Make Do Monday – 1940s fashion

Lets talk a bit about women’s fashion!

The 1940s fashion was heavily affected by the war, rations, new job opportunities for women and towards the end of the decade, hope of a brighter future!

During the First World War, the Women’s Land Army formed to replace the men that had gone off to fight. At first, there was a debate about women wearing trousers as their uniform (Trousers being seen as men’s clothes only), the government’s response to which was to feminise the roles in their propaganda.

P FW W48_9 35_17605

 Picture source

When the prospects of a Second World War became more and more likely the government started the Women’s land army again in June 1939 to bring in more help to increase food production. Just as the farms benefitted from this, everything from munitions factories to public transport and offices took on huge amounts of women to fill the much-needed roles to keep Britain running.


 Picture source

Women now needed a work uniform and dressed in two piece suit-dresses, jackets with wide collars and ruffled sleeves with pads to look more broad shoulder-ed and authoritarian. As the war went on and rationing continued many were forced to recycle and refashion old clothes to upgrade their wardrobe. Some used a lot of their own creativity making detailed and embellished hats which could carry a whole outfit!


Picture source

If you would like to go shopping for forties clothes in a vintage shop or fair there are some details that you can look out for to get to the genuine stuff! For example dresses from the forties are often made in muted colours, the skirt length should be calf length or midi-length as some shops call it today. Because of rationing there is not a lot of seam allowance and the shoulders and sleeves was a big focus point. The typical early forties silhouette is a V-shaped top half, a cinched waist and a simple skirt. From March to May in 1942 austerity measures were introduced which restricted how many buttons, pleats and pockets clothes could have. A tea dress with a small floral print could have been something a Land girl wore when she wasn’t in her overalls. 


Picture source

Your typical 1940s fashion:

  • Practical
  • V-shaped
  • Hats and gloves
  • Rayon crepe and cotton
  • Utilitarian
  • Peep toe shoes
  • Shoulder pads
  • Discreet
  • Fabric rations
  • Work clothing
  • Tea dresses
  • Chunky heel shoes

If you stumble upon a piece of clothing or maybe a blanket with a label marked CC41 (Civilian Clothing 41) you have found a product of utility clothing from the wartime which was made under the strict amounts of fabric allowed and quality standard guaranteed by the government.


Picture source


Picture source

The war ended in 1945 but clothes rationing continued until 15 March 1949 in the United Kingdom. Towards the end of the decade clothes were made in brighter colours and prints, with shorter sleeves and rounded necklines. “The New look” launched in 1947 by Christian Dior in France was the biggest influence on the post-war look with lots of fabric going into full skirts and a new era of fashion was born.


Sources and references: Rationing, WLAfor picture sources click on link under photo.


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