Clothing Styles From the 1940s

Written by andrea askins
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Clothing Styles From the 1940s
Despite fabric restictions, zoot suits were popular during the early 1940s. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

During a war era that imposed rations on silk, furs, rayon, nylon, wool, leather and the amount of fabric allowed to be used in a garment, the 1940s produced several trends that left an imprint on the fashion world. During this decade, the fashion-minded looked to the styles of Hollywood, rather than France and England, and war-themed colours like green and khaki reached the heights of popularity.

Skirts and Shorter Hemlines

Because of the rationing of certain fabrics and the yardage that could be used in making an ensemble, skirts fell at or above the knee during 1940 through 1945. Clothing was close-fitting and women often created new outfits by recycling fabric from older garments. After the war's end, the textile industry struggled to meet the demand for new clothing, but in 1948, a new clothing style was introduced to the world that varied greatly from that of the early 1940s. Christian Dior's "New Look" featured long, feminine dresses that reached the calves. These skirts were characterised by narrow waists and wide skirts and were popular from the late 1940s through the 1950s.

Angular Lines

Broad, masculine shoulders on women's jackets completed the daily look of the early- to mid-1940s. Shoulder pads made their debut and jackets were cinched at the waist by a belt to give women an hourglass shape. Women wore high necklines the entire decade, and men's wear and military-themed jackets and skirts dominated the fashion realm. Suits were drab in colour; olive green, navy blue and khaki were among the most popular colour choices.

Stockings and Shoes

During the 1940s, silk stockings and pantyhose were a must-have for every woman. Because rations were imposed on silk, many women weren't able to buy a new pair. In order to give the illusion of wearing stockings, women drew a dark line up the back of their legs, as silk stockings had a prominent back seam during the 1940s. During World War II, rations were imposed on leather and metals, so many of the boxy shoe styles from the 1930s were worn by women throughout the mid- to late-1940s. These shoes were characterised by thick soles, round toes and ankle straps.

Zoot Suits

Despite the restrictions on the amount of fabric that could be used in an outfit, the zoot suit was a popular style during the early 1940s. Zoot suits were characterised by baggy, high-waisted trousers and long jackets with wide shoulders, and worn with suspenders, a fedora and wing-tipped shoes. Wearing the style was considered an act of defiance, because of the excess fabric required to make a zoot suit. In the spring of 1942, zoot suits were banned, although rebellious younger men continued to wear the style.

Hawaiian Print Shirts

While Hawaiian print shirts made their debut in Honolulu during the 1930s, the style grew in popularity worldwide during the late 1940s. Hawaiian shirts, also known as aloha shirts, were short-sleeved, button-up shirts that were made of brightly coloured kimono fabric. These shirts were characterised by their patterns of flowers, women or flames and remained a popular style for men throughout much of the 20th century.

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