Dance Clothes in the 1940s

Written by caitlynn lowe
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Dance Clothes in the 1940s
The fedora hat was a popular fashion for both dances and daily life. (Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

Dance clothes in the 1940s reflected the shortage of fabrics caused by World War II, while maintaining a fun, "swinging" air about them. Women's clothes had shorter skirts, narrow waistlines and broad shoulders, all while using synthetic or otherwise different materials. Men wore less elaborate suits, but also brightly coloured ties and suit jackets.

Women's Dresses

During the early part of the decade, women needed to sacrifice silks and other expensive materials to the war effort, opting to use small amounts of lighter synthetic materials instead. These lighter, shortened hemlines gave dresses more "twirl," and dress silhouettes throughout the decade reflected this new desire for ease of movement. Dance dresses commonly had pleated knee-length skirts that billowed out when the dancer spun. Women aimed to portray narrow waists and, for the first time in fashion, wore shoulder pads to make their shoulders appear broader. In addition to dresses, women also commonly wore separate skirts and blouses.

Women's Dance Shoes

Rations on leather during the early part of the decade meant that women often wore shoes made of other materials. The sturdiest substitute materials included velvet, mesh and reptile skin. The style of dance shoe also changed during the 1940s. The wedge heel came into fashion to provide women with a fashionable design that was still sturdy enough to walk, work or dance in. Dance shoes also included feminine, flirtatious elements that exposed more skin, like slingback heel straps and peep toes. In the latter half of the decade, the end of rationing led to dance shoes with higher heels again.

Men's Suits

Men's suits also changed during World War II. Prior to the war, suits came with a jacket, vest and two pairs of matching trousers, but during and even after the war, suits only came with a jacket and one pair of trousers. In general, standard suits had baggy trousers with cuffs at the bottom, wide lapels with notches and button-on suspenders. Men also wore wide, straight ties. The zoot suit, a specific type of suit especially popular for dances, accentuated these trends. These brightly coloured suits had extremely baggy trousers with high waists and tight cuffs, a long suit jacket with a fitted waist and a wide, short tie.

Men's Shoes and Hats

Shoe fashions for men barely changed during the 1940s. The Oxford dress shoe, which originated in the 1920s, still remained the most popular men's dress shoe. Black-and-white or brown-and-white Oxford shoes proved especially popular for fast-paced dances. Leather and rubber shortages also affected men's shoes, and wood or cork sometimes replaced rubber platforms.

The wide-brimmed fedora hat reigned as the most popular hat during the 1940s, and men wore these hats with regular suits for all occasions. The tando hat appeared exclusively with the zoot suit. The tando hat has a basic fedora shape with an even wider brim. Some tando hats also had a flat top and a flat brim.

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