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1940s' Fashion That Still Rocks

Pushpa Duddukuri Apr 28, 2019
After the Great Depression, World War II dented the morale of the people. In such desperate times with shortage of supplies and rationing, men and women still held on to fashion and coped with simplicity. Women retained their long locks and curled them to give a striking appearance.
1940s was not the peaceful decade. Drastic changes occurred in the political arena and it mirrored in the world of fashion. To understand this, you must know more about this decade which changed the way the dressing was defined previously. With a fierce ongoing war, men felt compelled to leave their homes to lay their lives for their country and beliefs.
During the early 1940s, when some of the countries were busy battling each other, the social dynamics of that decade suffered a setback.With the war on, everything from food to clothes was short in supply.
Before the war and even after that, Paris was considered to be the haute couture capital of the world with Italy coming second in line.As these countries got engulfed in the World War II, fashion shows and apparel industry in general across Europe and United States took a blow.
Rationing came into existence in these troubled times and the government pulled strings to control fashion and over-expenditure in order to prevent people from spending on luxurious things rather than basic necessary items.
The government controlled the amount of fabric to be used in a dress and made some mandatory rules in the hope of saving the decreasing supplies.As a result, the ladies had to forgo wearing silk stockings, and make do with bobby socks, stitching seams in the skirts or by just shaving off hair from their legs.
The gentlemen also sacrificed their elaborate double-breasted suits and adopted single breasted suits with single pleated pants.Wool, silk, leather, nylon, etc. were utilized for making uniforms, shoelaces, parachutes and other items needed in the war. As the times was tough, the men and women rose to the occasion and did not give up on war or fashion.

1940s' Fashion Trends

Make do and mend was the philosophy of this era. As opposed to earlier times, the focus turned to lighter cloths with the introduction of many different fabric materials. Women preferred broader shoulders. Padding for it was added in their clothing.
With stockings being sparse, 1940s' fashion saw women ingeniously drawing a line at the back of their legs, to give the impression that stockings were worn. Less material was used to make skirts and jackets, and hence they became shorter.
A decade before, what was considered as outrageously shocking like women wearing pants, became a commonplace event. However, the pants preferred by women were loose overalls or pants with boots.
Heels was still adorned by the ladies with the improvisation of slight platforms.
Swing skirts were much in demand in those times, with the floral prints dominating the designs during the early 1940s and geometrical patterns becoming a popular style statement of late 1940s' fashion.
When Paris and Milano were cut off from the rest of the world during the battles, United States fashion designers had to rely on their wits, instead of getting 'inspired' by their French and Italian counterparts, to create something out of the blue. They conjured up the sportswear which was ready to wear and practical for the women to don.
War had a similar ripple effect on fashion for men. The vest disappeared, and bright-colored wide ties came into vogue. The zoot suit was another trend which was mainly worn by the Afro-American and Mexican American young men in United States.
The zoot suits were wide legged and high waist pants with long coats. Wearing such an attire gave the men in the times of war much-needed confidence. But because of rationing and government restriction, such kind of garment was considered as outright rebellious and even unpatriotic.

1940s' Fashion Highlights


It is a scarf folded in a triangle shape and worn as a hood by the women in the 1940s. The two ends of the scarf are tied firmly under the chin. This is inspired by the appearance of elderly Russian women, Babushka.

Bobby Socks

Ankle length white socks were worn by teenagers of 1940s with thick cuff, trimmed with a ribbon that appealed to new girls. Worn as a part of uniform, they were paired with oxford shoes or different loafers.


These were the riding pants which were worn with boots. Army issued jodhpurs for their men and women. This style of riding pants was popularized by Coco Chanel who wore it in 1920s after getting inspired by a groom.


These attires were baggy short pants worn by men or boys. Later on, knickerbockers were adorned by sportsmen, while engaging in golf, rock climbing, bicycling etc.


It's a short overskirt or ruffle that became a must-have in the wardrobes for women of 1940s. It was flared to hint bigger hips. It was usually attached at the waist on a jacket or dress.

Saddle Shoes

Saddle shoes were the most popular among school going children and college students. The girls' saddle shoes had a slight heel to it. It was typically made from leather. Black shoes with white saddle was also preferred by many during that decade.


It's a headgear which was worn by the ladies to keep their hair neat and tidy. This was a very practical accessory for the women who worked in factories (in the absence of men who were fighting in the war). This hairnet was secured with the help of some bobby pins, lending quite a sporty look to the wearer.

Swing Skirt

These skirts were adorned by young women in 1940s. Some of the patterns had a fitted midriff belt and V-neckline with shoulder yokes. It was preferred by young women for dancing.
The older women donned a much conservative swing skirt version, especially with polka dots or small floral patterns.

Rosie, the Riveter Look

Rosie, the Riveter embodied the spirit of all women who worked in the factories in 1940s during the war.
Rosie, the Riveter look was of a common working class woman who was employed in a male dominated trade like welding, construction, electrical work.

Spectator Shoes

This style of footwear typically low heeled, it was constructed from leather and had two different colors. Mostly, darker shades were preferred for the toe and heel cap. However, the shoe's main body was experimented with varied colors.

Christian Dior's "New Look"

After the war was over, Christian Dior - an icon in fashion delivered his Bar suit and encouraged the ladies in the war-torn countries to embrace this new look. This suit with a flared skirt and extra emphasis on feminine form became an overnight hit.

Sloppy Joe Sweater

After the war was over, sloppy joe sweaters came into vogue which were a type of plain cardigan sweater. A garment for teenage girls, this sweater was usually worn by them in large sizes. Commonly, this sweater was worn with pleated skirts or pants (when they became socially acceptable in the late '40s).

1940s' Hair Fashion and Makeup

From hats, makeup to cloths, the fashion trends were drab and convenient, but the women in 1940s did not get discouraged due to the lack of amenities, they did one thing which women do best, that is, accessorize.They kept their long locks of hair and curled it to give a striking appearance.
Girls used bright red lipsticks to draw attention to their face. Mascara became a must-have item in the ladies' purses. But interestingly, the eyeliner was just applied on the upper lid of the eye.
As the war ceased, the austerity of the fashion world also came to an end. Femininity in the clothing style came back in to the picture and people rejoiced the victory by extravagantly dressing up and indulging themselves. Thus, the late 1940s' fashion trends was a huge contrast to the clothing worn during early 1940s.