The 1940s was a time of dramatic changes in fashion. Clothing became more structured and tailored, emphasizing the natural shape of the body. Women's fashion included dresses and skirts that fell to the knee or below, with fitted waists and fuller skirts for a more feminine silhouette. Men's fashion included trousers and jackets with wider shoulders, often with a double-breasted look. If you're looking to recreate the classic 1940s look, read on to find out how.
Dressing to the nines in vintage apparel has made a huge comeback in recent fashion trends, 1940s fashion trends are no different. If you love the look of well-tailored dresses and military-inspired outfits, styling a 1940s look is for you.
WWII and Icons That Inspired 1940s Fashion
As WWII began in 1939, fashion trends for men stalled as they turned in their well-tailored suits for military gear, while women began to draw from men’s 1930s fashion with man-tailored dresses and accessories.
Christian Dior redefined women’s post-war fashion with a brave new silhouette. It is said that Dior revived France’s fashion industry after it had struggled for a few years.
Bette Davis, a 1940s fashion pin-up was an inspiration to many women’s fashion trends in the 40s.
Another American Icon who could be said to have inspired fashion during the 1940s while men were outside of uniform is Frank Sinatra.
Rosie the Riveter, one of the faces of the WWII campaign for the involvement of women during the war effort. These propaganda campaigns also influenced women’s fashion during the 1940s, as well as modern-day fashion trends.
Wizard of Oz star, Judy Garland was a powerhouse during the 1940s who was found in roles both in Hollywood and on Broadway. She was the face of childhood stardom and a huge inspiration for 1940s fashion.
Jackie Robinson was another major icon during the 1940s was a 1940s professional baseball player. He was the first African American to compete in the major leagues which was an inspiration to many African Americans in the community.
Must-Have Staples to Add To Your 1940s Style
Knee-length A-line dresses
Unlike decades of the past, with the start of the war, hemlines began to get a little shorter due to the rationing of fabric. This meant that Knee-length A-line dresses with patriotic prints or florals and puffed sleeves became an everyday staple for women of the 40s.
These A-line dresses are extremely easy to find in modern times, some even have pockets. You can style your look with a knee-length A-line dress with a pair of peep-toe heels and a stylish broach.
Plaid A-line skirts
Much like dresses, skirts also got a bit shorter in the 1940s to conserve fabric due to the shortage of supplies. Plaid A-line skirts paired with a white button-down blouse became the go-to look for many women.
This look is easy to translate to a modern wardrobe along with a pair of wedge sandals and fun accessories
Victory suits: man-tailored skirt and jackets
Inspired by 1930s menswear, women’s victory suits were tailored in a similar fashion to men’s suits and suit jackets. It was a brilliant way for women to mix and match shirts, jackets, and skirts to create a new outfit every day despite the shortage of fabric.
This look was so popular that it remained after wartime had ended and is an easily achievable style to pull off in a modern wardrobe. You can mix and match your own A-line skirts and suit jackets for a fresh look every day of the week.
Wide leg, high waisted pants
With the men away at war, women had to step in to ensure that factories still kept running. While pants were traditionally meant for men, women of the 1940s began to wear them because they were much harder to snag in machinery.
However, after work was done, women began to wear pants, including high waisted wide leg pants on a daily basis as a comfortable clothing option in their casual wardrobe.
Much like any other pair of pants, 1940s pants work well when paired with a print or solid colored blouse and comfortable oxfords or wedge sandals.
Workwear overalls and jeans created the Rosie the Riveter look
Overalls, coveralls, and jeans were deeply inspired by Rosie the Riveter in the 1940s, as women were called to take on the jobs that men could no longer do during wartime. Most of these pieces were made of sturdy materials like blue denim or sturdy cotton to help ensure that they lasted.
This once need-driven look is perfect for every-day wear in modern times. You can pair some coveralls with a thin belt at the waist and some comfortable oxfords or loafers for a casual look or wear some overalls and a cute crop-top to emulate the style while bringing it into the modern era.
1940s Shoes: peep-toe heels, loafers, oxfords, wedge sandals
Plain, sturdy, and a little bit chunky, 1940s shoes were made of materials that were more readily available during the war. Most of the shoes came in mesh, reptile skins, wood, and even velvet.
The heel height of 1940s shoes tended to be on the shorter, yet thicker side, which makes them especially perfect for anyone or as a starter heel if you’re just trying to get used to heels.
The two-piece bikini debuted
While they were a bit too revealing for most tastes in the 1940s, the two-piece bikini became a staple piece of swimwear for women in the mid 1940s.
Along with these risque style swimwear pieces, one-piece and playsuits were also beach favorites for women.
Much like the past, two-piece bikinis are a great swimwear choice when emulating a 1940s swimwear look.
1940s Hair Accessories
Women of the 1940s often accessorized their daily outfits with hats, turbans, headscarves, snoods, and flower clips.
The headwear of the 1940s was extremely diverse, but, some of the more iconic hats and accessories were the one-piece beret hat, a floral-decorated turban, or even knit hair snoods that gathered the hair back and out of the way.
These head accessories are the perfect way to take your 1940s look to the next level.
Lingerie of the 1940s was fairly simple. The most popular pieces were seamed stockings, simplistic bras, girdles, panties, and slips.
Tired of the confines of suits, men in the 1940s began to embrace casual wear. One of the most iconic pieces of 1940s men’s clothing is the Hawaiian shirt.
You can style your perfect 1940s outfit with a button-down Hawaiian shirt layered over the top of a plain white t-shirt and slacks.
Canvas coveralls made of sturdy cotton was a staple for men who had dirty jobs. They were a simple one-piece suit that buttoned down through the fly.
You can style simple coveralls with a belt at the waist and comfortable lace-up oxfords.
Wide or cable ribbed sweaters
In line with men of the 1940s seeking more comfortable clothing, wide or cable ribbed sweaters with either crew necks or v-necks became extremely popular. Men even paired cardigans with slacks for a more casual look.
You can easily obtain this look by pairing a comfortable sweater, slacks and oxford shoes.
Men also had a few head accessories to choose from, the most popular being the fedora and homburg hats that work well with a casual or professional look.
The lace-up Oxford shoe was the perfect casual and professional shoe choice for men in the 1940s.
Whether you’re a man or a woman, you can style your own 1940s inspired look with the perfect accessories. Which styles of the 1940s were your favorite?
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