Dresses for women of the 1940s

Written by sherry mitchell
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Dresses for women of the 1940s
Dresses in the 1940s often reflected a wartime or military look. (George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images)

It was called the Swing Era. The 1940s was also a time of uncertainty and turmoil, with many women left to hold the fort down at home while their husbands or sweethearts fought in World War II. The war and its affect on the economy played a big role in women's dresses during this period.

Making Do

In addition to food, other goods such as clothing materials were rationed during the war, so new store-bought dresses were rare in the 1940s. The popular saying for that time was "Mend and Make Do," a motto that encouraged women to wear their dresses as long as possible, repairing whenever necessary. It was not uncommon for bridal dresses to be second-hand and touched up with extra trimmings, according to Fashion Era.

Early 1940s

For those who could afford material, Butterick and McCall's patterns were widely used to fashion dresses in the early 1940s. Women's clothing during that period was often referred to as wartime or utility clothing. Particularly fashionable during that time were two-piece dress suits and one-piece utility dresses. Both featured a tailored look that was single-breasted at the top. The dresses were designed to mimic the uniform jackets worn by men in the military.

Later Styles

Beginning in 1945, the hemlines on women's dresses began to trend to a slightly lower length, hitting between the ankle and the calf, according to Fashion Era. The focus of women's dresses during this time was to create an hour glass figure, with an emphasis on a tightly fitted and often belted midriff or waist. Dresses featured swing skirt bottoms and panels in the back for a looser and more comfortable fit during dancing.

Accessories and Hairstyles

No dress was complete in the 1940s without the accompaniment of a stylish hat. From the smaller pill box hats with feathers to more lavish bonnet-inspired hats, when women were going out on the town, the fancier the hat the better.

French painter-inspired hats were also popular, according to Met Museum. Hair during the 1940s was generally mid-length and wavy and was usually pulled back away from the face. Upturned curls were also popular during this time.

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