How to Dress in 1940s Fashion

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Despite the fact that the first half of the 1940s was wrapped up in war rationing and fears of conflict, the fashion remained elegant before and after World War II. Elegant skirts and jackets for women, eye-catching hats and gorgeously cut suits for men marked the era. The first half of the decade boasted simpler cuts and slim lines, while the post-war 1940s opted for lush, full skirts, pants and jackets. Make the era yours with some beautiful and timeless basics.

War-Era Women

The rationing of valuable fabric marked the slim cuts of war-era suits and dresses. To create the simple, utility fashion of this era, look for simple, button-up dresses in warm colors, such as yellow, sage green and rosy pink. They should hit just above the knee and have short sleeves with slightly padded, square shoulders. Add a thin belt around your waist. Alternatively, opt for a suit with a pleated skirt and a jacket with square shoulders and a tailored waist. Pair the suit with a simple, short-sleeved blouse or knit sweater. Leave the jacket off and wear the blouse tucked into the skirt, or rock a pair of pleated women’s pants for a casual look.

Post-War Posh

After the war, women’s dress and suit cuts became much more lavish and full. Look for full skirts that reach to the calf. They should have a wide A-line shape that cinches in at the waist and billows slightly at the hem. Pair the full skirt with a cotton blouse with soft, rounded shoulders. Tuck the blouse in and tie a colorful scarf around your waist with a playful, loose bow. Look for button-up dresses with this same shape and sloping, soft shoulders in bright, playful patterns. Late-‘40s women’s suits included a pencil-skirt shape that hit near mid-calf and tailored jackets.

Ladies' Luxuries

All of these beautiful outfits came with a cadre of accessories. During the war years, a simple scarf tied around the neck in a flirty bow and a simple, understated wool hat would complete a look. Search for wide-brimmed straw hats, small, folded hats, and bonnet-style wool hats. Alternatively, wear a silk scarf around your hair for a sassy, utilitarian throwback. Look for shoes with rounded toes and sturdy heels. Strappy sandals and espadrilles were popular for summertime. Add a bejeweled pin to lapels and some teardrop earrings for simple, elegant accents.

Slim-Cut Gents

Fabric rationing meant that the first half of the 1940s favored slim-cut suits for men. Look for high-waisted suit pants with a couple of pleats at the front of each leg to give the pants some room without billowing. Look for jackets with a cut close to the frame with square shoulders and simple lapels. Leave the vest out of the equation and pair the suit with a standard dress shirt. Look for tweed, gray and navy fabrics. Top off the look with an understated fedora and a pair of black dress shoes. Add a camel trench coat for an evening out.

Lavish Lapels

The classic Cary Grant suit came into fashion after 1945. Channel your inner leading man with a suit with wide, pleated pants and a double-breasted jacket with plentiful lapels. Pair a tweed or gray suit with a white dress shirt, a bold wide tie and a pocket square for a fashionable nod to late-‘40s Hollywood. Add some wing-tip dress shoes and a straw Panama hat for a laid-back yet suave appearance.