1940s Vintage Fashion Guide
- Women's dresses are at the very least knee length - nothing shorter (teen and young girl's dresses can be a little shorter). Most dresses end around the knee or mid-calf area. Evening gowns or fancy dresses were longer.
- Dresses tend to have side closures (unless front button down) - metal zippers are most common, but also snaps and buttons. Dresses may also have a small neck zipper in the back. Avoid full length back zippers as those were commonplace in the 1950s and later. Also avoid plastic zippers (most plastic zippers are marked YKK). A lot of correct metal zippers are marked Talon (on American clothing), although there are many other manufacturers.
- Buttons down to the waist and full buttons down the front were also popular. However, that style was also common after the war into the 60s and revived in the 80s. Full buttons down the back rather than the front also existed but seems to be a more European concept than an American one (generally speaking).
- 1940s dresses are slimming and accent the female figure. A lot of post war 1950s dresses have very full skirts. Typical 40s dresses did not use that much material (rationing).
Fashion tips from a 1943 booklet put out by Colette
- Shoulder pads and cinched waists were popular. Shoulder pads are not an absolute must, but they were quite common.
- Vintage sizes run much smaller than modern sizes. For example, a dress marked size 16 may only have a waist size of 29"
- Labels - a lot of vintage 1930s/ 1940s dresses did not have labels and many were homemade. Washing instruction labels on dresses are postwar. Most dresses in the US were made in the US. Although the US did seem to import clothing from England and Europe (as well as Australia to a lesser degree), it did not seem as common. As a general rule, avoid dresses made in Asia. Most German dresses we found were unlabeled. Vintage Fashion Guild has a great label resource.
- Vintage dresses should never be machine washed. Some materials may handwash, others fare better at a dry cleaners.
- While not as common as dresses, women's pants did exist. They have side closures (zippers or buttons) - not front closures like men's pants. The waist is high (resting on your natural waist), the rise (crotch) on women's pants is low and the pantlegs wide (mimicking a skirt). Pantlegs narrowed post-war and into the 50s. There were also pants designed for specific activities such as horseback riding or skiing.
UNDERGARMENTS / ETC:
- 1940s dresses are meant to be worn with foundation garments. That means, at the very least, you should wear a slip to get the dress to lay right.
- Girdles and garter belts were also worn.
- Stockings should be thigh high - one piece pantyhose are not correct (although you could probably get away with them as they are hidden). Stockings must be seamed. Stockings were common in nude colors (ranging from a very light peach/blonde to a darker tan), grays and blacks. They were a very coveted item (and hard to get!) due to rationing. Women who did not have them would often draw a line up their leg with eyeliner to give the appearance of stockings. Stockings almost always are required for military uniform dress.
- Crew cut socks were also common as an alternative to stockings (longer heavier socks for winter, of course).
1940s "STYLE" & 80S-DOES-40S:
- In most cases, 1980s does 40s dresses are NOT acceptable. Same with modern "40s style" dresses. A lot of these dresses have incorrect lengths, full back plastic zippers, obviously modern plastic buttons, elastic waist, and/or are made from incorrect material (like polyester). Wearing an 80s dress to a WWII reenactment is like a German reenactor wearing a "converted" East German tunic. It may pass at your very first event, but, if you are serious about the hobby, you should have a correct outfit.
- Shoes had a wide heel. Everyday heels were relatively short compared with some modern styles. Higher heels did exist but as more of an evening or party shoe rather than an everyday shoe. Shoes tend to have a rounded toe, not a pointy toe. Peep-toe shoes were common for summer (not to be confused with open toe shoes that show far more of the foot). Wedges were also popular. The heel is the far left of the first picture is the most common type.
- Wearing hats and/or snoods (hair nets) was very popular as were gloves.
- Hats styles ranged anywhere from very plain to quite ornamental. A lot of of hats had veils. Feathers, fake fruit and leaves were also common. Styles also ranged from wide-brimmed sunhats to rather small headpieces.
- Turban style hats were also common (you see similar styles worn by factory women - something simple to keep their hair in). Turban hats were very popular in both Europe and the US.
- Tilt hats (sometimes referred to as "toy hats" or "doll hats") are a very iconic 1940s look. A tilt hat is a bit smaller than a normal hat (not using too much material) that sits at an angle on the head.
- Screwback / clip-on earrings were more fashionable than pierced ears.
- Rhinestones were common in costume jewelry (they were also very common into the 1950s and still rather common today).
- Other commonly used materials include bakelite, celluloid, lucite.
For information on US military uniforms, visit Blitzkrieg Baby.