Fashion Through the Decades: How 1940s Fashion Inspires My Style

A woman with a structured jacket and collared shirt posing

Drawn to 1940s style, I can’t help but agree with the motto: Vintage style, but not vintage values.

Due to World War II, designers were forced to stop making new styles from 1939 to 1945. This created a strikingly different fashion aesthetic from the beginning of the decade to the end. The government set limits on how much material a woman could purchase. Thus, women needed to get creative with their wardrobe selections.

Hence, the 1940s was known for its seemingly classic style, simple designs and clean lines. Trends could be thrown out the window in favor of versatile pieces that could be worn from season to season. Perhaps this is where the idea for the capsule wardrobe originated.

The 1940s was known for its seemingly classic style, simple designs and clean lines.

Many of us, whether we realize it or not, have been influenced by 1940s fashion. It can definitely be regarded as the start of our modern-day interest in stylish minimalism. Pieces that once gained popularity in the mid-20th century currently sit in our closets, no time travel required.

Here are some of my favorite style inspiration ideas from the 1940s:

Hair Scarfs

Seen perhaps most recognizably on Rosie the Riveter, hair scarfs were a practical way for a woman of the 1940s to keep her hair out of the way during WWII. Women of the time rolled up their sleeves and went to work outside the home for the first time. They took on essential roles in factories left behind by men who had to enlist in the military.

Patterned scarfs are a go-to accessory in my own wardrobe. I first picked up a few while thrift shopping for a feminine, yet vintage flair item. An easy, go-to scarf style can be as simple as a top-knot with a scarf wrapped around the head. It’s a perfect hack for when I run out of dry shampoo.

Pencil Skirts

In the 1940s, designers raised hemlines for the sake of fabric shortages. Also, pencil skirts that were trimmed close to the body came into fashion. Women’s fashion maintained a feminine shape, while still allowing for pieces that were practical enough for everyday wear.

Women’s fashion maintained a feminine shape, while still allowing for pieces that were practical enough for everyday wear.

In 2021, we don’t wear pencil skirts on a daily basis. However, they are still the perfect piece for a professional look with a blouse tucked in to further show off one’s shape for a “femme-fatale” look.

The Classic Dress

Perfect for the summer months, a common look that women in the 1940s wore was the iconic, yet simple, floral dress. During a period when clothes were transitioning to more practical designs, women still wanted to get dolled-up on occasion, especially toward the end of the decade as feminine styles reigned supreme once again.

An easy find today, a light and airy classic knee-length dress is still a staple in my wardrobe. A faultless and versatile fashion staple to throw on, one can dress the look up for a glamorous night out on the town or down for a casual day out at the park.

A simple dress with a good structure is the first article of clothing that drew me to 1940s fashion. It inspired me to become more in tune with my femininity and strength like the women in that time did so eloquently.

What fashion trends do you appreciate from the 1940s? What time period influences your style the most?

Image via Chris and Sarah Rhoads of We Are the Rhoads, Darling Issue No. 7

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