Ideas for a 1940s Dress

Written by martha mendenhall
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Ideas for a 1940s Dress
Dresses in the 1940s, inspired by WWII, were noted for belted waists and shoulder pads. (George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images)

The most significant influence on fashion of the 1940s was World War II. With cloth and other supplies being rationed, dresses became simpler in design and, reflecting the wartime mood, often used a sombre colour palette. The war also inspired a military theme in women's fashion, including the advent of large, distinctive shoulder pads.

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Military Inspired

Women's fashion in the 1940s was heavily influenced by the styling of military uniforms. Create a dress with shoulder pads that mimic the broad-shouldered wartime soldier. Keep the silhouette streamlined and add brass buttons down the front and a belted, cinched-in waist. Traditional military uniform colours such as navy blue, grey and brown were quite popular choices and, when you choose a uniform fabric such as wool, you can re-create the military-influenced look of women's 1940s dresses.

The Peplum

Women's suits were a common alternative to the dress in the 1940s. However, you can create a faux suit by creating a dress with two-piece look. Consider designing a look that appears to flounce away at the hips, almost like two wings, while the skirt falls straight to the knees. This is the peplum. You can emphasise the peplum by creating the top half of your dress in a patterned fabric, while the skirt portion is made in a more subtle, neutral shade. Modern versions of peplums can be more "drapey" and less stiff than the style of the 1940s, so consider how "wing-like" you want the peplum effect to be and then choose a fabric whose stiffness suits your taste.

Skirt Length

Daytime wear in the 1940s hit the knee. Period. There was no variation from this (save for evening wear), and women tended to look very similar in their '40s dresses. So, while you will want to stay true to the knee-length style for your 1940s dress, consider the line of skirt to provide variation. A fuller skirt, A-line or slim skirt can all create a very different line on your dress, even when each is created to stop right at the knee. You can add variation to dresses of the same length by drawing attention to the neckline or waist with draping, belting or other decorative touches.

Evening Gown

You could create a simple evening look reminiscent of the 1940s by simply taking a pattern you might use for a daytime look and creating it in a more opulent fabric such as satin, silk or velvet. For a truly period look, however, consider a floor-length gown. But there's no need to worry that this look will be too "formal" or "stuffy," because the sombre, simple tone of fashion of the time carried over into evening looks. Often the same shoulder-padded, button-fronted and belted looks were simple transformed into evening wear by creating a floor-length replica. These gowns usually had flowing, easy-to-move-in skirts, making them a practical option for a night out dancing.

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