In more recent times, it’s quite normal to find many different dress styles in the same decade. The 1940s were less complicated, at least from a fashion point-of-view, and 1940s dresses followed one of two main styles. Until 1947, they were influenced by the profoundly harsh events of the day. World War Two made fabrics scarce, and 40s dresses had to be practical. But, women didn’t give up on looking attractive, they just made-do with what they’d got. During and after 1947, things finally started to change. Christian Dior launched the ‘New Look’ in Paris, pioneering an entirely different design ethos. The two styles couldn’t have been more contrasting, and that’s what makes it such a fascinating decade.
A lady, who was a teenager in the 40s, remembers having a dress made from her father’s old trousers. How would that dress have looked? Like most 1940s dresses, it would’ve been fairly short, about knee length. It would also be quite straight and narrow. There may have been a modest number of buttons, if there were any going spare. The shoulders would certainly be padded, but there would be no fancy stitching or pleats.
Somehow, women managed to look glamorous. They might have been working in a munitions factory, or doing agricultural work, but they never let their standards slip. Collectively, women of the 40s created one of the most memorable looks of the last century. If you want to share their style today, you could start by looking in many of the vintage fairs that are frequently held up and down the country, or by buying something from the product range we advertise on this site. You’ll find a wide range of retro clothing, including 1940s dresses. Whatever you find, don’t forget to accessorise. Women were very inventive - they paid particular attention to their hair, and hats were a big thing too.
Today, it’s hard to imagine the impact Dior had when he launched his ‘New Look.’ The War was over, but times were still hard. In Britain, rationing didn’t end until 1952. So, when Dior launched his collection in 1947, conditions were much the same as they had been for years. But, Dior began a fashion revolution, and it took place in women’s minds and aspirations. Using what they could, they tried to emulate his signature shapes. 40s dresses and skirts became longer, around the mid-calf. They also became fuller, using more material. Waists were smaller, and busts more emphasised. It was a complete turn-around from the styles of wartime, and Dior’s influence would last well into the 1950s.
On a final note, the lady with the trouser dress made her own Dior dress, and wore it on her 16th birthday.
1940s dresses were generally designed in one of two styles. Check here for examples of the latest dresses from modern stockists.