Early ’40s Fashion: A Look Back on Women’s Clothing During the Second World War

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It is worthless to discuss fashion of the forties without first understanding the tremendous impact World War II had on everyday life during the early part of the decade. Social trends dictated fashion, World War II changed the world of fashion forever.

The true hallmarks of fashion in the early 1940s included an austere silhouette with narrow hips, padded shoulders, and all manner of hats. The working-class look of icons such as Rosie the Riveter became chic, as women of all social standings joined the war effort. They kept things going at home, taking over the jobs – and the closets – of husbands and other male relatives. Class barriers fell and people dressed down. It was considered gauche to be showy during a time of shortage.

Women’s fashion trends in the early 1940s

Many varieties of peplums were in vogue: butterfly, bustle and gathered peplums were a few. Ruffles found their way to skirt hems, necklines and waists. Gored, gathered and A-line skirts were topped with soft, feminine blouses. Blouses donned bows at the center-front neckline and might sport full or puffy sleeves. Collars were cut generously full, in peter pan and traditional pointed shirt-collar designs. Lace also accentuated blouses around the neckline.

Take a look at these glamorous photos to see what women’s fashion trends in the early 1940s looked like.

Models are wearing dresses and matching caps by Nettie Rosenstein and jewelry by Tiffanys, photographed by Horst P. Horst for Vogue, 1940

Babe Paley wearing drop-shouldered blue wool dress, hat and yellow crocheting bag, photographed by John Rawlings, 1941

Dorothy Shapard, a student at Vassar, wearing a career classic blue grey wool dress with a plaid jacket in blue, grey, red and black, 1941

Loretta Young posed in white slack suit upon wicker stair, 1941

Model in chartreuse felt hat with roses and hummingbirds, purple gloves, and purple veil and ribbons, 1941

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