CALL US NOW: 0207-700-2354
FREE UK shipping on orders £40+ (excl. sale items)

40s fashion dresses to inspire your style flair with vintage panache

September 27, 2019

Get vintage inspired with 40s fashion dresses and 1940s fashion to amplify your current style with the retro flair and timeless glamour of 1940s style dressing.


Nothing says fashion savvy like vintage inspired 40s fashion dresses mashed up with your current wardrobe of trendy accessories, blending together the timeless 1940s style pizzazz with modern day dressing for a look that is retro-chic and essentially you.

Model wears a brown and beige wool checked suit by fashion designer Hardy Amies,1945

Model wears a brown and beige wool checked suit by fashion designer Hardy Amies,1945

1940s Fashion History


Early 1940s style was influenced by the second world war, with women everywhere joining the workforce to support the wartime efforts, and also to learn how to stretch their dollars on strict rations and constrained 1940s fashion options.


Amidst the horrors and deprivations of a global war, there was increased awareness of and visibility on the 1940s fashion industry and how it could and did support the war effort with 1940s style that focused on reuse, re-wear and shopping one’s closet for vintage inspired outfits that were serviceable yet still stylish.


And then, to take a break from the harsh realities of the day, women turned to 40s fashion dresses like tea dresses, floral print dresses and other vintage inspired dresses to raise their spirits and brighten their dark days.

Margaret Kelly Leibovici with Bluebell Girls, 1948

Margaret Kelly Leibovici with Bluebell Girls, 1948


Hollywood trendsetters

40s fashion dresses were amplified in style and variety by the Hollywood trendsetters who provided fantasy inspired dresses for the average woman to admire and emulate.


Then came the post war years and 1940s fashion evolved into the classic fit-and-flare form and shape with a full skirt below a fitted waist, epitomized by timeless tea dresses worn in pretty, whimsical floral print, polka dot or other playful style.


In the freedom and joy of the years after the second world war, 40s fashion dresses were a celebration of the female form, with elegance amplified by the tiny waist and full skirt of the fit-and-flare silhouette, then embellished with peep toe pumps, hair worn up in chignons, and vintage style tea dresses for play and work. All these vintage inspired 1940s style dresses and trends made their mark on 1940s fashion and have endured through the decades as timeless essentials of the modern woman’s wardrobe.

40s fashion dresses drawings by Margaret Sommerfeld The Ladies home journal, 1948.

40s fashion dresses drawings by Margaret Sommerfeld
The Ladies home journal, 1948.

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


1940s Style Fit-and-Flare Silhouette


  • 40s fashion dresses played up the nipped in waist over a full skirt that was pleated, flared or gathered and usually fell well below the knee, with a narrow belt in the same fabric of this vintage inspired dress amplifying the classic hourglass figure. These 40s fashion dresses had puffed sleeves that exaggerated the hourglass look and this classic 1940s style was first made famous by Christian Dior.


The shirtdress
  • 40s fashion dresses included the ever-popular shirtdress. This 1940s fashion staple was worn in a variety of patterns and fabrics and with the classic fitted waist and full skirt of 40s fashion dresses. This timeless 1940s style icon was finished with a matching fabric belt and elbow-length shirt sleeves.


Tea dresses
  • A 40s fashion dresses review would not be complete without a look back at tea dresses, which epitomized the demure yet stylish, casual yet chic, independent 1940s woman. These vintage style classics offered a glimpse of slender ankles under a full skirt, all the while keeping the mystery alive with an overall demure cut. Tea dresses showed off hourglass figures while covering everything up.  In a vast selection of styles and takes that offered every woman 40s fashion dresses that fit perfectly into each personal style and flattered every unique shape, these 1940s style dresses never went out of style.


  • Vintage style tea dresses are unique as fashion and form embellishments as they combine the figure-flattering shape of the tiny waist over a full skirt of the fit-and-flare silhouette with the flexibility of a vast array of choices in sleeve lengths, prints, fabrics and hem lengths.


Whatever your size or figure, vintage style tea dresses can be customized to amplify and flatter your assets.  The nipped in waist and full skirt of the fit-and-flare look works with everyone’s size and shape and with your choice of what works best for your arms, legs, arms and hem length preference, you can have a look that is all you yet the epitome of 40s fashion dresses.


Then finish the look with your own 1940s style accessories belts, collars and buttons, to give you a vintage inspired treasure to add to your wardrobe.

Fashion plate from The Ladies' home journal, 1948

Fashion plate from The Ladies’ home journal, 1948

Vintage style tea dresses explored

 Vintage style tea dresses were also known as tea gown and are distinctive for their midi-length skirts with a hemline that falls between ankle and knee, giving this 1940s fashion trend a modest yet very elegant look. Vintage style tea dresses are also modelled on the fit-and-flare silhouette, making them exquisitely feminine and flattering to all female forms and figures.


If you don’t have an hour-glass shape, a floral print tea dress or a vintage inspired dress cut in the classic 1940s style will give you the appearance of an hourglass silhouette, which is universally flattering to any female form.


Vintage style tea dresses appeared on the fashion scene in the mid 1800s, typically constructed out of light, airy floral print fabrics and worn for private, informal events. This 40s fashion dresses icon has stood up to the test of time and evolved through fashion cycles to cater to each new decade’s vintage style fashion aesthetic.


