1940's Fashion

The tables turned in the 1940s. WWII began in 1939 and fashion took on a new role. Before World War II, Paris was the epicenter of fashion. All of the new styles originated there. Anonymous American designers simply copied the looks coming from France for their wealthy clientele or for stores. After Germany took over Paris in 1940, many of the designers closed their fashion houses, some fleeing the country. The rest of the world was left to come up with their own styles. New York took over, and designer Claire McCardell would become known as one of the greatest American fashion designers. Her trademark was simplicity of shape, the use of informal fabrics, and practicality.

A lot of the materials normally used for clothing became scarce during the war. Wool was used to make uniforms and coats for the soldiers. Leather was needed for their boots. Silk, normally used to make dresses, undergarments, and stockings, was turned into parachutes and waterproof maps. Civilian clothing had to resort to using new materials. Nylon, created by DuPont and introduced in 1938, replaced silk for women’s items until it began to be used for the same purposes as silk for the war.

Men’s fashion stopped progressing until after the war – a reflection that most men were serving in uniforms instead of enjoying life at home. Women’s fashion echoed men’s traditional clothing with man-tailored dresses, coats and hats. These new serious looks were not about an idealized life, but about supporting the war effort through fashion. A woman’s duty was to take care of the home front, both at her household and in jobs previously held by men. The clothing reflected this practical and conservative time where materials were limited, even after the war ended in 1945. It took until the end of the decade for women to adopt Dior’s New Look that returned women to an ultra-feminine silhouette, and for men to adopt a relaxed fit in their clothing.

1940s Fashion History for Women and Men. (2017, February 28). Retrieved from Vintage Dancer: https://vintagedancer.com/1940s/1940s-fashion-history/#:~:text=The%201940s%20were%20defined%20by,'playsuits'%20became%20everyday%20attire.

Tortora, P., & Marcketti, S. (2021). Survey of Historic Costume, 7th Ed. New York: Fairchild Books.