During the second World War, all aspects of life in the United States and around the world were affected by the war effort. Rationing in the US meant goods of all kinds, including fabric, were in short supply. Many fabrics were completely unavailable because they were needed for the war effort.
The amount of fabric that could be used to create a garment was regulated. For example:
* Pants’ legs could not be larger than nineteen inches in circumference.
* A woman’s jacket could not be longer than twenty-five inches.
* Heels could not be higher than one inch.
* Belts could not be wider than two inches.
Skirts became shorter during WWII because it simply takes less fabric to make a short skirt than a long one. Jackets were short and boxy with few pockets and little trim.
Nylon Stockings Were Invented
Silk was needed for parachutes, so women turned to recently invented synthetic nylon for stockings. This didn’t last long, though. Nylon was soon needed for the war effort as well. Necessity being the mother of invention, a very intriguing style came into vogue. Women began using leg makeup to shade their legs. Then they drew a “seam” up the back of the leg with an eyebrow pencil.
Dancing Boosted Morale
Swing skirts were a very popular item of 1940s fashion. They were perfect for Jitterbugging at the USO dances. They were also popular as everyday wear in more subdued forms.
Don Your Chapeau!
Accessories have always given women creative ways to bring new life to old outfits. Hats dressed up with odds and ends became very popular as a way of adding zip to the ensemble.
Just like hats, hairstyle is an excellent way to draw the eye upward. Extreme side-parts, finger-waves and long, thick hair were very popular during this time. Elaborate hairstyles featuring “Victory Rolls” also became very popular. This style is still sported by Rock-a-Billy gals today.
Put On Your Face!
Dramatic make-up also draws the eye upward and takes attention off clothing that may be a bit worn. During the 1940s women tended to wear complete matte foundation finished with powder. Lipstick was bright red, and brows were carefully tweezed and penciled.
Cork Platform Shoes
Because many of the materials traditionally used to make shoes were rationed, alternatives had to be found. Cork was a sturdy, fairly comfortable, inexpensive alternative. Cork platform wedge shoes were useful and functional. Platform pumps with flirty straps cut a dashing figure.
Look In Your Brother’s Closet
Many women lived in manless households throughout the war. They also filled men’s’ jobs. It only made sense to also fill men’s’ clothes to do those jobs. Wearing men’s’ clothing became so popular that menswear patterns designed for women were created.
Until the middle of the 40s, many women still wore corsets as foundation garments. Brassieres and panties were introduced during this time and (quite understandably) became wildly popular and completely replaced old fashioned corsets.
American Sportswear Was Born
Before the war, France had traditionally led the way in fashion. During the war, American designers stepped forward and introduced the idea of practical mix-and-match separates to be worn by the active woman. Coordinating sweaters, blouses, jackets, slacks and skirts helped women make the most of a limited wardrobe.
The New Look
With the war drawing to a close, the idea of returning to more lush and feminine styles emerged. Generous skirts and elegant evening gowns became possible once more, and the French designer, Christian Dior, introduced a whole new way of looking.
His designs were long, generous and curvaceous. They also depended heavily upon a very structured system of foundation garments. Girdles that cinched the waist and sometimes padded the hips were necessary to fill out these elegant designs. Shoulder pads were also key to creating the perfect silhouette.
The War Opened New Fashion Worlds
Women’s 1940s fashions introduced new concepts of comfort, practicality and durability to women’s styles. When the war was over, some women embraced The New Look with a sigh of relief. Others rejected it and chose to continue dressing in the sharp, practical, thrifty styles they had cultivated during the war. These styles remain popular with many women today.