Fashion in the 1940s was a combined style and a practicality to achieve a lasting elegance.
You may be a little obsessed with all things in the 90s or any decade fashion trends at the moment, but for sure, you will always have a soft spot for 40s fashion and how glamorous it was, that the current trend for slip skirts and dresses were pretty sure was its indirect result.
The 1940s fashion styles have seen two distinctive styles in women’s clothing. From the beginning of World War II in 1939 until the dawn of the New Look in 1947, women’s dresses were mostly knee-length and featured padded shoulders.
Despite the hardships of WWII, the 1940s were still considered as a milestone decade for style, despite the fact that 1930s fashion being a hard act to follow. It was a decade of trailblazing styles and new silhouettes, and lots of of the styles we’re still supporting today.
To give you a vivid picture of what 1940s fashion looks like, here is the list of some of the best women’s fashion trends during the 40s period.
Table of Contents
The 1940s Women’s Dresses
With the start of the war and strict rationing on fabric, dresses in the 1940s became shorter. Whereas the 1930s featured dresses that went down to mid-calf, the 1940s brought them up to knee length. The war also affected the highest of the dress.
All of women’s clothes were taken on a masculine militant look with the invention of shoulder pads. Every blouse, jacket or dress was fitted with shoulder pads that extended just past the edge of the shoulder. This made for a boxy or square neckline and shoulder angle. Sleeves were often hyped up a bit with gathers at the top and extended all the way down to just above the elbow.
The neckline of the 1940s dress came in a variety of cutouts. They could be square, slit, sweetheart, keyhole, shirred, cross front (wrap), or even V with shirtwaist (button down) tops. There was no cleavage. All dress top designs were modest, revealing very little skin compared to today’s fashion.
The 1940s Women’s Suit
The shortage of material also caused the recognition of the two-piece suit referred to as a Victory or Utility suit. Women could mix and match skirts, blouses, and jackets for a new outfit every day. Even after the war, the suit remained popular due to its comfort and practicality.
The 1940s Blouses
Blouses were the next part of a suit. They could also be worn plain or with a light cardigan sweater over them. Blouses were either a solid color or a fun striped pattern. They could be short sleeved like dresses, or long sleeved with puffy gathers and tight wide cuffs at the wrist. They usually buttoned down all the way and had a small V-neck or round Peter Pan collar neck opening
The 1940s Pants
Pants or trousers were primarily a menswear item up until the 1940s. Women working in factories needed safe clothing that wouldn’t snag in machinery. At first, women just wore men’s pants. Later manufacturers made pants for women, although they still looked very masculine. They were very high waisted, button or zipper down the side and had full legs with wide cuffs at the bottom. They were made of cotton, denim, or wool blends.
Women wore them at work, but they soon became a part of their casual wardrobe at home. It didn’t take long before women were wearing pants in public, although it would take many more decades before pants were allowed at school or professional jobs.
The 1940s Coats
Early 1940s coats were very square and usually plain. They had a few large buttons down the front, plain or cuffed narrow sleeves, and a variety of necklines. They were long, often down to the knee, to keep a woman warm and covered up. Shorter box coats hung to the hip in a wide cape like fashion with big bell sleeves.
The 1940s Shoes
Shoes of the 1940s lacked the elaborate detailing of the 30s and were mostly plain, sturdy and “chunky.” What makes them special is not the style but the material. Leather was needed for the war, so shoes came in velvet, mesh, reptile skins, and even all wood. Heels were short and thick in the early 40s and slightly thinner in the late 1940s. The latter shoes were called pumps.
The 1940s Swimsuits and Beachwear
Swimsuits came in one piece and, for the primary time, two pieces. One-piece suits were tighter fitting than in the 30s, and had padded bras for support and thin shoulder straps. The neckline was a V but revealed little cleavage. A halter top style was very popular as well.
The 1940s Gloves
Gloves in the 1940s continue to have the gauntlet mid-arm length and shape during the war years. The elaborate trim was removed and the overall fussiness of the 1930s was replaced by plain gloves once again.
Gloves were usually only worn for semi-formal occasions such as an afternoon gathering, shopping, visiting friends, or going to lunch. Colors usually matched only one accessory like a hat or belt. Neutral colors were preferred: black, brown, navy, tan, and white.
The 1940s Hats
Headwear of the 1940s was very diverse.
There were only a few new styles that became trademarks of the 1940s. The first was the beret– a one-piece round, flat, French inspired hat that sat directly on top or angled off to the side.
The next hat was the turban– a piece of fabric wrapped around the head and decorated with flowers, feathers or jewels. Small hats with flat brims with veils were another trademark style.
They were not practical for sun protection, merely decorative. The ladies’ fedora hat was one of several felt hats that took inspiration from men’s hat styles.
The 1940s Jewelries
The 1940s women’s jewelry played an important role during the somber wartime. Colorful large floral brooches, bold bead necklaces, and chunky earrings added cheerfulness to otherwise plain clothing. Patriotic themes such as a V for victory, flags, and red, white, and blue gems kept women focusing on their duty. Jewelry became affordable with new plastics like Bakelite and settings that required less metal. Plus,the classic pearl necklace never went out of style.