Dance dresses of the 1940s

Written by thi tran
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Dance dresses of the 1940s
(George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images)

The 1940s were a turbulent decade heavily influenced by World War II. Nationwide clothing, cloth and shoe rationing meant that most Americans did not have the luxury of spending freely on the fashions they desired. During these hard times, Jitterbug, Jive and Ragtime dances became popular in society as they allowed the ordinary person to relieve wartime stress and pressure. Though they were bound by the ration, women chose distinctive dancing dresses to express their personal style and the aesthetics of the era.

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The preferred silhouette for a dance dress in the 1940s was one that was fitted in the torso, wide at the shoulders and flowing at the bottom. Shoulder pads were common for a 1940s dance dress. Knee-length dresses became popular but long evening gowns were still available, though not prevalent due to rationing. Flowing silhouettes that allowed for comfort and unobstructed movements were popular with women shopping for dance dresses.

Dress Material

Due to the war efforts and subsequent clothing rationing, women adopted the practice of recycling various items to make dresses. Sheets, blankets and curtains were fashioned into dresses and skirts. Knitwear became popular because with a little handy work, yarn could be used to created a fashionable ensemble. Some women even used industrial cloth and parachute nylon to make their garments. Luxury materials such as silk, velvet and fur were scarce and rarely found on dresses in the 1940s.


Solid colours and patterns were equally popular in the 1940s. During this era, women preferred lighter fabrics and pleating became popular as it allowed a women to twirl on the dance floor. Embellishments and accessories were often made by hand, using any material available, and placed on after purchase.

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