53 Gorgeous Color Photos Showing 1940s Female Fashion

Wartime austerity led to restrictions on the number of new clothes that people bought and the amount of fabric that clothing manufacturers could use. Women working on war service adopted trousers as a practical necessity. The United States government requisitioned all silk supplies, forcing the hosiery industry to completely switch to nylon. In March 1942 the government then requisitioned all nylon for parachutes and other war uses, leaving only the unpopular cotton and rayon stockings. The industry feared that not wearing stockings would become a fad, and advised stores to increase hosiery advertising. When nylon stockings reappeared in the shops there were “nylon riots” as customers fought over the first deliveries.

In Britain, clothing was strictly rationed, with a system of “points”, and the Board of Trade issued regulations for “Utility Clothes” in 1941. In America the War Production Board issued its Regulation L85 on March 8, 1942, specifying restrictions for every item of women’s clothing. Because the military used so much green and brown dye, manufacturers used more red dye in clothing. Easily laddered stockings were a particular concern in Britain; women were forced to either paint them on (including the back seam) or to join the WRNS, who continued to issue them, in a cunning aid to recruitment. Later in the war, American soldiers became a source of the new nylon stockings.

Most women wore skirts at or near knee-length, with simply-cut blouses or shirts and square-shouldered jackets. Popular magazines and pattern companies advised women on how to remake men’s suits into smart outfits, since the men were in uniform and the cloth would otherwise sit unused. Eisenhower jackets became popular in this period. Influenced by the military, these jackets were bloused at the chest and fitted at the waist with a belt. The combination of neat blouses and sensibly tailored suits became the distinctive attire of the working woman, college girl, and young society matron.

The shirtwaist dress, an all-purpose garment, also emerged during the 1930s. The shirtwaist dress was worn for all occasions, besides those that were extremely formal, and were modest in design. The dress could either have long or short sleeves, a modest neckline and skirt that fell below the knee. The bust was rounded but not particularly emphasized and the waistline was often belted in its normal position. Pockets were both functional and used for decoration and were accompanied by buttons down the front, around the sides or up the back of the dress. These dresses often were accompanied by coordination coats, which were made out of contrasting fabric but lined with the dress fabric. The jacket was often constructed in a boxy fashion and had wide lapels, wide shoulders and numerous pockets. The dress and coat combination created an overall effect of sensibility, modesty and girl next door lifestyle that contrasted the very popular, second-skin like style of the bias-cut evening gown.

The 1940s was a period marked by iconic headwear. Because of the war, current European fashion was no longer available to women in the United States. In 1941, hatmakers failed to popularize Chinese and American Indian-based designs, causing one milliner to lament “How different when Paris was the fountainhead of style”. As with hosiery hatmakers feared that bareheadness would become popular, and introduced new designs such as “Winged Victory Turbans” and “Commando Caps” in “Victory Gold”. American designers, who were often overlooked, became more popular as American women began to wear their designs. American designers of ready-to-wear contributed in other ways too. They made improvements to sizing standards and began to use fiber content and care labels in clothing. Hats were one of the few pieces of clothing that was not rationed during WWII, therefore there was a lot of attention paid to these headpieces. Styles ranged from turbans to straw hats. The snood was an important accessory to a woman working in the factory. Snoods were fashionable and functional at the same time, they enabled factory women who were wearing pants and jumpsuits to still look feminine. Snoods pulled hair out of the face by containing it all at the back of the head in a hanging net. With all the long hair hanging in the net, the front of the hair was left out and could be curled and styled to glamourize the factory uniforms. Other popular headpieces were variations of headscarves, such as the bandana Rosie the Riveter is pictured wearing in the recruitment posters. Another variation of the headscarf was simply tying a square scarf folded in half under the chin. Later in the 1950s and 60s these headscarves became highly glamorized by celebrities like Audrey Hepburn, Brigitte Bardot, and Jacqueline Kennedy. This glamorized look came from women in the 1940s who wore headscarves over their victory rolls in order to make their simple clothes look dressed up. Draped turbans – sometimes fashioned from headscarves – also made an appearance in fashion, representing the working woman of the period. These were worn by women of all classes.This type of headwear could be glamorous or practical. Turbans were the most functional for the working woman because she was able to have all her hair out of her face and skip washing her hair by covering it with the turban. Both turbans and headscarves were useful for hiding curlers so when a woman got off work all she had to do was take out her curlers and her hair would be set for a night out. All these alternative options to hats were popular, not only for function and glamour, but also because the look could be achieved quite inexpensively.

An important style that became popular due to the war was the two-piece swimsuit which later led to the Bikini. In 1942, the War Production Board passed a law called the L-85 which put restrictions on clothing production. For swimwear companies the L-85 meant they had to use 10 percent less fabric in all their designs, as a result swimsuits became smaller. Swimsuits had been becoming more minimal for a while but in 1944 Tina Leser debuted one of the first two-piece swimsuits. Even though the bottoms were high waisted, cut low on the legs, and paired with a modest bandeau, Lesers’ two piece was still considered a daring style for the era. According to Sarah Kennedy, author of The Swimsuit: A History of Twentieth-Century Fashion, unlike the bikini the two-piece was created out of necessity and was not meant to be shocking. Apparently there was an unspoken rule that bellybuttons must never show which accounts for the high waisted bottoms. Despite it being scandalous to some, the two-piece was eventually accepted because there really wasn’t another option. The L-85 did not only make swimsuits smaller, but it also pushed designers to become more creative with their designs, this led to suits that accentuated and drew attention to women’s bodies. This was done by putting boning in the swimwear. Two years after Leser debuted one of the first two-pieces, the bikini was invented in 1946 by a French engineer named Louis Réard. It was apparently named after the Bikini Atoll, which was the site of a nuclear bomb test in 1946, because Réard hoped its impact would be explosive in the fashion world. The bikini was even more daring than the two-piece, thus it did not become popular until 1953 when Brigitte Bardot was photographed in one at the Cannes Film Festival. Although the bikini did become popular in Europe in 1953 it did not become popular in the United States until the 1960s. (Wikipedia)

Despite the impact of the 2nd World War, the 1940s fashion still had its own definition. Take a look.


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