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The 1940s In Fashion - FilmClassics | FilmClassics
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The 1940s In Fashion

The following is my humble contribution to the Fashion in Film Blogathon, graciously hosted by Angela over at the Hollywood Revue.


Everyone has their ideal decade in mind in regard to fashion. Mine is the 1940s – the decade where humans came the closest ever to perfection. Everything from Humphrey Bogart’s trench-coat to Esther Williams’ swimsuit was designed perfectly to compliment and enhance the person’s features and appearance. Let’s re-wind and head back to the years before WWII, in the late 1930s. Granted, fashion had been dictated by cinema long before the late 1930s. In fact, to really grasp cinema’s influence over fashion, one would have to travel back to the 1920s and early 1930s. Such names as the designer Adrian, or actresses such as Greta Garbo in Romance (1930) or Irenne Dunne in Cimarron (1931) led in certain aspects of fashion for that decade.

But for the sake of this article, let’s head to the late 1930s with such films as “The Women” (1939) that included a colorized 10 minute clip that showed off Adrian’s fashion designs. We’ll rewind and take a look at both men and women’s clothing during the late 1930s and 1940s, skipping the manners, hairstyles and makeup for now, although I’m certain that would make a very interesting article. Perhaps some other time!

Ladies, you’re up first!

**

Women’s Fasion

Women’s fashion during this time period cannot be properly discussed without first knowing the different types of wear. Not only did the seasons play a role back then, as they do now, but also the different time of day, and different occasions. It would not be uncommon for a woman to change her outfit 3 -4 times a day, starting with a morning outfit, perhaps changing into a sports outfit, afternoon, and finally ending with an evening dress, not to mention going to bed. Classic film fans have probably noticed this more than once on their screen.

So what exactly were the designs? And how did cinema influence women’s fashion?

With the fashion trend going towards the ultimate feminine figure during the late 1930s, and into the 1940s, designers constantly enhanced and improved their latest developments. However, with the coming of WWII, supply of material sharply curtailed. But the American woman still looked her best. Because of the war in Europe, American fashion designers took the lead, replacing those of Paris. In contrast to that of the 30s, skirts were raised from the ankle-length to knee-length. Square, broad jackets were usually worn over a blouse or shirt. Paris came out with new designs and the “new look” in 1947, trying to take the lead in fashion design towards the end of the 1940s.

The then starlet Susan Hayward wearing a jacket over blouse, 1942.

Paulette Goddard and Fred Astaire, 1940.

However, the “suit” was the most popular day outfit during the war years, but faded in popularity after the war. Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca can be seen wearing a suit in many scenes, most notably in Rick’s flashback in Paris, and during the final scene of the film, where Ingrid is wearing the suit and an open-collared blouse.

Watching this style of dress on the screen is ever so common among classic film fans.

The dress was not as popular during the war years – the suit was worth several dresses in the everyday lives of thousands of women that worked in defense jobs. But dresses did not fade, and soon after the war, the dress became increasingly popular again. Cocktail dresses were called “smarter than a day dress but not as formal as a dinner or evening dress”.

Evening gowns were either full or tight, and usually came within 6 – 10 inches above the ground.

Betty Grable in an evening gown.

Susan Hayward in an evening gown.

If you could afford it, you would probably wear a fur of some type with your evening gown. Otherwise, a nifty shawl would have to do.

Other accessories common to the 1940s included elbow-length gloves that accompanied the evening gown. During the day, smaller gloves would do just fine. Hats were popular with many day outfits, and shoes came in all shapes and forms.

Sports wear was commonly white, flared shorts, and squared shoulders. Or, a loose skirt.

Carole Lombard in sports wear.

Ava Gardner in a sports outfit.