The evolution of 1940s style tea dresses

 Vintage style tea dresses have been re-imagined and reinvented from their early years into a vast array of patterns, designs, fabrications and spins, while still staying true to the essentials of the original vintage inspired 1940s style. You now have options for a floral print tea dress, or a tea dress in either modern or retro patterns, suitable for any and all occasions.


Midi length 1940s style tea dresses are very versatile. You can rock them prints, solids, or a floral print with kitten heels to the office.   Or street-style them with sneakers, a denim or moto jacket and a crossbody bag for a casual-chic look. Dress up 40s fashion dresses with vintage inspired brooches, pearl chokers and high heeled pumps for date nights or girls-night-out parties.

Red, white and black checked tea dress, The Ladies' home journal, 1948

Red, white and black checked tea dress, The Ladies’ home journal, 1948

How to rock your 40s fashion dresses today

Vintage style tea dresses can be dressed up or down for any event. Formal enough for dances, weddings and cocktail parties, they can be dressed down for daytrips, sightseeing or just an casual evening out.


Day turns Night
  • Day turns to Night: while classically intended to be worn during the day for semi-formal or casual events like tea parties or picnics, vintage style tea dresses in heavier, richer fabrics and darker, more dressed-up prints can amplify your night-time look.  Go all-out 1940s style retro with a velvet or pearl choker and kitten heeled sling backs or amp up your street style smarts with a metallic moto jacket and black Doc Martins to toughen up the femininity of your vintage style floral print tea dress.


  • Casual-Chic Wear: rock your vintage inspired tea dresseson days off with flat knee-high boots and a chunky over-sized sweater in autumn and winter.   On the hot, sunny days of summer, add strappy sandals and a floppy sunhat to floral print tea dresses.


Chilly Weather
  • Chilly Weather Classic:  you can pair your 40s fashion dresses with tights for a warm casual-cool style, adding a cropped denim jacket or cardigan to finish your winter weather look.  Take your vintage style tea dresses for a cold weather spin with cropped jumpers or long cardigans, coordinated oversized scarves and high boots.

Women's shoes in 1948

Women’s shoes in 1948


  • Shoe Spins: a modern spin on 40s fashion dressesis all about pairing them with the right shoe for the right occasion. Kitten heels, flats, block heels, sneakers or boots all work well with this vintage style look, giving it a twist with each shoe choice. Pick your shoe of choice to say trendy, retro, casual or street, depending on your style profile and what you want your look to say about you.


  • Office Smarts: When at work, rock your 40s fashion dressesin solid heavy fabrics with animal print pumps and a heavy metal necklace, or in a floral print with ballet flats and a simple pearl necklace.  It’s all about your fashion mood for the day.

40s fashion dresses ladies 1940s accessories from the the Ladies' home journal, 1948

40s fashion dresses ladies 1940s accessories from the the Ladies’ home journal, 1948

1940s Style Accessorized

Finishing touches to 40s fashion dresses take the form of vintage inspired accessories like multi-strand pearl necklaces worn around your throat, or patterned short neckerchiefs knotted around your neck.  Finish your vintage clothing look with a straw boater hat on sunny days or a beret in the winter. Your shoes will offset your style in warm colours like black or brown, usually worn as oxfords or block-heeled pumps.

 1940s Fashion Accented

 40s fashion dresses were accented with velvet bows at the collar, short puffed sleeves and a vast array of fabrication patterns all the way from polka dots to florals and gingham. Belts trended in contrasting colours, calling attention to tiny waists and worn with everything from tea dresses to pants, suits and skirts.

Women's 1940s hairstyle.The Ladies' home journal 1948

Women’s 1940s hairstyle.The Ladies’ home journal 1948

40s Fashion Dresses Completed

To add the finishing touch to their 40s fashion dresses, women wore their hair in stylized curls embellished with pretty hair clips to keep the look in place.  The overall appeal was one of 1940s style as elegant, polished and suave.

Modernize 40s Fashion Dresses

To bring 1940s fashion inspired dresses to life in the modern wardrobe, don’t go head-to-toe vintage style but instead, choose a single statement piece with 1940s style, then mash up the look by adding in modern accessories and clothing.


For example, throw on a 1940s style high waist fit-and-flare dress, then add a faux leather moto jacket on top and finish the look of with white sneakers to dress down your look and make it street smart.

 Couple in evening clothes at the Trocadero, Brisbane, 1948.

Couple in evening clothes at the Trocadero, Brisbane, 1948.

40s Fashion Dresses to Amp Up Your Style

You know what makes you feel and look good so use your personal style barometer as your vintage inspired guide when taking a virtual tour through 1940s fashion online shopping sites, then get yourself some 1940s style items that speak to your own personal tastes and amplify your very own style.


Picture vintage style and accessories like statement jewellery from 1940s fashion, or a classic trench coat in 1940s style, then combine these vintage inspired classics with your favourite blue jeans or floral print maxi dress for a modern-retro spin on fashion.


Online 40 fashion dresses shopping sites provide you with all the options you need to get your vintage style picks of dresses, blouses, sweaters, skirts, trousers, suits, bags, shoes and accessories, so take a load off and go shopping!


Links [i] [ii] [iii] [iv] [v] [vi] [vii] [viii]