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1940s vintage clothing

August 9, 2015

Although the 1940s were the years of World War II and its aftermath, and street style for the average woman suffered from rationing and fabric shortages, it was also the Golden Age of Hollywood and screen stars seemed untouched by reality, modelling a series of gorgeous gowns and 1940s vintage clothing reflects that.

1940s vintage clothing for Women

1940s vintage clothing-Nautical chic

Nautical chic is timeless, and while women may not have been about to don flying jackets or khakis to pay tribute to the air force or army, sailor stripes seemed like a good way to cheer on the navy whilst maintaining elegance.

1940s vintage clothing – Trousers

Trousers were a practical solution in 1940s fashion for those who had to dig fields or work in a factory during the war, but Katharine Hepburn had long since made the look her own and showed women they could be chic in trousers and proud of it.


Hepburn’s trousers were especially made for her by a tailor, and were her favourite off duty look. ‘Anytime I hear a man say he prefers a woman in a skirt, I say, “Try one. Try a skirt.”’ she said. She wore trousers on set for many films, working closely with costume designers to get the right look for her characters, but when the character required a dress, she looked equally stunning. Hepburn had a tiny 24 inch waist, which designers loved to accentuate.

1940s vintage clothing – swimwear

An atomic bomb is a funny thing to name an item of clothing after, unless you’re Alexander McQueen and deliberately trying to be edgy. But the bikini, named after Bikini Atoll where atomic testing was taking place, was officially named and introduced in 1946, though they were already being worn by then.


Reactions were mixed, of course, with some declaring the baring of the midriff scandalous and some delightful. It should be noted that bikinis in 1940s vintage clothing were nothing like today’s teeny tiny wisps of lycra, with pretty sturdy knickers. Still, it was all pretty exciting.

The New Look

By the end of the 1940s, designers decided that women were tired of all these relaxed, mannish clothes. Although the corset had long gone, in the 1930s women were usually still wearing elastic girdles and other shape-wear, which started to peter out in the 40s, partly due to the impracticalities of working while wearing restrictive underwear, and partly due to the lack of resources and fabric to make the girdles.


Rationing meant that the government even dictated how much fabric and elastic was used for ladies lingerie, resulting in the Utility Bra as well as Utility Knickers, which had so little elastic that they tended to be baggy and fall down easily, resulting in the popular joke “One Yank and they’re off!” (Further explanation – American soldiers posted in Britain had the reputation of being very persuasive to the local ladies).


By contrast, the “New Look”, which Christian Dior introduced in 1947, along with other designers thinking along the same lines needed a tight “waspie” corset on the waist, which, along with ballooning skirts, pointy bosoms and big shoulders for contrast, gave women a “wasp waist”.


The skirts used a decadent amount of fabric, and the whole thing was a complete change from the war look that women had to get used to. 1940s vintage clothing therefore runs the gamut from frugal to fabulous.