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1940s fashion reimagined and reworked with a modern spin

May 5, 2019

Mash up 19 40s fashion with your very own personal style for a look that combines 1940s style with a fresh twist that embodies retro and timeless all at once!


Look no further for the top 1940s fashion retro trends and styles, then use these inspirations to invent and rock your very own 40s fashion inspired elegance in ways that flatter your figure and display your fashion savvy.

WW2, wartime wedding photograph of couple, Brisbane, Australia, 1940

WW2, wartime wedding photograph of couple, Brisbane, Australia, 1940

19 40s Fashion Backstory

Harken back to the decade that saw the start of the second world war, where women the world over joined the workforce in droves, wearing war time uniforms and learning how to manage on strict rations and constrained fashion industry options. Those were dark days indeed, but who would have thought that was exactly what was needed to ignite people’s passion for fashion in the 1940s.


Early 1940s style reflected women leaving their homes and housewife personas and coming out to join factories, farms and even fight beside their menfolk on the front lines of the world war, and wearing the 40s fashion and styles to support their new occupations.

Heightened awareness

With the war time environment came heightened awareness of and visibility on the fashion industry, clothing for women and 1940s style and trends as women went out into a war-torn world. On the flip side of functionality, women also looked to fashion to buoy their spirits and brighten their everyday lives. Those were difficult years when everyone wanted to escape the harsh reality of a world war by copying the high fashion in the 1940s as epitomized by Hollywood starlets of the day.


Then in the post war years, women wore 40s fashion that flattered their forms, amped up the elegance factor and made them feel feminine and pretty again, with a nipped in waist, full skirts, peep toe shoes, long hair worn up in chignons, and tea dresses for work and play events. All these classic styles and trends made their mark on 19 40s fashion and have endured through the decades as timeless essentials of the modern wardrobe.


The top trends in 19 40s fashion are explored below:

Menswear Inspired


19 40s fashion took its inspiration from menswear fabrics, trends and styles for the trousers and pant and skirt suits women wore in that decade. Imagine high waisted pleated trousers with wide, loose-cut legs and cuffed hems, worn over tucked-in prim and proper blouses with long sleeves and buttoned-up fronts.  Or picture suit jackets with structured shoulders, a nipped in waist and fabricated in vintage tweed, plaid or pinstriped patterns.

Two-piece beige wool dress from The Ladie's home journal, 1947

Two-piece beige wool dress from The Ladie’s home journal, 1947

Fit and Flare


Vintage style in the 1940s focused on the nipped in waist atop full skirts that were pleated, flared or gathered and fell below the knee, with belts emphasizing an hourglass figure. Women wore their shoulders puffed and gathered to exaggerate the hourglass look and Christian Dior made this silhouette famous.


40s fashion also saw the popularity of the shirtdress. This 19 40s fashion trend was worn in all types of patterns and fabrics and always with the classic nipped in waist and full skirts of 40s fashion. This timeless look was finished with a matching fabric belt and elbow-length fitted sleeves.

1940s tea dresses

Then there were the 1940s style tea dresses which were the epitome of the stylish yet demure, chic yet casual, independent 40s woman. These vintage style classics offered a peek at slender ankles under full skirts while keeping the mystery alive. Tea dresses show off your hourglass figure while covering most everything up. In a wide variety of styles and takes that offer you something that fits perfectly into your personal style and flatters your unique shape, these 40s style dresses never go out of style.


Vintage style tea dresses are unique as form and fashion embellishments since they combine the figure-flattering shape of the nipped in waist and full skirts of the fit-and-flare silhouette with the versatility of a wide range of choice in hem lengths, sleeve lengths, prints and fabrics.


Whatever your shape, vintage style tea dresses can be customized to flatter and amplify your assets. The nipped in waist and full skirts of the fit-and-flare style works with every body shape and size and you have your choice of what works best for your legs, arms and preferences for hem length, sleeves or sleeveless and sleeve length. Then add your own 40s style accessories like buttons, collars and belts, to give you the perfect vintage style addition for your wardrobe.

Poll Parrot red and brown shoes illustration, 1948

Poll Parrot red and brown shoes illustration, 1948



  • 1940s Style Accessories


The finishing touches to 19 40s fashion came in the form of classic accessories like multi-strand pearl necklaces worn tight against the throat, or patterned short neckerchiefs knotted around the neck. Then there were the ladylike gloves worn to the wrist, the favourite colour being white. Completing the look were boater hats decorated with ribbons or topped with large flowers in a contrasting colour. Shoes offset the look in solid colours like black or brown, usually styled as block-heeled pumps.


