1950's Halter Dresses

The "oh so popular" in the 1950's halter dresses refer to a bodice fitting and backless dress that is secured at the neck and the waist. They are made to be tied around the neck, button fastened, or merely slipped over the head.

The bodice features daring v-necklines, feminine sweetheart shapes, or less revealing cowl necks. Bras are either built into the garment or are strapless with low backs.

Collection of various halter neck bodice types
Halter Neck Bodices

Worn most frequently in casual summer clothing and utilizing thin spaghetti straps, the low cut style optimizes sun exposure making the bosom enhancing design a popular swimsuit choice.

Hollywood Influence

Halter dresses first entered the Hollywood fashion scene as early as the 1920's with Clara Bow's backless sensation and continued into the forties when Rita Hayworth's beautiful shoulders and neck were showcased in her 1941 film Blood and Sand.

Clara Bow in back view of halter dress for 1925 film "My Lady of Whims"
Clara Bow in halter dress in "My Lady of Whims" 1925
Library of Congress Public Domain

Adrian's Halter Dress

Creating Joan Crawford's equally spectacular black and white halter top gown, American Fashion Designer and Hollywood costumer Gilbert Adrian began a decades long collaboration with the outspoken Miss Crawford during fittings for the 1932 film "Grand Hotel." Despite Adrian's initial wariness of the notorious Crawford, they developed a mutual respect for each other.

William Travilla Halter Dress

Halter dresses gained even more popularity during the fifties when both Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell chose the flattering neckline for their 1952 photography session after signing their names in front of Grauman's Chinese Theater.

Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in halter dresses for Grauman's Chinese Theater signing in 1952
Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in Halter Dresses
UCLA Library Public Domain

They were truly celebrated in our favorite fifties sex goddess' iconic subway grate scene in "The Seven Year Itch." Famed costume designer William Travilla plunged both Marilyn Monroe and the garment's neckline into silver screen history with the flirtatious fifties design.

On June 18, 2011, the white backless dress with a form fitting bodice and full pleated skirt sold to an unidentified phone bidder at a Hollywood auction for $4.6 million. This was twice the expected bid and a testament to Marilyn's continued popularity. Read about The Crown Jewel of Costumes Here

1950's Halter Dresses

Tea length 1950's dresses fashioned of taffeta, tulle, and cotton fabrics overlaying ruffled crinolines, featuring halterneck tops in fabrics printed with polka dots, checks, flowers, or fruit were favored for a fun and flirty look that can often be found today.

Norman Norell designed pink satin and chiffon halter dress displayed on dress form
Norman Norell Halter Dress 1952-1957
©Metropolitan Museum
Gift of Mrs. Chance Vought
Halter tops are frequently chosen for evening gowns or party dresses as the exposed back and shoulders are considered quite provocative. Chiffon and silk fabrics may be pleated for effective draping in a Grecian robe floor length style. Many designers chose to use intricate beading and embroidery to draw attention to the neckline.

Black Ceil Chapman Halter Top Sheath Style Dress worn by Marilyn Monroe
Ceil Chapman Halter Sheath Dress
Worn by Marilyn Monroe
©Live Auctioneers

The timeless appeal of halter dresses remains today.


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