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Moment 22: TV Changes Everything

The prevalence of television viewing in the Fifties shed new light on TV personalities and actors, who wanted to look their best in black-and-white.

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“Lucy Gets a Paris Gown” from “I Love Lucy” 1956

“Lucy Gets a Paris Gown,” from “I Love Lucy,” 1956.

Photo By Courtesy of Everett Collection

Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD 100 issue 11/01/2010

Trivial as it might seem, the advent of television in the fifties provided a balm for Americans, who were trying to put World War II behind them. And all that at-home viewing called for just the right look. Television hostess coats or Tele-coats—essentially the Fifties' version of the Snuggie—first came on the scene in January 1950. Later that year, WWD also reported about other emerging lounge styles, such as cushioned underwear for TV viewing, non-bottom-numbing protection "for tots who sit on the floor watching TV."

In April 1950, costume designer Paul du Pont provided pointers for readers and aspiring TV personalities who wanted to look their best in black and white. "Very often a $19.95 dress gives a much better effect than a custom-made one," he told WWD. And wearing pine green clothing looked most like black, while pale blue or yellow was the closest one could get to white. As for plunging necklines, du Pont was not a fan—"because they distract."

Lucille Ball proved to be a trailblazer beyond the world of comedy. The redheaded star of "I Love Lucy" teamed up with Suzy Boutique to develop a signature collection of sweaters and blouses, which were advertised in WWD in 1952. Dinah Shore landed in the paper in December 1955 for wearing a one-piece for tennis, and Rosemary Clooney's maternity wear was featured in WWD in 1956. Even "king of the wild frontier" Davy Crockett, who, through numerous film and TV portrayals introduced thousands to the coonskin cap, scored his share of print for creating a mini-fashion wave that same year.

Around that same time—more than 50 years before "Project Runway" hit the airwaves—WWD reported about a contest for viewers to design a dress for a singer on "The Lawrence Welk Show." Such novelties were welcome distractions for a Cold War nation learning how to "duck and cover" in the event of nuclear attack.