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40s Ladies Fashion from Land Girls to Hollywood Pin-Ups

January 13, 2019

Explore the variations of vintage style 40s ladies fashion trends from war-time land girl working wear all the way to movie star vintage style glamour and glitz.

40s ladies fashion is as inspirational today as it was varied and diverse back in all its original vintage glory.

40s ladies fashion - Land Girls, 1943

Land Girls, 1943


40s ladies fashion encompasses quintessential vintage style including the cosy, multi-coloured hand-knitted 40s style sweaters, vests and cardigans worn with floral or polka dot blouses and land girl uniforms.


1940s women style in 1940s fashion also includes the tea dress, day dress and other 40s ladies fashion spins on the Christian Dior fit-and-flare silhouette that highlighted the female form and added glamour to everyday life.

Barbara Smaile of the Women's land army, 1944

Barbara Smaile of the Women’s land army, 1944


40s Ladies Fashion Range

40s fashion ranged from the glamour of the Hollywood pin-up starlet to the working wear of the land girl.


1940s women also adopted the ultra-feminine shape of the tea dress in floral prints and a fitted high waist, worn with wedge heels or oxfords.


40s ladies fashion also saw the advent of the war time land girl in her brown twill overall, worn over a forest green sweater, her waist nipped in with a broad warm brown belt.


The land girl of 40s fashion put her own spin on her land army uniform, layering playful blouses in floral prints, Peter Pan collars and puffed sleeves under her overalls.


The land girl would also swap out her regulation 40s style green sweater for a bobble-embellished or popcorn knit confection in bubble gum pink or sky blue, layered over her sensible brown overalls.


And finally, the land girl added a dash of 1940s style with a gaily printed scarf tying up her hair out of the way as she went about her chores on the farm.


Wartime housewife, London, England, 1941

Wartime housewife, London, England, 1941


40s Ladies Fashion War Time Innovation

40s ladies fashion saw the invention of new fabrics, a case of needs must due to war time restrictions and constraints.


The fashion industry was engaged and inspired to innovate and re-design fabrics, styles and embellishments to breathe new life into 40s ladies fashion during the hard war years.


“Utility clothing” was a thing in 40s fashion, with rules on how much fabric would go into the clothing item, and the quantity and type of trim, gathers and pleats and number of buttons.


At first, 1940s women were not thrilled about these restrictions and “utility clothing” options.   Then fashion industry designers jumped at the chance to enhance utility clothing and the 40s ladies fashion trends we know and love today were born.


Vintage style draping, peplums, padded shoulders and a high waist were just some of the figure-enhancing magic used to embellish utility dressing.

40s ladies fashion - Mrs Day, sewing on her bed in 1941

Mrs Day, sewing on her bed in 1941

Expert dress makers

1940s women were expert dress makers themselves and excelled at reworking their existing wardrobes into au courant 40s ladies fashion trends.  It was all about “make do and mend”!


A vintage style day dress or tea dress could be easily re-fashioned by changing the neckline using gathers, reworking the longer sleeves into cap or puffed versions, and adding trimmed pockets for a whimsical yet practical touch.


And during these times of rationing and making do, 1940s women lifted their spirits with lashings of bright coral-red lipstick and raided their mother’s costume jewellery for new ways to bring life to an old outfit.


The iconic 40s style red lippy trend was seen on 1940s women everywhere, from the land girl toiling on the farm, to the pin-up girl posing for her next poster.   It was a quick, easy and cheap way to add a dash of glamour to everyday life.


40s ladies fashion would not be complete without the iconic hair styles of 1940s women.  Hair was worn long and curly, tied up during the day for practical work, then styled elaborately for evening events.


The pompadour, turban and snood were just some of the ways 1940s women embellished their hair 40s style.

War Savings Will Make Your Dreams Come True poster

War Savings Will Make Your Dreams Come True poster

40s Ladies Fashion Glamour

At the opposite extreme of the farming land girl, 40s ladies fashion was also represented by the glamour of 1940s style pin-up Hollywood icons or the uber-feminine cut and style of a tea dress, with its Christian Dior inspired nipped-in waist over full skirts and with padded shoulders.


40s style pin-up girls were models or movie stars with posters and pictures that were widely accessible and usually pinned up on a wall, offering fantasy escape for the masses.


These 40s style pin-up girls were gorgeous and sexy and had a glamour and glitz that 1940s women emulated and aspired to, and men fantasized about.


40s style pin-ups showed up in newspapers, magazines, newspapers, on post cards and lithographs.  Some of the most popular 40s style pin-ups included such Hollywood icons as Ava Gardner, Veronica Lake and Rita Hayworth.

Ava Gardner publicity photo for Showboat

Ava Gardner publicity photo for Showboat


40s Ladies Fashion the Ava Gardner Way

40s fashion trends adopted by Ava Gardner included the Christian Dior silhouette, emphasized by a wide belt cinching in her tiny waist, a silky printed neckerchief knotted around her neck, and full skirts falling to mid-calf length.


Her belts and scarves added oomph to the classic fit-and-flare 40s style day dress.


Another look Ava made famous was the sexy secretary fitted skirt, also known as the 40s style poodle skirt.

Movie star Rita Hayworth sacrificed her car bumpers for the war effort.

Movie star Rita Hayworth sacrificed her car bumpers for the war effort.

40s Ladies Fashion epitomized by Rita Hayworth

When she was off duty, 40s style icon Rita Hayworth embodied androgynous 40s fashion with her high waist wide legged trousers worn over mannish button-down shirts, flat brogues and roguishly tilted berets.

40s Ladies Fashion Silhouette

Vintage style in the 1940s focused on a narrow waist worn with full skirts that were pleated, flared or gathered and fell below the knee, with belts emphasizing an hourglass figure.


