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Dressing in 1940's Fashion Today

Updated on June 13, 2012

1940's Fashion is back!

The 1940's are back! Yes, the love of the war decade has struck a cord with fashion designers, vintage collectors, and women like you and me. There is something about the feminine silhouette of the 40's figure and the simple nature of easy to make and wear clothes that we 21st century women can't get enough of. These fashions were timeless. They were comfortable. They were fun.

Join me as we look at 1940's Womens clothing from the past and learn how to wear them today.


1940's Dress Fashion

1940's day or semi formal dresses all had the same basic shape. They had padded shoulders to make them look broader and a bit militant (or patriotic as they worked to support the war effort.) Sleeves were puffed out at the shoulder and came down to just above the elbow. Later in the 40's short cropped sleeves because common with summer dresses. The dresses bodice had many different types of neck openings from a basic square neckline or slit, sweetheart, or wrap-over making a V neckline. Unlike sleeves, dress bodices fit very narrow around the chest and ribs and ended above the belly button! The dress skirt then joined the bodice and sometimes had a matching belt around it. The skirt was of as little fabric as possible yet still creating an a-line shape. No pleats or gathers were used in the early years. The later 40's saw fuller skirts but nothing like what came in the 1950's with huge skirts over layers of petticoats. The 40's skirt hung down to the low knee. This was much shorter then in the previous decade (almost scandalous!)

Wearing a vintage 1940's dress today is a fun experience but it may take some getting used to. The tightness of the bodice and shoulders means you don't have the option to move freely. Also the waistline being so high may feel weird at first but I think you'll quickly learn to love it. A high waist line is a natural way to cover up rolls and curves from our tummy area.

If finding a vintage 40's dress is difficult or you just want something new consider vintage inspired 1940's dresses. From pinup to shirtwaist, day or evening vintage inspired dresses offer some of the looks of a vintage 1940's dress with the comfort of modern clothing.

1940's Womens Suits

The new fashion invention of the 1940's was the two piece skirt and jacket suit. Having separate pieces made it easier for women to mix and match clothes and therefore have to buy or make less clothing. The suits consisted of a skirt, similar in style and shape to dress skirts. The suit jacket had a simple pointed collar like those on men's dress shirts today. The jacket was tailor well to you body so that the middle nipped in at the high waist and flared out only enough to go around your upper hip.

Underneath the jacket women would wear a short or long sleeve blouse, knitted sweater top, or nothing at all (shhhhh don't tell anyone.) Suit colors were rather drab blues and greys in the early 40s but spiced up a lot in the late 40's. Bright colors with contrasting trims became a fun fashion statement. Women wanted to forget the harsh war years and live life with color and excitement.

Wearing 1940s' women's suits today isn't too much different than wearing 40's dresses. The shoulders will be wide and the waist narrow. One word of advice if you are going to buy "new" 1940's style clothes is to avoid the tight pencil skirts. They may look good and feel good to wear but they are not 40's style. The 1940's skirts were a-line. The late 1950's were when pencil skirts came about.

1940's Pants / Trousers

Due to working in factories and other labor intensive jobs pants or trousers, as they were called in the 40's, became a necessity for women. It didn't take long before women began to wear these "work" pants in their homes and on casual outings. At first pants were just men's trousers worn by women. These were baggy and unflattering. Manufactures then started to make pants for women only. They were still baggy in the legs but rose high on the waist like women wanted. The most common color was blue, sometimes with a white stripe on the side for a patriotic look. Buttons on the front sides held up the pants or a small side zipper in the later years.

Today most women don't think of wearing 1940's style pants for everyday wear. However they are huge with Swing Dancers! Fun, comfortable and easy to move in, they make dancing a breeze. They are also popular with the "pin up" fashion revolution which memorializes Betty page and other top pin up models of the 40's and 50's.

There are quite a few easy reproduction patterns on the market to make your own pants and a small handful of retailers that sell them. My favorite supplier is vivienofholloway a UK retailer that carries pants in many colors.

Get More 1940's Fashion History and Advice

There is a lot more to say about 1940's Fashion. That's why I wrote the 1940's Style Guide: The Complete Illustrated Guide to 1940's Fashion for Women. This extensively covers the following 1940's fashions (with pictures):

* Dresses

* Women's Suits

* Blouses

* Sweaters

* Pants

* Play Clothes

* Swimwear

* Work Clothes- Factory "Rosie's," Military service women and office workers

* Evening Wear

* Clothes for Teens

* Clothes for Zoot Suit Rebels

* Shoes - Vintage, reproduction or modern shoes

* Hats

* Gloves

* Jewelry

* Lingerie

* Hosiery

* Sleepwear

* Men's Clothing

* Modern 1940's Inspired Clothing

Not only will you learn all about 40's fashion but also:

* Hair Styles -Clothing is only half the battle to pulling off the correct 40's look- hair and make up is the other. Tutorials include 3 hairstyles for day and evening wear that work on most hair types.

* Makeup- Simple and historically accurate application guide (unlike most makeup tutorials online which use the wrong shades and modern products.)

* Making a Girdle - You'd be surprise how quick and cheap you can make your own girdle.

* How to Sew 1940's Clothing- Advice on sewing with vintage or reproduction patterns, fabrics and notions.

That's not all. See 1940's Fashion for the best part of the book. (It will save you tons of time and headache searching for great 1940's clothing to buy or make.)


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