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1940s Accessories You Can Use Today!

Updated on February 1, 2015

Ladies of the 1940s Would Have Loved Pinterest.

Ladies of the 1940s were under a lot of pressure. This was a generation of women who came through the Great Depression, who worked in factories, who supported their families and took care of their children alone, who served their country during wartime, and who had to live within the confines of rationing. The philosophy of the day was mend and make do. They weren't women of tremendous means, they weren't women who could buy something new any time it suited them, but they still put in an enormous amount of effort towards looking neat and elegant.

Fashions of this era are coming back into vogue, partly inspired by characters like Peggy Carter from Captain America: the First Avenger. It only makes sense that these fashion choices should come accompanied by period appropriate accessories.

Here are a few great fashion accessory ideas inspired by the Greatest Generation, and their mend and make do philosophy.

Two Vintage Hats for the Price of One

Scarves and Turbans For Career Women

A woman uses a scarf as a turban to keep her hair out of her face and away from the machinery on the job.
A woman uses a scarf as a turban to keep her hair out of her face and away from the machinery on the job. | Source

Hats and Turbans

In the 1940s, people wore hats much more than they do now. Women wore lots of different kinds of hats. They wore both traditionally female hats, like the pillbox hat, and traditionally male styles, like the fedora or the trilby. The more masculine hats tended to have feminine tailoring.

I was surprised to see women encouraged to cut down the hats of their husbands (who were away fighting WWII) and make themselves new ones in the short film "Make and Mend Hats" from 1942. I can only imagine some of the arguments young couples had when the husbands came home from the war only to find half their wardrobe missing! Still, it's easy to understand how the fashions of the 1940s (such as the masculine seeming hats) and the mend and make do philosophy fed into each other. Second hand men's hats are certainly available today to anyone who would like to give this project a try.

In the 1942 short educational film "S.O.S.," a woman cleverly cuts down an old hat and uses it to create two new hats. She cuts the brim off, creating a pillbox hat. She uses the brim to make a flat frilled hat. These two hats are each embellished with a mesh veil. This fun 1940s project can easily be replicated today using used modern hats.

When a new hat is unobtainable and a bare head is underwhelming, try learning some lovely 1940s turban tying techniques, as depicted in 1942's "How To Tie a Turban." Turbans have the additional advantage of covering your pin curls.

Knitters could choose to make their own hats and hair accessories, like the tam or the snood.

Don't Let Your Husband Catch You!

Turbans: Almost as Good as a Hat

Vintage Makeup Packaging

One of the key accessories Peggy Carter has made use of so far in her television series is her knockout lipstick, which comes out of a tube labeled, "Sweet Dreams." While I haven't been able to find any vintage drug laced lipstick in heavily stylized tubes, I have found some absolutely gorgeous ornate lipstick tubes on E-bay and Etsy. These cases may not say sweet dreams, but they are certainly lovely accessories for the 1940s enthusiast.

I would not use vintage makeup on my own face, but there isn't any reason I could think of that a vintage lipstick tube couldn't be restocked with modern lipstick. I found a couple of different tutorials on youtube on how to repot old lipstick and reuse old containers. This method can give the effect of real vintage makeup without risking actually using real vintage makeup. Here's a good tutorial on how to reuse old powder compacts.

It pays to be careful to avoid using any vintage products with lead ingredients, so be on the lookout for that.

How to Reuse Old Lipstick Packaging

Cosmetics as an Accessory

A woman uses a decorative mirror to apply her lipstick.
A woman uses a decorative mirror to apply her lipstick. | Source

Mind if I Smoke?

Back in the 1940s, smoking was a very popular habit. Both men and women smoked, and frequently the need would arise for a cigarette on the go. Even if you don't smoke, cigarette cases can be repurposed. Cigarette cases can be used in place of a wallet, or if the cigarette case is the right size, it can store business cards.

Vintage Makeup


The authors of Wearable Vintage mention in their 1940s fashion video that the common shoe shapes during the 40's were peep toes, sling backs, and lace ups. I've noticed most of the vintage fashion shops I've looked at online emphasize those shapes. These three shapes are fairly easy to come by in modern shoes, so there's no need to frantically search for the perfect vintage shoes in your size or to make painful compromises by buying ill fitting vintage shoes. Instead, look into modern shoes with vintage flair.

If accuracy is your goal, remember that in the 1940s the maximum heel height was two inches according to the WWII Living History Association.


Nylons and Underclothing

In the 1940s, women's nylons typically had a seam down the back that stockings don't generally have today. I have seen people draw a seam down the back of modern hosiery, and I suppose that's one way of getting the job done on a budget, but I see too much opportunity for disaster there. An uneven hemline would be especially embarrassing should it be drawn permanently on using an eyeliner pencil. Far better, I think, to buy hosiery online with old fashioned seams. A garter belt may also be necessary to hold up thigh high stockings.

It's worth mentioning that bras were also very different in the 1940s. Back then, bras were unpadded, and rather than having a rounded shape, they tended to be pointed. These bras are commonly called bullet bras. Though it is difficult to get a new bra in exactly the shape a bullet bra gives, it could be worth looking for an accurate one if you want to use a true 1940s silhouette.


If vintage jewelry appeals to you, consider a lovely sweetheart expansion bracelet by American Queen. These are truly gorgeous in person, though they best fit a slender wrist.

I love the brooches that came out of the 1940s, particularly the enamel ones.

Some classic pearls will lend elegance and legitimacy to a vintage look, and you can't go wrong with diamante.

Remember the 1940s mantra of mend and make do. People probably didn't buy much new jewelry. If you can't justify buying vintage pieces, you can get your 1940s jewelry the same way they did: Make it your self!

Ouch, That Looks Painful

Bags and Baskets

While women of the 1940s certainly carried leather bags, the mend and make do philosophy can lead you to create your own crochet or sewn handbags. There are plenty of patterns available on the internet.

Ladies of the 40's also carried shopping bags or baskets. The bags I've seen online have been largely crochet and not at all like modern shopping bags.

Thanks for Reading!

I hope these mend and make do techniques help you incorporate some 1940s flair into your wardrobe. Let me know in the comments if you know any tricks that I haven't figured out yet.

Make a Felt Brooch

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    • Tamirogers profile image

      Tami Rogers 

      3 years ago from Seattle, Washington

      Really enjoyed this. I love vintage looks--unfortunately I look terrible in hats! The lipstick idea is a cool one--never thought of that. I also love vintage handbags and still use one of my mom's from the 1940s.

    • toptengamer profile image

      Brandon Hart 

      3 years ago from The Game

      This is a very interesting article


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