How to Recreate Decades of Fashion: 1940s

In the 1930s, many fashion trends developed from economic troubles, so naturally most of the timeless trends of the 1940s were a reaction to warfare and hardship. Popular materials like nylon and silk had to be rationed and used in World War II efforts, so clothing became simpler and new materials were used in designs as dresses went from calf-length in the 1930s to just below the knee in the 40s.

Before the 1940s, America looked to Europe for the newest fashions, but the war blocked America from outside influences and trade. Because of this, American designers took the stage, and, for the first time, America had a style independent of the trends seen in Paris. 

With the men at war and clothing rationed, women started raiding their husbands’ closets because they couldn’t splurge on new items for themselves (pants and blazers became all the rage!). Women’s fashion followed suit (no pun intended) as it took on a more militantly masculine look with the invention of shoulder pads. Every dress, blouse, or jacket was fitted with shoulder pads that extended just past the edge of the shoulder to give off the impression of broad, muscular shoulders.

Plus-size fashion in the 1940s was not overlooked like it had been in previous decades. Most women were not and are not the ideal curvy hour glass shape, so fashion adapted! As women matured, bodies matured too, and women found themselves shopping for clothing with a different eye on fashion.

Here’s how you can mature your fashion with these copycat 1940’s looks!

Casually Feminine

Knee-length skirts were all the rage during the 1940s, partly because they required less material to make than the longer skirts of the past. Like dresses of this era, 1940s skirts were sleek to save fabric. Pair knee-length skirts with a simple blouse for an easy, standard look inspired by this era.


1. The Blouse

This part is super easy because everyone has a chambray shirt in their closets. If not, you should. Try this one from Forever 21 if you’re on the lookout for this wardrobe classic. You can also find them for great prices at Old Navy, Gap, and Target.


2. The Skirt

For your skirt, go for something a little bit more fun – play with patterns and colors! If you’ve got business on top, have a party on the bottom. I love this skirt from Ruche, which is a website really similar to ModCloth. You can find adorable, fun skirts like this one from J Crew, Macy’s, and H&M. 


3. The Shoes

In the 1940s, clothes were made with experimental materials in lieu of what was being rationed for the war. Shoes were no different – reptile skins and mesh fabrics were used to make the sturdy shoes of the era! Try these from ModCloth if you’re looking for something super fun! If you’re not in the market for shoes, black pumps work just as well.


4. The Finishing Touches

In the 1940s, especially after the war, victory rolls were all the rage! Follow this tutorial, throw on a bold lip, and you’re good to go!


For jewelry, put on your favorite watch and some cute statement studs like these and you’re good to go!


Militaristically Masculine

Pants or trousers were only a menswear item until the 1940s. Women working in factories needed clothing that wouldn’t snag in machinery. At first, women just wore men's pants, but later manufacturers made pants for women (though they still looked very masculine). Women mostly wore them at work, but pants soon became a part of their casual wardrobe at home and for fun.


1. Pants

Okay, I’m going to be honest with you guys and say that I own these pants, and I absolutely LOVE THEM! I’m often hesitant about online shopping (even though I do it all the time), but not with these pants. They’re so flattering and easy to wear. They can go from dressy to casual so easily. I have one thing to say: WORTH. THE. BUY. So fresh, so forties. 


2. The Top

When I wear these pants, my favorite top to wear is a white long sleeve boatneck top or a black and white striped tee for a more casual, Parisian look. You can get the boatneck tee from Gap for a great price. If you don’t want to spend the money, a plain white tee is great too!


3. The Shoes

To keep this look uber classic, I love to wear these pants with black oxford heels. They’re really comfortable and go with TONS of different things if you don’t already own them. These below are pretty pricey and are just for you to get an idea of the look, but you can find these just about everywhere (try DSW). You can also go for red or yellow pumps for an adorable pop of color.


4. The Finishing Touches

If you’re feeling daring, put your hair in this classic 40s ‘do. Or you can do what I do and just do a sock bun on the tippy top of your head with a red lip. Complete it with a long scarf tied in a knot to your mid-abdomen like you’re tying a loose tie (like the girl below), and you’re good to go!


BONUS: Swimwear!

I know I usually do formalwear, but I thought I’d shake things up a bit. In the 1940s, swimsuits came in one pieces, and for the first time, two pieces. One piece suits were tighter fitting than in the 30s, had padded bras for support, and thin shoulder straps. The neckline was a V but revealed little cleavage. The suit bottom came to the top of the thigh in either a skirt shape or slightly loose shorts, and came up well past the belly button. Here are two adorable suits you can take to the beach to show off your 40s style!


1. The One Piece

This one piece is so flattering because of the ruching around the mid-section. The halter ties are great because they keep the suit in place. I have a similar suit in blue and white from Anthropologie, and I love it.


2. The Two Piece

I prefer high-waisted suits to regular bikinis because they offer more coverage, and most people don’t wear them (it’s fun to be different!). More stores are carrying high-waisted two pieces this year, but my favorite places to get them are still Modcloth and Unique Vintage. Try this cute one below that’s pretty period, or go for this space cats option.

And there you have it, collegiettes! Whether you’re at the beach, hanging out or going out, a 40s vibe is always an option!


If you missed last week's article on the 1930s, click here!