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Mash up your Retro-Modern Style with 40s and 50s fashion

May 24, 2019

Amplify your personal style with a panache all its own by mashing up key looks from 40s and 50s fashion with your favourite modern on-trend fashion and accessories.


Bring the timeless classics of 40s and 50s fashion into your current wardrobe for a look that is all about your own unique sense of style yet inspired by cultish favourites that have stood the test of time.

Fashion photo portrait, of two Women modelling dresses, Dresden, Gemany, 1956

Fashion photo portrait, of two Women modelling dresses, Dresden, Gemany, 1956

A brief history of 1940s and 50s Fashion


Look back at 1940s fashion style that evolved through the second world war and was influenced by women joining the wartime effort in force, donning uniforms and surviving on restricted fashion and wardrobe options.


Then move forward to 1940s fashion post-world war II, and you see 1940s fashion in all its opulent glory, from the full skirt of the fit-and-flare silhouette made iconic by Christian Dior, to the floral print and mid calf length of tea dresses.


Post world war, women turned to 1940s style and fashion to brighten their lives and lift their spirits and adopted the 1940sfashion as epitomized by Hollywood stars of the decade.


In those post war years, 1940s style was all about figure-flattering cuts and styles, with an emphasis on the high waist of the pencil skirt or the full skirt of the fit-and-flare dress.


40s and 50s fashion amped up the elegance factor and made women look and feel pretty and feminine, with nipped-in waists, a full skirt, peep toe shoes, long hair worn up in chignons, and floral print mid calf tea dresses for both play and work.

All these timeless vintage dresses made their mark on 40s and 50s fashion and have stood the test of time as essential pieces of the savvy modern wardrobe.

Portrait photo of Will Mahoney discussing a script with Evie Hayes, Brisbane, Australia, 1948

Portrait photo of Will Mahoney discussing a script with Evie Hayes, Brisbane, Australia, 1948

1940s fashion top trends included:


  • Menswear Inspiration

1940s fashion was inspired by menswear fabrications, styles and cuts and this inspiration was seen in the skirt and pant suits and the tailored trousers women wore in the 1940s and 1950s.

Picture high waist pleated trousers with loose-cut legs and cuffed-up hems, worn over button down shirts or ladylike blouses, sometimes with braces adding a colourful finishing touch. And 1940s style was all about menswear-inspired fabrics from pinstripes to plaids to timeless tweed and hounds tooth.


  • Christian Dior Inspired Silhouette

1940s style inspired by Dior was all about the nipped in waist atop a full skirt that was gathered, flared or pleated and fell to mid calf length.

This classic, timeless and always-flattering silhouette was finished with a self-fabric belt to emphasize the hourglass look. As a final touch, the shoulders on this 1940s style dress were worn puffed and gathered to exaggerate the curvy look made iconic by Christian Dior creations.










  • 40s and 50s Fashion the Shirtdress Way

1940s fashion also saw the advent of the ever-popular shirtdress. This 1940s style trend was worn in all types of fabrications, patterns and prints and polished off with a matching fabric belt and either elbow-length or short sleeves. Picture the look in flirty florals and short sleeves in the summer and wool or sturdy denim with long sleeves for the colder weather.


  • 1940s StyleTea Dresses

A look back at 40s and 50s fashion would not be complete with talking about the 1940s style tea dresses that epitomized the demure yet stylish, casual yet chic, independent woman of the 1940s and 1950s.

These floral print confections with a full skirt below a fitted waist and in either sleeveless or sleeved styles were flattering and practical all the same time, worn not just for tea parties but for all kinds of social events.

These vintage dresses were known for their ankle or mid calf length hemlines, keeping legs modestly covered while showing off shapely slim ankles.

Shopfront at Norrmalmstorg in Stockholm 1957

Shopfront at Norrmalmstorg in Stockholm 1957

1950s Fashion Evolution


Fashion in the 1950s was about whimsical prints, strong colours and the glamour of a full skirt and a nipped in waist, very much a continuation of the 1940s fashion trends.   Read on for the key trends of 1950s fashion.


  • Hourglass Silhouettes

1950s fashion, especially dresses, took two main paths. There was the 1950s style of a tiny, sculpted waist over a very full skirt with a high waist, embellished with a plethora of petticoats, emphasizing an hourglass shape in vintage dresses.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, there was the “sexy secretary” look epitomized by a straight, form-fitting pencil skirt, worn to below the knee and with a fitted blouse or sweater.

1954 publicity portrait photo for the film Sabrina with William Holden and Audrey Hepburn

1954 publicity portrait photo for the film Sabrina with William Holden and Audrey Hepburn


  • Prêt-à-Porter or Ready-to-Wear

1950s fashion saw the arrival of ready-to-wear vintage dresses and other outfits, mass-manufactured instead of hand-created.

Global designers and their inventions, especially from Europe, were now available to a much wider consumer base, as these 1950s trend-setting fashions and styles became easily and economically available, seeing the advent of fast fashion as we know it today.


The house of Christian Dior was a major influencer of 1950s fashion, offering us A-line dresses, boned bodices and dolman sleeves layered over net petticoats. Vintage dressed based on these classic styles are as timeless today as they were au courant in the 50s.


  • 1950s Style Petticoats and the Full skirt

Full pleated skirts or circle skirts worn to mid calf length were a key 1950s fashion trend. Women amped up their style, especially for evening wear, by adding layers of petticoats in net or other fabrics to make that full skirt even fuller.

The petticoats were worn in a variety of colours layered over each other and the look was finished with a large belt to emphasize the nipped-in waist.

Full-length portrait of Miss America beauty pageant contestant Yolande Betbeze, 1950

Full-length portrait of Miss America beauty pageant contestant Yolande Betbeze, 1950


  • 1950s Style Pencil Skirt

This look emerged in the 1950s and is still alive and rocking today.The iconic look combined a close-fitted, narrow straight skirt with a high waist. The skirts usually had a slit in the back hem to make walking around in them easier, which made them sexier too!


  • 1950s Sweater Girl Style

1950s style was also about the pin-up girl look of cropped tight sweaters, usually worn with short sleeves and Peter Pan collars and paired equally well with a pencil skirt, a full skirt or sleek cropped cigarette pants.


Now, take your inspiration from all the 40s and 50s fashion trends and styles explored above and mash up your chosen 1940s and 1950s vintage looks with your modern pieces for your very own take on classic yet current dressing.


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