Forties & Fifties Clothing

Written by lisa mcquerrey
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Forties & Fifties Clothing
Fashion trends often reflect the mood of the nation. (Hemera Technologies/ Images)

Forties and fifties clothing styles reflected the economic conditions of the times, with much of the 1940s spent rationing both food and clothing, making 1940s fashion trends highly conservative. Clothing colours in the 1940s were sombre as well. When the war drew to a close in the late 1940s, the fashion style of the era began to pick up with the introduction of brighter colours and less conservative clothing styles. This trend would continue through the 1950s.

1940s Women's Clothing

Wool was in limited supply during the early 1940s, so artificial fibres such as viscose and rayon were used, as well as industrial cloth and parachute nylon. Women's suits featured squared shoulders with jackets and matching skirts following slim lines to contour the body. More affluent women sported satin evening jackets and fur coats made from rabbit dyed to look like mink and sable. Practicality was typically the theme of fashion in the 1940s, with clothing made to be simple, inexpensive and utilitarian. Head scarves, turbans, front pocket "kangaroo cloaks" and cork wedged-heel shoes and clogs were worn by factory workers because they provided an element of safety. Accessories such as gloves and scarves were often hand-knitted. Stockings were rare, so ankle socks were considered practical substitutes. As the war came to an end, 1940s fashions improved with the introduction of v-necked bodice dresses with flared sleeves and skirts made up of soft folds. A hallmark of this style was characterised by stripes on both sides of the dress that met and created a "w" shape around the waist and bodice.

1940s Men's Clothing

During the early 1940s, men wore suits only for special occasions, although the later 1940s would introduce the "Zoot Suit," typically worn in nightclubs and featuring an oversized jacket, wide lapels, broad shoulders and narrow pant legs with low crotches. V-necked sweater vests or knitted waist coats were also common, as well as traditional button-down shirts and ties. In the late 1940s, the Hawaiian and Carisa shirts were introduced. These casual button-down, short-sleeved garments were made from fabric imprinted with patterns of ocean flora, women, island flowers or flames. The loosefitting, broad-shouldered Esquire jacket debuted in the late 1940s as well, along with double-breasted suit jackets with peaked lapels, derby hats and fedoras.

1950s Women's Clothing

Post-war fashions debuted in the 1950s under the term, "The New Look." Christian Dior became one of the most influential designers of the post-war decade, introducing two-pieced outfits comprised of an A-line or pencil skirt and a fitted suit jacket. Corsets and bodices were widespread, as were hip pads to accentuate the hourglass shape. Yves St. Laurent took over where Dior left off, creating a line of clothing under Dior called "Trapeze." These designers' looks trickled down into everyday wear. The 1950s also introduced cardigan "twinsets," Peter Pan rounded collars, pinafore dresses, crinolines, chiffon petticoats, girdles, poodle and swing skirts, satin jackets, saddle shoes and high heels.

1950s Men's Clothing

Men's fashion in the 1950s took a turn for the casual with the introduction of bowling shirts, 2-toned polyester blend suits and wool gaberdine trousers. Short--sleeve, button-down shirts and ties were popular, as were sweater vests, leather jackets, blue jeans and military-style boots. Men's workplace clothing in the 1950s continued to be conservative, with dark blue, dark brown and charcoal suits and ties against the background of a white dress shirt. Wool jackets and loafers were standard work attire as well. Western shirts came into fashion for men in the 1950s, as did cardigans, sweater vests and hats of all kinds, although the fedora style hat continued to lead the pack.

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