Fashion in the 1940s

During the war years people had to learn to do without a lot of things. These things included fabric, so hemlines became shorter!
Knitting books published during the war years made the following proclamation:

To quote Batterberry: "Shoulder-length hair and deep eyeshadow are pronounced 'demode'. Both would seem messy and unsuitable if worn with uniform. Factory labour makes long tapering nails impossible. A fur-lined coat is more 'fashionable' than a mink, and all show of wealth or dressiness is in poor taste". (p.330)
So, everybody was doing their bit.

Militaire - A Sun-glo pattern

Fashions in the 40s were characterised by:

  • Shorter hemlines
  • Whimsical hats
  • Military look was popular
  • Trousers for women now popular
  • Snoods
  • Shoulder bags
  • Mass produced "utility" clothes
  • Shoulder pads
  • Berets
  • Crocheted headgear replaced bonnets
  • Wedge heeled shoes
  • Gabardine replaced leather for shoes and handbags
  • Felt handbags
  • Synthetic fabrics replaced wool
  • Square-shouldered suits in tweed


"Silhouette: Square shoulders, short skirts, heavy shoes.
Bodice: FItted, with drapery, ruching or gathers; padded shoulders.
Neckline: High round, sweetheart, small collars.
Sleeves: Inset, short or long, puff.
Skirt: Knee-length, flared, straight, single pleats.
Fabric: Wool, cotton, linen, easy-care synthetics.
Trimmings: Limited buttons, contrast colour collar and cuffs, patch pockets.
Colour: Subdued, blue grey, bottle green, donkey brown.
Accessories: Tiny hats, large bags, shoes with high thick heels and some wooden soles.

Gothic - 1940s


Silhouette: As previous period to 1946; then shapely rounded bust, small wist, rounded shoulderline; from 1947: long narrow or full skirts.
Bodice: As preivious period to 1946; from 1947: fitted small waist, sloping shoulders.
Neckline: High round, sweetheart; from 1947: grown-on collars.
Sleeves: As previous period to 1946; from 1947: dolman, raglan.
Skirt: Knee-length to 1946; from 1947: mid-calf and longer.
Fabric: As previous period to 1946; from 1947: silk taffeta, cotton, linen.
Trimmings: As previous period to 1946; from 1947: decorative buttons, piping, inset panels of contrast colour or fabric.
Colour: As previous period to 1946; from 1947: pale, pretty colours with white accessories.
Accessories: As previous period to 1946; from 1947: small hats, short gloves, small bags, costume jewellery, nylon stockings, shoes with high slender heels."
Berry Stitch Bedjacket - 1940s

Underwear and Sleepwear

  • Brassieres with wired cups
  • Scanties
  • Flesh coloured nylon stockings
  • Bedjackets


  • Permed
  • Shoulder length, in a snood
  • Long waved and curled with centre parting
  • Worn in rolls on the top and in the nape.


  • Trousers lost the cuffs
  • Vests went out
  • Military look was patriotic during the war.
     Lumber jacket.
  • Suits no longer came with two pairs of pants
  • Lost patch pockets, pleats, cloth belts to save fabric
  • Most evening clothes went out of fashion
  • Zoot suits were in


  • Ringlet curls
  • Buster suits for small boys - the pants buttoned onto the shirt.


  1. Reference: "Fashion: The Mirror of History", by Michael and Ariane Batterberry, 1982, London, Columbus Books
  2. "20th Century Fashion: A Complete Sourcebook", by John Peacock; 1993; London; Thames and Hudson, p.228-229.

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