Bubble silhouette, 1958-59


S20078978-2Cocktail dress
Gift of Steven Porterfield

In March 1958, Vogue lauded the new variety in fashionable silhouettes: "a whole lovely flight of new forms–winged, floating, or held slightly away from the body in some mysterious way. It is the variety of shapes that marks these Paris collections."1 In the accompanying 20-page editorial, readers were introduced to St. Laurent's A-line trapeze dress for Dior, Cardin's bubble hem skirt suit, Madame Grès empire-waist chiffon day dress, and Chanel's slim, two-piece wool suit. The hodge-podge of silhouettes presented in the article suggests that Christian Dior's 1947 New Look silhouette was finally being surpassed by new approaches to the body. The 1958 Vogue article credited the availability of varied silhouettes to the body-skimming chemise dress, which had become popular the previous year.

Also pictured in the 1958 editorial were sheath dresses made voluminous by overlayers of organdy or tulle. As is true of the dress featured in this post, the addition of transparent overlayers made simple sheaths more complex and intriguing. Though inherently fragile, the overlayer suggests a protective cocoon, or an insect's exoskeleton. In the black cocktail or evening dress pictured here, the sheer overlayer is a voluminous bubble with diagonal pleats at center front. A wide velvet band holds the transparent bubble in place. To make walking easier, the front of the skirt is fashioned from two overlapping panels. Sitting would deflate the exaggerated silhouette, so a fashion-conscious wearer would have spent the evening on her toes.


The bubble silhouette was something of a fad in the late 1950s. Both Pierre Cardin and Hubert Givenchy had already experimented with the inflated silhouette, in 1954 and 1956 respectively. By the late '50s, it had become a popular choice for evening, cocktail and prom wear. In 1958, the New York Times called the bubble skirt "one of the prettiest dance fashions for evening, " especially when paired with sheer stockings and evening gloves.2

In the 1980s, a decade that witnessed numerous resurrections of 1950s style, the bubble skirt made a comeback. Also designed for evening, this early 1980s Yves Saint Laurent haute couture design features a dropped waist and bubble skirt. Today, the bubble skirt makes occasional appearances on the street and the runway. Most recently, Miu Miu's 2012 resort collection featured 1980's inspired bubble skirts, which you can see here and here. See the full collection here.

2003520Evening dress
Silk velvet and taffeta
Yves Saint Laurent
Museum Purchase


1 Daves, Jessica. "Paris Fashion: Paris Collections: Skirts Rise Waistlines Rise New Shapes Fascinate." Vogue 1 Mar. 1958: 105.
2 "Skirting the Issue." New York Times 1 Nov. 1958: 16.


2 responses to “Bubble silhouette, 1958-59

  1. Beautiful. And that shape is quite popular today now again (I think so anyway! Or it was a couple of years ago?)

  2. Rachel says:

    Variations on the bubble definitely make regular appearances! Here’s a very recent image of a bubbled skirt worn by Rihanna: http://nymag.com/daily/fashion/2012/04/rihanna-tried-out-pretty-and-pink.html.

    Just more proof that fashion is a series of cycles…everything goes out, but will (almost always) come back in. And a demonstration that contemporary fashion is really about personal preference, not style rules. Any silhouette is fair game!

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