World War II affected pretty much everything in the ’40s and fashion is no exception. Fabric rationing forced hemlines higher and silhouettes mimicked Utility styles introduced in Britain. They featured boxy shoulders, a nipped-in waist and knee-length skirts. Necklines were modest and sleeves fell to the elbow or wrist.
Popular dress styles included the shirtwaist, the peplum and the wrap, all of which remain popular today.
Skirts were usually A-line, flaring out from the knee, and somewhere between full and pencil. In 1947, French designer Christian Dior introduced his “New Look,” and based on that, skirts became either very tight or very full.
Suits were popular as daywear because they could be mixed and matched if necessary. Blouses featured a V-neck or small rounded peter pan collar.
The 1939 movie version of Gone with the Wind made the princess dress popular for evening. It featured a fitted bodice, long full skirt and puffy sleeves, drop sleeves or no sleeves.
Another popular evening look was a long, gathered column gown with a short dinner jacket.
Many women couldn’t afford long formal gowns, so semi-formal cocktail dresses were popular. They were frequently modeled after day styles but made from upgraded fabrics.
Women’s pants first came into the picture in the ’30s, but in the ’40s they became necessary for women working in factories. Like the ’30s versions, pants were high-waisted with wide legs. It’s also the first time coveralls or overalls are seen for women, again thanks to factory work.
Shoes were more utilitarian in the ’40s than the ’30s and often featured a chunky heel or wedge. Since leather was scarce due to the war, shoes were often made of other materials such as reptile skin.
Popular hat styles included the beret, imported from France, and the turban.
Women working in factories had to keep their hair free from getting caught in machinery so many wore a knitted snood or tied hair up in a scarf.
Rationing affected men’s styles as well. As we saw last week, men’s clothing of the ’30s was aimed at making a dude look big and powerful, but new regulations that dictated cuff and lapel lengths kept suits more fitted.
After the war, military styles, such as the trench coat, showed up in civilian closets.
The Zoot Suit, with it’s super baggy fit and bright colors, made its first appearance in the ’30s and was considered unpatriotic during the war years because of all the extra fabric it used. By then it was also associated with gangsters.
Despite that, it becomes very popular in the late ’40s and ’50s, which we will investigate next week!
Hope you enjoyed this overview of ’40s fashion. If you want to read more, check out the sites below.
As always, thanks for reading and catch you next week!