashion terms, the Fifties started in 1947 when Christian Dior launched his first collection dubbed by the press the “New Look”. Fashion and haute couture became more popular and more sought after than ever by a public increasingly willing to spend. Dior was up against the already-established designers such as Jacques Fath and Balenciaga. Even the 71-year old Coco Chanel decided to come out of her 15-year retirement to challenge the male designers dominating women’s fashion. At around the same time, the media was shining a greater spotlight on fashion as the number of women’s magazines increases and their readership expands. While French fashion in the Fifties appeared to revolve around fierce rivalries between top designers and different interpretations of beauty, it was above all about a return to femininity. 


The exhibition is held at the Palais Galliera, named after the Duchess of Galliera, Maria Brignole-Sale. Founded as the Industrial Art Museum, the palace was initially supposed to house her large personal art collection. The Duchess never got to see her museum as it opened in 1895, one year after her death.

Parisianist Fun Fact: The building’s metallic support structure was designed and built by Gustave Eiffel in the same workshop as the Eiffel Tower! 


Laid out in three main sections, the exhibition showcases approximately 100 high fashion garments and accessories such as gloves, shoes, earrings and hats. The first room you visit, the Galerie d’Honneur, sets the scene by presenting newspaper articles and television clips related to fashion in the Fifties. As you move to the second room, the Grande Galerie, you will find the most stunning selection of eveningwear and cocktail dresses you have ever come across. Finally the third room, the Galerie Est, displays the beachwear and the shorter country style dresses fashionable at the time. This concluding section also introduces some womenswear popular at start of the Sixties. Nonetheless the "cocktail dresses" symbolize fashion in the 50s.


The exhibition has a truly retro feel about it. Starting out in the bright, airy entrance hall, where the large bay windows let the sunlight flood in, only makes the progression into the darker second and third rooms all the more dramatic. Here your eyes are automatically drawn to the sumptuous spot lit exhibits. Dresses and accessories are displayed alongside the front covers of magazines from the era, emphasizing the historical impact of this artistic revolution. 

Part One

Launched in 1947, Christian Dior’s New Look is characteristic of the innovative direction taken by the world of fashion in the 1950s. The start of this period coincided with a rise in following for women’s magazines such as Elle and Paris Match, which helped to increase awareness about the latest fashions. Designs from Jacques Fath were also decisive in shaping the new trends of the decade. The typical Fifties style on which he concentrated was based on cinched waists and rounded hips incorporated into designs for fitted suits, fluttery drape dresses and voluptuous full volume skirts with hems a full 33cm (13 inches) from the floor! Elegant, ever more sophisticated accessories became more widely worn and sought after. The House of Dior, especially in its original collection, focused on rounded shoulders and accentuated hips, while Balenciaga worked with curved lines and Chanel preferred simple, straight lines. The one piece that really stands out from the other, rather sober exhibits is Givenchy’s shamelessly playful polka dot dress.

Part Two

Part two of the exhibition reveals the extravagance of the 1950s designers eveningwear collection in all its splendour. Designers such as Dessès and Grès work with pleats, Lucile Manguin distinguishes her work by the mastery of the cut, while Carven prefers clean, simple lines that magnificently enhance the silhouette. Henry à la Pensée, however, sets himself apart by incorporating large motifs into his designs, whereas Fath uses daring colors. Fabrics like muslin, velvet and tulle became more extravagant and exquisite. The girdle promotes a plunging, low-cut neckline, known as the Y-shaped cleavage, as popularized by Christian Dior. The cocktail dresses on display are the archetype of Fifties eveningwear, but with the advent of ready to wear clothing - the curse for all fashion designers - they will sadly soon be consigned to oblivion. 

Part Three

Ever since 1947, underwear has become more creative and complex. It was at the time an essential part of a lady’s outfit that sculpted the silhouette for a harmonious fit with the cuts of the dresses. The corset formed the wasp waist, the balconette bra favoured Dior’s famous Y-shaped cleavage and the petticoat accentuated the fullness of the skirt. However, the youth of the Fifties didn’t always appreciate the haute couture creations. This generation of consumers preferred a more simple, comfortable wardrobe that didn’t require such complex underwear. Faced with these new demands, accessories became plainer, and high heels were thrown out the window. The iconic and revolutionnary "coktail dresses" will try to delay the expansion of ready to wear clothing, but their path to success had already been paved.


Fashion in the Fifties was purely and simply the glorification of elegance and the pleasure of being beautiful. It was an era in which different tastes thrived and haute couture and fashion flourished after the limits imposed by the war. The fashion scene continued to evolve right up to the advent of ready to wear clothing in the Sixties. Don’t forget to check out the Hollywood perspective on the turbulent world of fashion in the Fifties – the Grand Action cinema is screening movies from the decade until October 31. 

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