Written By: Ben Cosgrove

America lacks the couture history of European nations, and, as a result, its fashion output has often been seen as more casual and less decadent, compared to collections from French and Italian design houses. That distinction was challenged in the fall of 1950, though, when designers unveiled clothing that had “taken on a quality of unmistakable elegance” which was also “unmistakably American,” according to the Sept. 11, 1950 issue of LIFE. In a photo essay that featured mink-trimmed satin coats, tweed suits and rhinestone buttons, Nina Leen‘s photographs captured American fashion at its finest and most fabulous.

1950s vintage fashion from LIFE magazine.

Original caption: “Ermine Collar, rhinestone buttons add formal note to tweed suit (Capri, $135). White plush hat (Sally Victor, $50) goes with street or theater suits.”

Nina Leen The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

1950s vintage fashion from LIFE magazine.

Original caption: “Velveteen and fleece are combine in a bright red greatcoat with woolly lining that can worn inside out (Raelson, $110). Velvet in high shades is popular streetwear fabric.”

Nina Leen The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

1950s vintage fashion from LIFE magazine.

Original caption: ” Expensive Elegance is acheived by combining a tailored tweed town suit (Omar Kiam, $235) with soft black fox circle ($125), pearl broach (Trifari, $20).”

Nina Leen The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

1950s vintage fashion from LIFE magazine.

American Elegance, 1950

Nina Leen The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

1950s vintage fashion from LIFE magazine.

American Elegance, 1950.

Nina Leen The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

1950s vintage fashion from LIFE magazine.

American Elegance, 1950

Nina Leen The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

1950s vintage fashion from LIFE magazine.

Original caption: “Inexpensive elegance is achieved by dressing up gray flannel sheath (Carolyn Schnurer, $20) with mink scarf (Annis, $30), velvet hat (Madcaps, $5).”

Nina Leen The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

1950s vintage fashion from LIFE magazine.

Original caption: “Taffeta and wool costume has dress in plaid to match coat. (Herbert Sondheim, $235). Usually custom-made, evening ensembles like this are now made in all price ranges.”

Nina Leen The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

1950s vintage fashion from LIFE magazine.

American Elegance, 1950.

Nina Leen The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

1950s vintage fashion from LIFE magazine.

American Elegance, 1950.

Nina Leen The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Sept. 11, 1950 cover of LIFE magazine.

Sept. 11, 1950 cover of LIFE magazine.

Photo by Nina Leen.

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