1940s women wore their shoulders puffed and padded to emphasize the hourglass look made famous by Christian Dior.


40s fashion also saw the widespread adoption of the shirtdress. This 40s ladies fashion style was available in many patterns and fabrics and with the 40s fashion silhouette of belted waist over full skirts.


This vintage style was completed with a buckled or tied matching fabric belt and elbow-length or full shirt sleeves.


The 40s ladies fashion tea dress epitomized the demure yet stylish casual-chic of the independent 40s woman.

570px-40s ladies fashion - A female war worker at the the Royal Ordnance Factory hostel, Bridgend, in January 1942.

A female war worker at the the Royal Ordnance Factory hostel, Bridgend, in January 1942.

Vintage style classics

These vintage style classics offered a view of slender ankles under full skirts while covering up everything else. The 40s fashion tea dress showed off an hourglass shape with a modest hemline.


The 40s ladies fashion tea dress also offered customization of sleeve length, sleeves versus sleeveless, hem length, patterns and fabrics, all tailored to the individual.


Floral prints, a high waist or padded shoulders were just some of the ways to wear a tea dress.


Whatever the 1940s women looked like, a vintage style tea dress could be styled, cut and designed to amplify each woman’s individual assets.


When people think of 40s ladies fashion, they picture the tea dress. This dress was worn for dances in floral prints, with a sweetheart neckline, padded shoulders under puffed sleeves, and with full skirts.

Young men and women look in the window of a jeweller's shop on Silver Street in Durham, England, UK, 1943

Young men and women look in the window of a jeweller’s shop on Silver Street in Durham, England, UK, 1943


Now picture a 40s ladies fashion tea dress spin in a black and white whimsical bird print, with the waist cinched in with a broad patent red belt, cap sleeves and pockets, worn over rust red brogues. This look would take 1940s women from working lunches to evening parties.


The shirt dress was a spin on the tea dress, more utilitarian but just as stylish, making it a popular day dress for 1940s women everywhere.


As versatile as the vintage style tea dress, the shirt dress was an easy adaptation of the 40s ladies fashion silhouette into a serviceable daytime look that blended sensible fabrics like denim or twill with playful prints and the 40s style silhouette.

Publicity photo of Lana Turner for MGM Studios, 1943

Publicity photo of Lana Turner for MGM Studios, 1943


40s Ladies Fashion the Hollywood Way

American style inspired by 40s ladies fashion done the Hollywood way included creative draping in evening dresses.


Other vintage inspired trends from Hollywood icons were sarong skirts worn with bodices with padded shoulders, embroidered and embellished with sequins and jewels.


The 40s style fabrics for these fantasy looks were usually in solid colours like black, white, red or navy.

40s ladies fashion - Backstage, Mark Foys fashion parade, Sydney - for PIX magazine Date, c 1947

Backstage, Mark Foys fashion parade, Sydney – for PIX magazine
Date, c 1947


Capsule Collection

If you are vintage inspired and looking for 40s style, then your capsule collection must include the following key 40s fashion elements:


  • Tea dress or day dress, preferably in a rayon or viscose fabrication
  • Seamed silk stockings
  • High waist trousers with wide legs and cuffed hems
  • A swing skirt down to your knees, with petticoats
  • A pussy bow necktie blouse
  • A 40s style shirt dress
  • A cropped jacket

40s ladies fashion - Clerk wearing snood 1942 in one of the Inglewood, Calif., stock rooms of North American Aviation Inc

Clerk wearing snood 1942 in one of the Inglewood, Calif., stock rooms of North American Aviation Inc


Add the following vintage style accessories to your collection to complete it:

  • Orange-red lipstick
  • Vintage inspired costume jewellery, especially sparkly brooches and pearl necklaces
  • A snood
  • Oxfords with heels

Women of the University War Work Group, Brisbane, 1942.

Women of the University War Work Group, Brisbane, 1942.

40s Ladies Fashion for Today

If you have been vintage inspired by 40s ladies fashion trends, bring the key 40s style elements to life in your current wardrobe with some clever tweaks and spins.


  • Don’t go for top-to-toe 40s style. Instead, pick out one or two 40s fashion elements from your capsule collection, then mash it all up with current pieces from your wardrobe.


For example, pair your vintage inspired swing skirt with a dressed-down white tee and white sneaks for a streetwear look that is 40s fashion inspired retro-cool for day.


Then throw on a faux leather black moto jacket and swap your sneaks for floral Doc Martins for a modern-throwback 40s style look for night.



40s ladies fashion - Photo by Erik Holmén 1943

Photo by Erik Holmén 1943

40s Ladies Fashion with a Personal Spin

Use your own personal style and taste to guide you while you take virtual tours through 40s ladies fashion online shopping sites or visit your nearest thrift store or your neighbourhood consignment store.


Build your vintage inspired capsule collection based on your own fashion taste and style, so that the 40s style treasures you collect mesh seamlessly with your personal style persona.


Combine 40s ladies fashion accessories like sparkling costume jewellery, or a vintage inspired trench coat with a belted waist ala 40s style, with your favourite blue jeans and button-down white shirt.


Take 40s ladies fashion for a modern ride by pairing the unexpected of 40s style with your modern wardrobe basics for your own unique blend of old and new, main street and high street, haute couture and trendy looks.


40s ladies fashion shopping sites on the web give you a never-ending array of choice, price points and vintage inspired collections to shop.


Find the 40s style clothes and accessories in the shapes, prints, fabrics and styles that appeal to you, then wear them with all your current favourites for refreshed day-to-evening looks that never go out of style.



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