Sorry I ran through all these different styles and designs rather briefly, skipping over many including women’s trench coats, trousers, swimsuits, negligee, hose, hat styles, shoe types, jewelry, and much more as well as neglecting some details. Wish I had forever to write this article ;)

Men’s Fashion

The flashy colors of the 1920s started to fade in the 1930s, bringing out more subdued tones during the 30s and onward. Stars like Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, and Gary Cooper popularized a new style of the “suit” that came out in the mid 1930s, enhancing the man’s overall appearance. But the war’s curtailing of material didn’t only effect the women. However, as the war came to an end, and more material became available, the suit’s shoulders broadened and trousers became fuller. Suits became the man’s day wear.

Formal attire consisted of a black tail coat. For an informal evening, you might consider a black or white dinner jacket with a bow tie. During the day, an informal might be a cutaway coat or a frock coat, followed by grey, striped trousers.

Fred Astaire in tails.

Lawrence Olivier in a black dinner jacket, and a bow tie.

The most popular hat of the time was the Fedora, easily followed by the trench coat. The Homburg hat started to replace the top hat in informal wear, and the top hat was reserved for formals.

Ok, so we have to have a photo of Bogart, don’t we?

 

So what ever happened to those days? When men and women both had class and beauty – Well anyway, the next time you watch a classic film, be on the lookout for some of these designs, see how they vary and so forth. And again, I do wish I had more time to write this article. And a special thanks to Angela for hosting this blogathon!

Take care,

David.

P.S. For those interested, The LAMB this month is hosting the topic Cary Grant. You might want to check it out – wish I had the time to write something up for it ;)




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The 1940s In Fashion, 4.6 out of 5 based on 9 ratings Tags: , , , ,

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27 Responses

  1. John says:

    Why is Bogart included here? That’s more 30s than 40s.

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  2. Frank says:

    The 40′s were the best in term of clothes and style. Also what ever happened to women and there hair I NEVER see any women with there done its pony tails . I really wish we could regain some class in this country

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  3. Lydia says:

    Loved reading this!!! The 1940s were the best. :D

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  4. Carmen says:

    Great post, David. I loved it. I always think it would be great we all nostalgic dreamers got together into a party where we listened to Benny Goodman, danced like in the old days, and, of course, wore fabulous 40′s clothes. You know, a retro party where we could all talk about great films, stars…. where we all wore gloves and hats, and chat with elegance and class… oh! I would love it.

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  5. Jessica P. says:

    I really enjoyed this. The 1940s are my favorite fashion era too! I feel like women looked feminine but also semi masculine-showing they were capable to take over the men’s work while they were over seas fighting during WW2. I like the 1940s fashions best for that reason and because its not overly excessive. There are beautiful clothes in the 1950s but sometimes it seems a bit much.

    I never really thought much about the 1940s suit, but it makes a lot of sense now that you talked about it, why it would be more popular during war time. More outfits in one suit (diff. shirts, vests, accessories-haha even Stacy and Clinton on ‘What Not to Wear’ teach us that accessories make a whole new outfit!) so it saves on material.

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  6. Great post – enjoyed learning about the different fashions that people wore throughout the day (though it seems to have made a wardrobe very complicated!) – and loved the beautiful photos of the stars in their chic clothes.

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  7. Meredith says:

    Great job, David! Glad to see you included both Bogie and Bergman :)

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  8. Audrey says:

    What a fabulous post. The ’40s is one of my favorite fashion decades. I wish people still dressed this way!

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  9. What a wonderful post! Excellent! I adore the fashions of the 1940s and you have provided so much information! I really love that you’ve highlighted Susan Hayward. Classy lady.

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  10. Avatar of Bailey Bailey says:

    I absolutely love the fashion of back then! And this is coming from someone who owns about 3 dresses and never wears them. And can’t stand high-heels. One thing I wish I could do this year is go to one of the interactive museums/touring places and dress up for the WWII event. But I’m busy this weekend. :’(
    Great article David! It’s really interesting to read about fashions of then.

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  11. Yvette says:

    Fab post, David. I like this overview type of thing. Gives us a nice feeling for the era.

