WW2 began an era of change for women.
They moved from the home and into the workforce, joined the military and generally found a voice that had been long silenced in 'polite society'. Fashion of the era reflected these changing roles for women. A number of things influenced the changing fashion:
- The silhouette became more masculine for two reasons; to reflect menswear for newly working women and to reflect military uniforms so as to be seen as patriotic;
- Fashion had to adapt to the suddenly more active/physical female. Trousers became very normal for working girls (although were discouraged by the government as they feared it would be unappealing for the returning soldiers);
- A key element of note is that 40's fashion was mostly influenced by rationing. With most materials going into the war effort, the very shape of clothing changed. Hemlines got shorter than they were in the 30s and overall less fabric was used. Even dyes were rationed, meaning that only certain colored garments were really seen during the war years. One of the only things not rationed in terms of fashion were millinery supplies. You may notice looking back at photos of the period that women are dressed in quite a subdued manner...but their hats were always magnificent. It was funnily enough an excellent era for milliners as old styles were revived, new styles were born and suddenly wearing men's hats as a fashion piece was in vogue.
The key features of a 1940's silhouette were broad padded shoulders (not quite 80's style), a tiny nipped waist, and slender, but curvy hips (the super exaggerated flared hips wouldn't become popular until after the war in 1947 with Dior's 'New Look').
In the retro pinup world the overtly feminine look of the 50s is abound. It is everywhere you look and in my humble opinion has come to mock itself with a costume flare. The 40s, on the other hand, has remained timeless and (unfortunately) much harder to find in reproduction clothing. It undeniably has a more 'prim and proper' look than the later decade and perhaps this is not quite as appealling to the body-suit-and-ripped-jeans-generation (lol).
However, if you are a 40s loving gal like myself; fear not, as I have put together a guide for anyone wishing to put together a 1940's style wardrobe in 2018.
Read on sister...(or brother since this is 2018 after all)
The Utility Suit: Revival Retro
Without a doubt, one of the most iconic looks of the 40s was the 'Utility suit' (known in the USA as a 'Victory suit'). It was practical, meant you were always smartly dressed, and gave you the ability to mix and match outfits. Shoulders were padded, waists were nipped, skirts were a-line and generally sat on, or just below the knee. These utility suits were suitable for a wedding, going to church or even going to work.
My utility suit comes from Revival Retro and can be found here. I have taken a little artistic licence as technically due to rationing at the time the jacket would have been single breasted. If you are committed to being entirely era accurate, Revival Retro actually offer a single breasted version of this jacket. You can find the single breasted version here.
I find this suit incredibly flattering to my curvy figure with zero gaping across the chest.
The 'Flattering Fit Women's Jacket' retails for £149.00 and the matching 'Handy Pockets' skirt retails for £79.00.
Day dresses: RocknRomance
Ladies in the 1940s would have had a couple of 'day dresses' on rotation. This dresses were generally pretty simple and practical affairs that would be worn around the house and out on errands.
The two most popular style of day dresses were the shirt waist style and the wrap style. I have two wonderful examples of these styles from RocknRomance. These dresses are exact replicas of 1940's patterns, but made in modern sizing.
Lisa Dress in Tartanretails for £79.00 can be found here.
Peggy wrap dress retails for £79.00 and can be found here.
Sunday best: Vivien of Holloway
The 40s may have been a time of shortage and restrictions, but that certainly didn't stop a lady looking her best. Women usually had a 'good dress' that was not a traditional long formal, but would be acceptable to wear to formal occasions or church etc. Gloves would generally be worn with such an outfit; although in day to day life gloves had become seen as frivolous and impractical.
This stunning dress that I chose for my 'Sunday best' is the 'Lana' dress from Vivien of Holloway.
The Lana dress features pockets, slightly padded shoulders a-la-40s, a nipped waist and the most beautiful draping you have ever seen.
The colorway I have is 'Golden Rose'. It retails for £99.00 and can be found here.
The other obviously dreamy aspect of this outfit is the straw Canotier (or Bergere - these terms seem to be used interchangeably) hat. A slightly flatter version of a boater hat, this style was one of many that came back to popularity during the 40s. Originally an 18th century style, this style was slightly updated to suit the style of a modern woman. My beautiful hat was custom made by Penny River who makes custom costumes and historical clothing.
You can have your own 1940s does 18th century Bergere handmade with any color decorations you choose and can be found here.
The plain base price is $45 and for a few dollars more you can customize.
Formal wear: Voodoo Vixen
Evening formal wear had a number of different looks in the 40s. The movie 'Gone with the wind' came out in 1939 and started to heavily influence formal wear. For those of you who have not seen the movie; it is set in 1861. In response to the movie, skirts started filling out and the princess shaped bodice became very popular. However, a lot of 1930's styles carried over into the 40s as people were encouraged to use what they had in times of shortages. Prom dresses tended to be fussy, but more adult formal wear was more casual than before.
This dress is so lush in a velvet woven texture with cuffed sleeves and a fitted waist.
It retails for a very affordable £58.00 and to be totally honest I am smitten with it.
My advice to anyone interested in this dress is to size down as it is a very generous cut.
Trousers: Miss Candyfloss
Ahhhhh trousers...one of the greatest fashion outcomes of the 40s. At the beginning of the war when men were enlisted and women went to work in factories they would wear their husband's, brother's or father's trousers. It was realized pretty quickly that skirts in a factory or a field were neither modest nor safe. The borrowed trousers tended to be ill-fitting and unflattering. Later on in the decade companies began making trousers especially designed for women that fastened at the side the way skirts did. The front fly of men's trousers was seen as too vulgar for women. By the end of the decade it was standard for ladies to have slacks as part of their casual wardrobe (much to the horror of vogue magazine).
My 1940s style slacks and matching top both come from Miss Candyfloss which offers a wide range of era appropriate skirts and slacks.
Winter dress: Miss Candyfloss
I wanted to include a more wintery look in this collection as while Australia might currently be melting, the rest of the world is still suffering through short cold days. I also couldn't possibly do a 1940's look book without including an Agent Carter inspired look.
The color combination of navy, burgundy and taupe open up so many color matching possibilities.
The Georgette-Olly dress retails for €107.50.
Separates: Miss Dorothy Vintage
Much like the utility suits versatility, having a number of 'separates' was the order of the day. The 'sweater girl' look was on the rise as women flocked to show off their bullet bras.
When shopping for 40's inspired separates, don't be afraid to think outside the box. You could go for new things with a retro feel, 80s does 40s, or even some true vintage.
I got in touch with Katie from Etsy store Miss Dorothy Vintage and explained the type of look I was after. Katie, like magic, was able to produce exactly what I needed. Miss Dorothy Vintage offers a huge range of vintage from various decades.
I sincerely hope you find this a helpful guide for buying 1940's style in 2018. It is one of my favorite fashion eras and one that I would love to see more reproduction of.
If you know of any other excellent 40s reproduction stores that I have missed, please leave me a comment as I would love to check them out.
Thank you so much for reading and your ongoing support
Love Miss Sueky xxx