Before we begin, we have to stress just how enormous WWII truly was. It is arguably the biggest, most catastrophic event to have ever happened to Modern Man. An estimated 70 million people would lose their lives as a direct result of WWII. If you or I were alive then, we would all be ‘doing our bit’. The young men amongst you would be in active service. You young ladies would be volunteering, engaged in ‘War Work’, or you would have enlisted in the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines, your education put on hold ‘for the duration’.
The 1940s body ideal
The 1940s body ideal represented the way women were seen then. They were strong, had broad shoulders, high breasts with a taut waistline, molded hips and cuvaceous legs. She needed to have a strong body because these were terrifying times and this tall, strong, white shouldered body was perfect for utility clothing, for uniforms and for ‘War Work’ wear.
Yet there was a second body ideal in the 1940s: small, cute and curvy. These girls were known as pin-up girls. These girls were the cute sey girls that all the boys were fighting for. They were the reason to keep the flag waving.
The 1940s beauty ideal
The 1940s beauty ideal started with a penciled arched brow, a very neutral eyeshadow and then eyeliner and eyelashes but only at the top lid. A nice healthy all-american glow and big red lips.
Fashion of the 1940s
1940s fashion was all about wanting to feel strong and ‘in control’ in a period of such fear and uncertainty, yet fitted waistlines and tapered skirts kept things looking feminine. Clothing rations naturally slimmed the silhouette, and elaborate hair and ‘statement hats’ balance the broad shoulders.
The story of forties fashion is interesting. There were 3 main groups of fashion of clothing. The first one was utility clothing. Because of rationing and war shortages there were very strict rules about clothing; what you could wear, how much fabric you could use, how deep pockets could be, how many buttons you could have. So utility clothing was meant to be stylish and a boost morale but a gear to all of the rules.
Next we have uniform. So many women enlisted or volunteered .
And the third group wore ‘War Work clothing. Overalls, headscarves, a dungarees. This is for the women working in the factories, who had taken the jobs that men did in the men were now off fighting.
So these were the main 3 divisions of clothing. However yet ironically the War years produced some of fashion’s trendiest and/or most beautiful moments of the Twentieth Century.
The 1940s palette excisted mostly of red, white and blue with green and yellow. It was strong, it was patriotic and it was bold.
The 1940s is also the period when we first see the midriff. Midriffs were mostly used in evening gowns. It was so outrageous but so elegant.
So what about the men this decade? Simple they were wearing uniforms when they were in service. Civilian clothing was known as your civvies. Huge jackets and very high waisted pants. Ties were shorter, wider and very colorful.
Designer of the Decade
The designer of the decade this time is Claire McCardell. She’s kind of incredible. She’s given the credit of inventing American ready-to-wear. Which I guess in a way she did, because she took utility clothing and did incredible thing with it. She sort of invented this sort of casual but stylish American look. She was also the one who invented the pop-over dress.
“Reminding you that casual never means careless and that the appropriate is always the aim of the woman with a true sense of Fashion and the taste that goes with it.” – Claire McCardell
Our style icon of this decade is Rita Hayworth and she was a moviestar who could also sing and dance. She was so extraordinarily beautiful. This picture is particularly famous. She was also a pinup girl and what GI wouldn’t want a picture of Rita Hayworth in a negligee kneeling on a bed in his rucksack. One of her most famous movies was the movie “Gilda” and it was such an important fashion movie. It was so popular in its day and she was considered so sexy, that a picture of her Gilda poster was taped tot he atom bomb that was dropped in Hiroshima.
“I think all women have a certain elegance about them which is destroyed when they take of their clothes.” – Rita Hayworth