Women's Fashions of the 1930s & 1940s

Written by rosemary gemmell
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Women's Fashions of the 1930s & 1940s
Women's fashion became more fitted in the 1930s and 1940s. (vintage woman image by gajatz from Fotolia.com)

Women's fashion and style of the 1930s was heavily influenced by the glamour of Hollywood films. Skirts became longer and the waist returned to its normal place after the 1920s flapper style. The new bias cut was popular in day and evening fashion, allowing material to drape the body in a fluid line. By the 1940s, women's fashion included padded shoulders and simple lines, while trousers were becoming more popular.

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Day and Evening Wear

Knitwear was popular during the 1930s and was often worn as an alternative to a blouse. Gowns and dresses were cut on the bias, diagonally across the fabric, and clung to the shape of the body.

Elsa Schiaparelli founded her fashion house and, according to Decades of Beauty, she wrote in her autobiography: "Never fit the dress to the body, but train the body to fit the dress."

Women's fashion of the 1940s was largely influenced by the war years, becoming practical yet tailor-made and smart. Many women wore trousers for day, evening or sport.

Women's Fashions of the 1930s & 1940s
Evening gowns often had low-cut backs. (lady in red evening dress image by TEA from Fotolia.com)


In the 1930s and 1940s, respectable women usually wore a hat when going outdoors. Felt was used during the 30s and hats often perched over one eye. Hairstyles were sleek and sculptured, often with the Marcel style of curls and waves.

By the 1940s, berets, snoods and turbans were popular alongside the new peaked cap style. Some hairstyles reflected the latest film star looks, such as the long, wavy style of Veronica Lake.

Women's Fashions of the 1930s & 1940s
A hat completed a woman's outfit in the 30s and 40s. (women in hat image by Alexandr Shebanov from Fotolia.com)


The slim and slinky 1930s evening gowns made pockets impossible and women carried pretty evening bags encrusted with sequins. Most women wore short gloves during the day and longer gloves up to the elbow in the evening.

During the 1940s, silk and rayon scarves were produced in bold, graphic designs. Women wore sensible shoes, often with wedge heels. Silk stockings were scarce in Britain and women often drew a seam line down the back of bare or tanned legs.

Women's Fashions of the 1930s & 1940s
Women wore seamed, silk stockings in the 1940s. (Seemed Stockings image by Dulce from Fotolia.com)


By the 1930s, the bra was made to support and shape the bust, after the flattening brassieres of the 1920s. From the 30s through to the 1940s, a combined soft corset and bra was available which shaped the figure with elasticated under panels. The panty girdle and roll-on were introduced during the 1930s, although French knickers were also popular.

These two decades introduced wired and padded bras and cup sizes. According to A Concise History of Costume, a 1939 Vogue reporter wrote about the differing silhouettes of women: "The only thing that you must have in common is a tiny waist." The answer was the super-light corset.

Women's Fashions of the 1930s & 1940s
Women's clothes of the 30s and 40s emphasised the waist. (femme d'époque image by YvesBonnet from Fotolia.com)

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