History and Trends of 1940's Fashion April 19 2022

If the 1930s was all about chic glamour, the 1940s was about being girly and flirty, but also (for the first time, really—hurrah!) professional.  Who doesn’t love a classic suit, a tea dress, and the very image of Rosie the Riveter?

Obviously the event in the 1940s that influenced everything else was World War II.  With the majority of the healthy, appropriately-aged male population on the front lines, women really took the reins and set about to make sure the country continued to operate. Women rallied to fill the vacant jobs and became our Rosie the Riveter heroes even today, 70-something years later.

Rationing during the war years undoubtedly influenced the styles of the time period.  1940s fashion, or so-called utility clothing featured squared shoulders, narrow hips, and skirts that fell to just below the knee—excess fabric wasn’t available anyway, so it was eliminated.  Women of the 1940s were educated to conserve material, and they often updated older dresses to reflect the latest fashions—clever and resourceful.  Nylons were still considered essential before the outbreak of WWII, but during the war years the fabric was reserved for the production of parachutes.  Because of the scarcity, bare legs were acceptable—but you better believe there was a rush on nylon stockings after the war when production started back up.  I think it may have been a little like the footage you see of the Filene’s wedding dress sales, but a little more refined.

1940’s Dorothy O’Hara Dress at Rice and Beans Vintage

Blouses paired with skirts and skirt suits gave women the professional air they yearned for—but obviously some jobs required clothing that was a little more rugged.  Enter: wide-leg pants (slacks, if you will), and denim—talk about an influence that has been felt ever since!

1945 fashion at Neiman Marcus

By the end of the 40s fashion designer Christian Dior unveiled his first collection, featuring full skirts and waist-cinching jackets—the so-called New Look.  (side note: so fab)  This aesthetic replaced the wartime utility fashions, and an absolute embracement of femininity began.  Dior wasn’t the only big name to come out of the 1940s—think Bonnie Cashin, Anne Klein, and Nina Ricci, as well.

New Look Suit by Christian Dior 1947
Not sure about you, but I think we should be thanking the women of the 1940s—I know I’m not the only one out there who enjoys a comfy pair of jeans, wedge sandals, full skirts, flirty little tea dresses, and, perhaps most importantly, the opportunity to work in any sort of previously male-dominated job.  Thanks, ladies!
1940’s Fashion: Trousers!
written by Heather Cox for Rice and Beans Vintage