The Influence of 1940’s Fashion on Today’s Fashion

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Personal style is a big part of being a well-groomed gentleman. A freshly-shaven face and smart outfit go hand in hand in making a stylish first impression. And fashion always takes cues from the past.

That’s why we’re excited to hand it over to Marie Miguel, a fashion journalist, to give us a fun history lesson about men’s and women’s’ fashion in the 1940s, and how that era still has influence over what we wear today.

Enjoy!

Fashion in the 1940s focused more on comfort than aesthetics. The start of the World War II significantly increased the popularity of utilitarian style. Practical styles were hugely advocated since it was an era of strict rationing and patriotism. With less extravagant pieces of jewelry, embroideries, and heavy fabrics, men and women were able to do their day jobs with ease.

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Katherine Hepburn in wide-legged slacks.

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Typical 1940s day dresses were uniform in nature.

What women wore during wartime 1940s

Unlike women’s fashion in the previous decades, clothing in the 1940s was uniform in nature. Dresses, blouses, and skirts had standard lengths, shapes, and patterns. Squared shoulders, below-the-knee skirts, and narrow hip suits became very popular.

As the female workface increased, women began wearing wide-legged slacks because pants were much easier to work in than a dress or skirt. While initially only worn while working, these slacks transitioned into everyday wear and even became integrated into pants suits. At the height of the war, women were also encouraged to create their own dresses to conserve materials and reduce their clothing expenses.

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What men wore during wartime 1940s

The movie The Aviator starring Leonardo Di Caprio accurately depicts the state of men’s fashion during World War II.

Men wore plain suits in muted colors like black, navy, and tan. Vests, trouser cuffs, and pocket flaps declined in popularity as the need for sturdy clothing such as trousers and shirts made with cotton twill or gabardine started to rise. Additionally, the government mandated specific rules for tailoring: no double-breasted jackets, no slits or buttons on the cuff, and three pockets or less.

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Christian Dior’s “New Look”, circa 1947.

Fashion after the war

When the war ended in the late 1940s, rationing was lifted and men and women gained access to expensive clothing and accessories. Designers could choose from an array of laces, fancy fabrics, and textiles. Hence, the fashion industry regained its glamour and boomed once again. A prime example of post-WWII glamour is Christian Dior’s “New Look” – a long, full circle skirt nipped in the waist, featuring tons of fabric.

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WWII fashion vs. today

Women

Today, women still wear clothes with squared shoulders (without the pads), sports jackets, and knee-length skirts, styles which were quite popular in the 1940s. Utilitarian dresses and skirts are worn to achieve a vintage look. Moreover, the modified version of the wide leg slacks introduced in the same era has become quite popular among celebrities. Often, the slacks are paired with cotton or silk blouses and worn at formal events.

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Men

Suits are still considered de rigueur for formal events and business meetings. But suits have also carried over into street style in recent years. It’s not uncommon to see men wearing blazers and slacks in the streets to achieve a high fashion look. Sans the tie and bow, suits are worn casually and paired with sporty polo shirts and plain t-shirts.

Also important to note: many of the trendy styles both men and women wear today – bomber jackets, trench coats, chinos, and aviator glasses – have their origin in WWII military clothing.

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Inspired Style: “The Aviator” in Honor of National Aviation Day

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Whether you take to the skies for business trips or vacations, flying is something all of us do on a regular basis that we might take for granted – something that was a near miracle when it was first achieved in 1903 by the Wright brothers.

Today you get the chance to celebrate aviation in all its innovation and glory with National Aviation Day, designated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939 to honor the August 19th birthday of Orville Wright of the Wright brothers. FDR issued the directive to observe the holiday with activities that promote interest in aviation.

So on that note, today’s Inspired Style post is on The Aviator by Martin Scorsese. A biopic of aviation great Howard Hughes, the movie chronicles Hughes’ life as a gifted aerospace engineer, inventor, pilot, filmmaker, and business tycoon as well as his multiple Hollywood paramours and gradually worsening obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). The Aviator is filled with well-recognized actresses like Katherine Hepburn, Ava Gardner, and Jean Hawlow, set against the glitzy atmosphere of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

The women drip in diamonds, furs, and designer gowns, while Hughes (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) romances them in classic ‘40s dress shirts and pants. Howard Hughes may have been wealthy, but the clothing he wears in the movie is a good representation of how many men dressed in the era – pulled together, sleek, and gentlemanly.

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Men’s fashion trends changed throughout the ‘40s as the War came and went, but a few things persisted.

Namely:

  • Pleated pants that were loosely cut, worn much higher on the waist than they are today
  • Double-breasted jackets and peaked lapels
  • Single-breasted suits with notched lapels
  • Sweater vests and waistcoats
  • Ties and bowties
  • Oxfords
  • Hair that was short on the sides and longer on top, usually slicked back using pomade

What’s your favorite look or accessory from this era?

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For more Inspired Style posts, check out our Inspired Style category.

(Images, Top to Bottom): Unscattered, Neogaf, The Ace Black Blog, Fame Images, Netflix Life.

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