Flapper dresses of the 1940s

Written by stephanie mitchell
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  • Introduction

    Flapper dresses of the 1940s

    Flapper dresses were no longer in fashion in the 1940s. They were the style of the 1920s, a decade of prosperity and new social freedoms for women. By the 1940s, society had changed entirely: the Great Depression and World War II imposed a new aesthetic born of patriotism, scarcity and function over form. 1920s women and 1940s women had different priorities, and their garments were, therefore, different as well.

    The flapper style reflected the freedom and vivacity of the Jazz Age. (Hemera Technologies/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images)

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    Flapper Dresses

    The flapper style was a rebellion against the corsets and petticoats of the Victorian era. The Victorian woman was tightly bound into an hourglass shape, the feminine ideal of the time, and the look carried connotations of repression and restriction. The 1920s were an era of wild abandon, and the flapper fashion reflected this. Flapper dresses were sleeveless, with fringes that swayed with the wearer's every movement, and hemlines climbed throughout the decades. The style replaced the hourglass ideal with a vertical, tubelike silhouette.

    The flapper look was more than just a design; it was a lifestyle. (Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

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    Flapper Style

    A flapper was defined by more than just her dress. To be in style, she needed a flat chest, visible make-up and short hair slicked close to her head. The flapper fashion was designed for dancing to jazz music, so flappers displayed their arms and legs, discarding the dark tights of the Victorian era for barely visible knee-length stockings. To complete the look, a flapper needed a cloche hat, 2-inch heels and a long cigarette holder.

    Long cigarette holders were a fashionable accessory in the flapper era. (Jeffrey Hamilton/Photodisc/Getty Images)

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    1940 to 1945

    While the 1920s were a time of prosperity, the 1940s were marked by scarcity and rationing. Between the lingering effects of the Great Depression in the '30s and the impact of World War II, fashion in the 1940s was governed by practicality. In the first half of the decade, going to excess was considered unpatriotic, and women began wearing separates to use clothing items in more than one outfit. Women were also entering the workplace, so wearing trousers became acceptable because of their practicality. The War Production Department limited the amount of fabric people could use in their clothing, so a tailored silhouette, which required less yardage, became popular.

    Women in the 1940s had to dress appropriately for factory work. (George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images)

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    1946 to 1949

    After the war, fashion saw a backlash of femininity. Now that the restrictions on fabric yardage had been lifted, women began wearing dresses with fuller, longer skirts. Narrow waists and romantic silhouettes were popular, emphasising the female form. Women again began wearing high heels, which had been abandoned during the war in favour of the more practical flats. Women curled their hair, especially on top to give it volume, and wore it to their shoulders.

    After the war, femininity came back into fashion. (George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images)

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