  • 19 40s Fashion Accents


1940s style dresses were usually accented with bow ties at the collar, puffed short sleeves and a variety of fabric patterns ranging from ever popular polka dots to timeless florals and classic gingham.  Belts were trendy in a contrasting colour from the outfit, emphasizing that nipped in waist.  Also, you saw belts worn with everything from skirts, pants and dresses to shorts and suits.


  • 40s Fashion Finishing Touches

To add those final personal style touches to their 19 40s fashion outfits, women wore their hair in sculpted curls, usually embellished with floral hair clips to keep their curls just so.   The look was highly stylized and elegant, promoting the image of 19 40s women’s style as polished, suave and ready to take on any challenge.

Publicity photo of Carole Landis, 1941

Publicity photo of Carole Landis, 1941


 19 40s Fashion Trailblazers


40s fashion had many style icons, especially in Hollywood. Grace Kelly, Doris Day, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Rita Hayworth and Ava Gardner blazed their own unique fashion paths that inspired legions of followers to emulate their classic, timeless and very distinctive styles.


Grace Kelly was known for her classic tea dresses, nipped in waist outfits, pearls, gloves and kitten heels. She epitomized the ladylike elegance of 19 40s fashion.


Doris Day embodied the girl-next-door look, with full skirts and dresses in retro pastels, polka dot or flora neckerchiefs, playful blonde curls and demure white gloves.


And Ava Gardner was all about the vintage style bombshell look, trailblazing with form fitting strapless evening gowns embellished with oversized bracelets or big jewelled broaches.


Christian Dior is credited with bringing the fit-and-flare silhouette into the mainstream and Gucci was a major fashion influence of 40s style dressing.

Bette Davis and Paul Henreid in the film Now Voyager, 1942

Bette Davis and Paul Henreid in the film Now Voyager, 1942

Make It Modern


To bring 19 40s fashion inspirations to life for today’s wardrobe, stay away from head-to-toe vintage style dressing and instead pick a single statement pieces with 40s style, then mash up your look by adding modern pieces and accessories.


For instance, slip into a nipped in waist fit and flare dress in the classic 40s style, then throw a faux leather moto jacket over top and add white sneakers to dress down your look and make it street ready.


19 40s Fashion to Amp Up Your Style


You know what makes you look and feel good when you wear it. Use your own personal style as your guide when taking a virtual tour through 19 40s fashion online shopping sites, then source yourself some 40s style pieces that speak to your own personal tastes and amplify your own unique style.


Imagine vintage style and accessories like statement jewellery from 40s fashion, or a classic trench topper from fashion in the 1940s, then combine these 40s style classics with your essential blue jeans or floral maxi dress for a retro yet modern spin.

Joan Crawfordin Maybelline advertisement, 1946, photography by Paul Hesse

Joan Crawfordin Maybelline advertisement, 1946, photography by Paul Hesse

19 40s Fashion All Mashed Up


Mash up your 40s style with modern pieces from your current wardrobe or even retro pieces from other decades for an eclectic mix of vintage and new, main street and high street, couture and fast fashion. There are no rules to break so be fearless!


Online 19 40s fashion shopping sites provide you with all the choice you need to source your vintage style picks of tops, skirts, dresses, trousers, suits, bags, shoes and accessories so put your feet up and go shopping!


Pick accessories and clothes from past decades that inspire you, then mix up your vintage style treasures with your everyday jeans, cargos, T-shirts, dresses and skirts for a 19 40s fashion style that is as modern as you like it.


19 40s Fashion That Works


Don’t spend a load of cash revitalizing your work wardrobe. Go visit your local thrift stores or neighbourhood consignment stores for 40s fashion and accessories that you can inject into your workday wardrobe for a fresh new spin on 40s style.


Get yourself some vintage style dresses and skirts in classic 40s style silhouettes and timeless prints like polka dots, plaids or gingham, then finish the look with your structured blazer or minimalist cardigan layered over top.


19 40s fashion accessories like pearl necklaces, vintage broaches and short gloves give you endless options for dressing up your 9-to-5 wardrobe with your very own fun and fashion sense.



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