1950 - 1960

Rationing continued, but there was a positive side. It had shown people that fashion wasn’t just for the rich, but was accessible to everyone. And it also had to be practical – to wash well and last longer. In response, Marks & Spencer put a lot of effort into improving products as well as experimenting with new technologies and fabrics.

We took a man-made fabric we had created during the war and made it into a popular line of dresses influenced by Parisian designers. This fabric was known as Utility Schedule 1005 in wartime, but was now renamed Marspun.

Brown striped dress

By 1955 fashion finally had the chance to rebel against the harsh conditions of the war years. The New Look dress was based upon the ‘Corolle’ collection by Christian Dior, and became very popular. It used a lavish amount of material and went against all the utility clothing regulations. When he saw this new trend the President of the Board of Trade said, “There should be a law against it”.

In 1957 we decided to improve sizing for ready-to-wear clothes (like tailored ‘super-fit’ nylon stockings), which we created through surveys of women’s bodies. Very fitting indeed.

M&S New Look dress

Donated by Mrs P Nicholson, this dress was "worn by all five of my daughters, the hems went up and down depending on which child".

Hats were very popular in the 1950s as they provided an easy way to update outfits. This one is made of straw and carries the St Michael logo.

The popular New Look emphasised a narrow waist and created more interest in corsetry. This item is a sample from a wearer trial in 1959.

This toy cat was donated by Lesley Hughes, who bought it in 1954 for 9s 11d. It was very popular, featuring twice in the employee magazine.

M&S’s in-house designer, Charlie Wilkinson, produced this beautifully drawn and coloured design.

Watch M&S adverts from the 1950s


Add your comment...

Karen , Essex
Monday 15 February
I am so happy to come across this article. My friend was a fashion buyer for M&S in the 1960's. Sadly she has recently passed away - is there a way for finding more about M&S in this ground breaking era? Kind regards Karen
Archive Team, Leeds
Tuesday 16 February
Hi Karen, we're sorry to hear about your friend. You can search our Online Catalogue to find out more, just click on the tab at the top of the page. Our staff magazine at that time was called St Michael News, which may be a good place to start. You can contact us at company.archive@marksandspencer.com if you have any specific questions. Best wishes, the Archive team.
Deboragh Innes, Lancashire
Wednesday 8 September
A friend of mine Eleanor Park was a buyer for M&S for many years, gave her life to her career and never bore children or married, she told she was married to the job. She passed away 2 weeks ago and will be cremated, alone during a direct cremation tomorrow, leave no legacy or evidence that ever existed. She told me wonderful stories of her time with M&S, i wonder if i could find out more?
Archive Team, Leeds
Thursday 9 September
Hi Deboragh, we're very sorry to hear about Eleanor. We have found her name in a retirement notice for 1989, but I'm afraid we have no further information. You might like to browse our St Michael News staff magazine via the online catalogue to find out more about the business at the time that Eleanor was working at M&S. Best wishes, the Archive team.
Scott Wilson, Macclesfield
Tuesday 29 November
What year did the Macclesfield store open? My grandma worked there around 1950 I think it was.
Archive Team, Leeds
Wednesday 30 November
Hi Scott, the Macclesfield store opened at 30/32 Mill Street on 22 September 1933, then moved to 33 Mill Street on 6 February 1974. Best wishes, the Archive team.