1940s Fashion History
For more information on this decade in fashion history, check out our list of books and reviews at Recommended Reading. Also please visit our Links page.
For bibliography referencing, the author of this page is April Ainsworth.
Women's Vintage Fashions of the 1940s
Silhouette In the first half of the decade, a trim waist and hips were contrasted with a broad chest and women's shoulder pads became a must. Hair was curled or rolled and shoulder-length or slightly longer. After the New Look debuted in 1947, shoulders sloped, waists cinched, and skirts flared wider and wider since wartime fabric rationing ended.
Common Designs in Vintage Clothing
Fabrics Available Natural fibers (linen, cotton, wool, and silk), rayon, acetate, and nylon. Light- to medium-weight fabrics used, with light and sheer materials for nightwear. Nylon was seen as net overlays on formals and as the sole material in some sheer day dresses.
Popular Colors and Prints Most daywear was in conservative colors, though some morning dresses had bright or bold floral or abstract figured prints. Evening saw more soft shades, and also classic navy and black. Casual clothes were sometimes boldly colored, with a lean towards western motifs.
Trims and Detailing Little trimming appeared on clothing during this era, excepting some evening wear. Instead, fancy covered buttons, extra tailoring details, or fabric contrasts provided variety. One standard was two large hip pockets at either side of the waist, a regular fashion into the 50s.
Hemlines Day and Night For day, just below the knee was standard, but some dresses fell to mid-calf. At night, at least ankle-length was necessary except for the cocktail hour.
The Latest Fads Hats of every shape and size were fashionable, and was a style that began in the previous decade. One novelty hat fashion was the 'doll hat', a miniature version of a ladies' hat worn by grown women for toyish effect. Shoulder pads occasionally reached wide, pointy, or hollowed proportions. Hot items were alligator accessories, platform shoes, and marten stoles (long fox-like animals strung together).
From Our Archives Interview with Janine Pons, Model in Paris 1948-1950
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