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  12. FlickChick says:

    Loved it! The suits were to die for and, as we speak, I am getting my evening gown ready for…. well, that’s my dilemma. I love those clothes and have no place to wear them! Whoever invented casual Fridays should be shot! Thanks for a great post with great photos.

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  13. Giancarlo Stampalia says:

    Great post, David. I was however hungry for more detail.
    I am a great fan of the fashion of the late 30s/early 40s (say 1935-1945), and have been working my way up to slowly shifting my wardrobe in that direction (as much as I can afford). At least in the colder seasons, I regularly wear fedoras, double-cuffed shirts with cufflinks, jacket and vest with pocket watch, etc.
    My latest folly, which I may soon regret economically: I went to a tailor to have a 1939-40 suit made, in the style of the one worn by Joel McCrea in the first scene of “Sullivan’s Travels” (cream-colored tweed three-piece, high-waisted wide trousers, London drape wide-shouldered jacket). I definitely need to win a lottery or something.
    The problem is that the fashion of those times simply isn’t available, at least in normal stores. One could shop vintage, but then in my experience it’s hard to find clothes that really fit well, and in good condition. So, normally, short of tailor-made, the best one can do is “mimic” or pay homage to, the period. Hats often do the trick, because very few people wear them anymore.
    I haven’t moved up to any formals yet, mainly because I would really have no occasion to wear them.
    Giancarlo

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    • Avatar of Dan Dan says:

      Hi Giancarlo,
      Thanks for the info. :) Have you been able to find a plaid suit like Fred Astaire wears to the beach and while solo tap dancing in The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle with the guy from the bachelor outing?

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  14. Great post! And to answer your question “What ever happened to those days when men and women both had class and beauty?” – I think we can safely blame it on…TV dinners. Why go to all that bother of getting gussied up for a lovely night of dinner and dancing when you can just shove a metal tray filled with some sort of food-like substance in the oven and set the timer to 20 minutes? Where’s Benny Goodman when you need him?!?!

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    • Avatar of David David says:

      Why thank you, Martin,

      Yes, I guess in today’s society, that about figures. Although there are probably many factors as to why, Tv dinners are probably one of the main contributors. :)

      Have a great weekend,
      David.

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  15. Natalie says:

    “The decade where humans came the closest ever to perfection”….. AMEN. I just love fashion from the 40′s – I’m working my way towards dressing like that as much as possible. So, maybe I’m not doing so well in the actual dressing, but…well, my hair’s almost there. ;)

    Great job, David!!!

    Sincerely,
    Natalie

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    • Avatar of David David says:

      Hello Natalie,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your lovely comment. Hair styles of the 1940s is a topic I would like to write about sometime. :)

      Have a great weekend,
      David.

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  16. Avatar of Dan Dan says:

    David–
    That was fantastic! I wish all society–everybody–dressed the way they did back then! Suits and ties to baseball games, etc. Casual wear (around the house) consisted of taking off your suit coat and (maybe) tie. I would love to go to a place (event, town, country, whatever) where the standard formal dress was similar to Fred’s “Top hat, white tie, and tails”. (At the same time, I’m addicted to my blue jeans at least 5 days a week! ;) )

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    • Avatar of David David says:

      Hello Dan,

      Couldn’t have described it better myself! Seriously, what you see today…well, do we even have a fashion today? Maybe it’s called the random fashion ;)

      Have a great weekend,
      David.

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  17. Avatar of Audrey Audrey says:

    David,
    That was fantastic. And I loved that you “had to have a picture of Bogart”. Loved it. If only society would accept me if I dressed like this ALL the time (i dress like this sometimes okay…..no judging. ;) ).
    Fantastic article.

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    • Avatar of David David says:

      Thanks Audrey,

      Bogart + trenchcoat = classic :) Yes, I too wish it were the same it used to be ;)

      Have a great weekend,
      David.

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  18. Angela says:

    Oh, wow, this is amazing! I love 1940s fashion and you did a fantastic job of giving us a nice overview of the whole era for both men and women. Thank you so much for participating!

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