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1940s Fashion


dresses & separates
shoulder pads
tight sweaters
sloppy joe sweaters
puffed sleeves
knee-length hems
plaid skirts
swing skirts for dancing
matching mother/daughter outfits

Stylish ladies followed
all the fashion rules,
and wouldn't be caught
dead in last season's


Matching mother/daughter outfits
were popular in the 1940s

the "New Look"
The end of the war meant the end
of fabric rationing. In 1947, Christian
Dior's New Look brought us out of
our fashion doldrums with full skirts and
ultra-feminine frills.

Knitted sweater, 1940

Feminine off-the-shoulder
looks for 1947

during the war

During World War II, fabric rationing limited the amount of material that could be used in clothing. Anything that used excess fabric (wide hems, full skirts, collars, cuffs, patch pockets, men's vests) was eliminated. Leather was also rationed, resulting in women's shoes made of canvas.

Precious fabrics like nylon and silk were strictly rationed, which made stockings a scarce commodity. To create the illusion of wearing stockings, women used leg makeup. They even drew seams down the back of their legs with an eyebrow pencil!

work style
During the war, women took over the jobs that were left vacant when the men enlisted. The well-dressed worker sported coveralls and a stylish head scarf known as a do-rag. Underneath, hair was often wrapped up in pin-curls, which would be combed out in the evening when getting ready for the USO dance.

other wartime trends
It was fashionable for young women to wear military clothes they borrowed from brothers and boyfriends who had recently returned from the service. These 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.


one-piece swimsuits
the bikini
floor-length evening gowns

Even our nightgowns
had a touch of class!

the bikini
In France, Louis Reard designed the first two-piece swimsuit in 1946. Such an eye-catching fashion deserved an equally eye-catching name. In the South Pacific, the Bikini Atoll was making headlines as the site of American nuclear testing, and Reard chose this name for his new swimsuit....the bikini.


accessories & hair
bobby-socks & saddle shoes
penny loafers
hats with veils
shoulder-length hair
rolled bangs



for the men
Stylish men in the 1940s sported dark suits, pipes and sharp-looking hats.

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, swingin' hepcats wore something called the Zoot Suit. This bizarre concoction consisted of pegged trousers pulled up to the armpits, a pork-pie hat, a big bow-tie, a knee-length watch chain and an oversized coat.

trousers for women
Young ladies of high school and college age liked to wear oversized men's shirts, "sloppy joe" sweaters and jeans that were rolled up to the knee. This style was especially popular on college campuses.

In the 1930s, women began wearing trousers for camping and other outdoor activities. In 1942, women were taking over many of the strenuous 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.

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