Prior to World War II, women in the United States took their fashion cues from the houses of Paris and London. As each of those cities became embroiled in the war and then the United States itself became involved, Americans turned to Hollywood for clothing inspiration. Film fashions, along with a deep sense of patriotism, led to a trend of nautical-themed clothing that lasted for much of the decade.
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Designers created dresses with nautical touches and embellishments in the mid 1940s after they began showing up on starlets in Hollywood films. Women fell hard for the patriotic sailor look and started wearing dresses with bows tied like sailor ties around the necks and square flap collars similar to naval uniforms. Designers made dresses in navy blue with white trim, which was quite trendy, but they also made them in red with white or blue trim. The dresses usually came just below the knee, as was the style, and often had pleated, full skirts and touches such as buttons shaped like ships or stars.
Many '40s women traded in dresses for separate pieces for everyday wear. They did this not only because wartime limitations called for less material to be used in the making of dresses, resulting in less flowing styles, but for the practical reason that many women went to work during the war. Women wore more blouses, and the nautical style caught on with these as well. Designers made red, white or blue blouses made of cotton or rayon, with piping and embroidered embellishments such as stars. They also made blouses in patriotic patterns such as red and white stripes.
Trousers and Suits
Along with blouses, women wore trousers more often during the '40s. They solved the problem of ladies having to go without nylons, another unavailable item during the war. Women wore their sailor-style blouses with high-waisted trousers inspired by the Naval heroes themselves; they were cut more narrow on the thighs and had wide flares in the pant legs. Nautical-themed jumpsuits or rompers came into vogue later in the decade, which were worn for casual summer outings or to the beach. These suits narrowed at the waist, had piping around a squared collar and had knee-length gauchos instead of trousers.
Due to shortages of leather, the United States produced women's shoes with wooden or cork soles. Perhaps because of this, wedge-style heels came into vogue. Women wore wedges made of war-friendly materials such as canvas with patriotic stars and stripes or bows at the toes. Sailor hats were a huge trend with women in the '40s; women wore the rounded, white hats that sailors wore, and designers also borrowed the style of these hats to create sailor hats in all sorts of colours with ribbons and flowers. Accessories such as jewellery and handbags were also inspired by patriotic and nautical themes and colours.
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