Major shortages in fabric influenced the fashion of the 1940’s. Women wore dresses to the knee or below and broad, square shoulders were popular due to the cultural influence military clothing styles had. Clothing designs tended to be simple and plain. Some women resorted to sewing clothing from feed and flour sacks because more common fabrics were not available for civilian uses. Using heavier fabrics served a double purpose. Families could not purchase clothing every season as was the custom, so long-lasting garments made from commercial materials actually served a dual role by providing durable alternatives to the fabrics used before the war.As seen in the photo to the right, sailor tops and dresses were popular, especially when worn with “Victory” red lipstick.
Example of dress patterns
for making women's dresses
Women’s underwear was also an important part of fashion. Women typically wore a petticoat which helped conceal a corset known as a waspie. Waspies helped define the waistline and had garters to support stockings. Tiny waists and high bust lines were the style of the day, which helped create a need for more constrictive, structured underwear. For instance, the circle stitched bra was designed to separate and lift the bust. Full-length slips and full skirted waist slips were worn in addition to uplift bras and girdles. The primary purpose of clothing was not comfort.
Women in the 40’s were determined to showcase their legs. Stockings made from silk and nylon became scarce during the war as they were used to make military necessities such as parachutes. These shortages in materials led women to paint their legs rather than go bare legged.
Hats in the 40's were usually small and often followed the military look. Hat designs were also affected by the shortages in clothing material.
Hats were often made of felt, feathers and netting. Hats were often made to match an outfit and they were usually considered luxuries. Many women also wore turbans and scarves to tie back their hair.
In 1942, women were taking over many of the un-glamorous jobs that were left vacant when the men went to war, and trousers became wildly popular for all sorts of occasions. Sales of women's slacks in 1942 were 500 percent higher than they were in 1941.
Perfect Pincurl hair style
Swingband hair style
During the war, women took over the jobs that were left vacant when the men enlisted for service. The well-dressed worker sported coveralls and a stylish head scarf that became known as a do-rag. Underneath the do-rag, hair was often wrapped up in pin-curls, which would be combed out in the evening while getting ready for the United Service Organizations (USO) dance.
Stylish men in the 40's sported dark suits, pipes, and sharp-looking hats. In the late 30's and early 40's, wild young men wore a bizarre concoction known as the "zoot suit."
The zoot suit was high-waisted, wide-legged, tight-cuffed pegged trousers called tramas and a long coat called the carlango with wide lapels and wide-padded shoulders. Often zoot suiters wore a felt hat with a long feather called a tapa or tanda and pointy, French-style shoes known as calcos. The suits usually featured a key chain dangling from the belt to the knee or below.
Zoot suits were for special occasions, such as a dance or a birthday party. The amount of material and tailoring required made them luxury items. Many young people wore a more moderate version of the "extra-bagged" pants or styled their hair in the signature "duck tail." The oversized suit was an extravagant personal style and a declaration of freedom and auto-determination; although many people still consider it a "rebellious garment to the era."
The zoot suit consisted of the following pieces: pegged trousers reaching to the armpits, oversized coat, pork-pie hat, knee-length watch chain and oversized bow-tie.
Photograph from: employees.oneonta.edu/angellkg/
Other Wartime Trends
It was stylish for young women to wear military clothes they "borrowed" from brothers and boyfriends who had recently returned from the service. These borrowed items included pea jackets, pins, hats, insignia, and even helmets. The fad got out of hand on some college campuses, and could only be stopped when the ladies were reminded that there was a penalty for impersonating a serviceman.
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