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Forties Fashions

Our fashion preferences have changed over the years, not only in clothing and body styling but in many other things as well. This page will look at the changes, from the sometimes rather quaint fashions of the '40s on.

Ladies fashions

Shoes and clothing

Picture of 1940 fashion

1940 ladies fashion

In the '40s ladies fashions focused on displaying the hour-glass figure, broad shoulders, tiny waists and full hips. Shoulder padding for a wide-shouldered look; nipped in high waist tops for a slim waist; and skirts that came down slightly below the knee were the norm. Part of the reason for change from the full-length dresses worn earlier was the shortage of fabric caused by the war. Dresses could be v-necked, but not V-necked - it was Vulgar to show any cleavage. Pleats became popular, especially with young people, later in the decade. They made dancing easier and more enjoyable with the more modern dance styles.
The slim-waist look was helped by girdles. These were very uncomfortable, with tight, flat fronts to suck in the belly. Bras were large with a wide back and rounded cup shapes. The pointy bra didn't arrive until the 50's. A full slip, or petticoat, was usually worn over the underwear to keep the shape smooth.
Nylon had only recently been invented but was rapidly replacing silk for stockings. Stockings had seams down the back but seamless stockings were increasingly common by the end of the decade. They were thigh high and held up by elastic garters, then later by suspenders that clipped onto the "knickers" or panties. These were not the light, frilly items they are today. They were made of much heavier material, usually cotton and were very loose-fitting - in fact baggy.
Rations and restrictions put in place by the government limited the materials that designers could use for both clothing and shoes. As many men were fighting overseas, women needed shoes that were practical for them to work in, but inexpensive. Leather became scarce as it was devoted to the war, so mesh, fabric, reptile skins and even wood were used, and shoes were generally more stocky and functional.

Picture of 1940 Oxford shoe

Oxford shoe

Picture of 1940 pump shoe

Pump shoe
For day wear, stacked heel, lace-up oxford shoes were popular. They were sturdy, practical, long lasting and comfortable. They were minimally decorated with only some accent materials, like patent leather or reptile skin.
Pumps, with stocky heels, blunt toes, and high sides, were often decorated with a bow at the front, and may be decorated with perforations and cut outs. Sling-back shoes were a day wear style as well as an evening pump. They had a rounded front, sometimes with a peep-toe opening, and a strap attached with a buckle around the back of the ankle. They were usually plain shoes without decoration.

Hairstyle and head-dress

Picture of Lady with feather hat

Lady in a hat

Picture of girl with a plait

Girl with a plait

The beret was a one piece, round, flat hat that sat directly on top or angled off to the side. I recall one of my teachers wearing one and we referrred to it as a "pea-on=a-drum". The turban was a piece of fabric wrapped around the head , sometimes decorated with flowers, feathers or jewels. Small hats with veils were also popular, and were my mother's favourite "going-out" hat. Working women often needed to keep their hair held back, for safety or for hygiene reasons. They wore hair nets, snoods (like a hairnet, but more "baggy"), or head-scarves.
Girls often wore their hair in plaits, with a small ribbon at the end to keep it plaited. They also wore hair clips, as decorations or to hold the hair in a desired position. Sometimes girls had their hair plaited before going to bed, and the plaits were bound in strips of cloth to hold their shape overnight. Next day, the plaits were sometimes allowed to hang down, usually with a ribbon at the end, or tied over their head.


Confident up-do hairstyles, deep red lipsticks and nails and penciled arched eyebrows were predominent. Vaseline was often used to add gloss to lipstick. Sparkly eye-shadow , mascara, eyelash cream, rouge and powder were also makeup essentials. Not much change here, I suppose except colours, effects and application methods.

Picture of necklace


Picture of a bracelet

Gemstones of all kinds were preferred by those in a position to buy them; however, times were hard for many as a result of the war, and plastic imitations were prolific. The most popular plastic of the period was Bakelite., and the bright colors and low price point made Bakelite jewelry accessible to all. Catalin, another early plastic, became equally popular during this time. Marbled effects and translucent hues produced in Catalin rivaled the shades available in Bakelite.
Jewellery, in many cases several items of each, was worn as wrist and ankle bracelets, rings and necklaces. Bracelets could be strings of small gemstones or ornamental pieces, threaded or attached by small fasteners. They sometimes had a central flat piece engraved with the owner's name or a charm. Rigid bracelets made of wood, plastic or metal were referred to as bangles. Rings were often quite bulky and studded with real or artificial gems. Necklaces were the most visible adornment and so contained the larger, more colorful, and of course more expensive stones and pieces.

Mens fashions

coats, suits, hats, jackets, trousers, vests, pullovers, braces, belts, singlets, underpants, shoes, socks, hair, Brylcream

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