This is an older, but still useful article. A better version can be found here.
Men’s 1940s fashion were similar to today’s mens clothing. The 1940’s men suit, either for day, sport, or evening were styled to make a man feel “larger then life.” During the 1941-1945 world war two fabric rations limited cloth to make suits but not style. The Zoot Suit with it’s bright colors, baggy legs and long jackets was a complete deviation from the norm. However that trend was only popular with the young men during the war years. Everyone else wore basic men’s suits that hadn’t changed much since the beginning of the century. There were, however a few features that make a suit style specific to the 1940’s.
1940s Men’s Fashion: The Suit
Suit Pants or Trousers: 1940’s style trousers were wide legged, a change from the mid 1930s. They were straight cut with a single hem or rolled to form a wide cuff. Both were equally common for day wear. British men preferred cuffed legs. The trousers had a center crease that ran the full length of the pants. Usually pants were pleated from the waist although early 40’s pants still had flat fronts to save on fabric. Finally pants came in wool or flannel in subdued colors like blue, grey, brown. One unique and popular pattern were white chalk stripes often called shadow stripes today. Wide chalk stripes eventually gave way to the thinner pin stripe pattern.
Suit Jacket: The 1940’s suit jacket came in several variations of pockets. Pockets could be patch (sew over the main material) or flapped with an optional chest pocket. The collar and lapel were quite wide and sometimes made of contrasting material, like silk, for evening wear. Jackets could either be double or single breasted, although double is more stereotypical of the 40’s. To really make a man “larger then life” the shoulders were padded and the jacket fitted in to the waist. I like to think of it as the Gangster look since the 1940’s had some very notable gangsters and mafia (think God Father.) Suit fabrics and colors match the trousers.
Dress Shirt: Detachable collared shirts went out in the 30’s. The 40’s had attached collars in the same fabric as the shirt. Colors were muted solids or stripes such as grey and white, brown and white, or yellow/white/pink. Shirt collars were wide and sharply pointed. Fabrics were usually American cotton- a popular choice that grew out of wartime. Shirts were pocketless since they may have been covered up by a waistcoat (vest) or suspenders. Shirt cuffs were usually french or double cuff style so cufflinks could be worn with them.
Suit Vest:In the early 40’s men had to do away with their vests. New vests were a waste of fabric and simply were to expensive to buy. Once suits vests from the 30’s were worn out men went without them. Even after the war men only wore vests with their most formal business attire. 1940s vests were simple V neck cut with notched bottom line, single breasted, and pockets on either side for decoration rather than function. Vests always matched suits jacket and pants.
1940s Hats: Fedora, fedora, fedora! Every 1940’s man had a black or grey felt fedora hat on their head. Other 40’s hats styles were very similar to the fedora shape. The Homberg hat is like a fedora with curled edges while the tribly has a single crease instead of the fedora’s pinch top. Most hats had a hat band material called Petersham. Petersham bands had multiple stripes. Bands are often made of grossgrain today. Finally the bowler or derby hat continued to be popular through the 1940’s. This was the last decade for the derby and pretty much any men’s hat fashion.
Dress Shoes: 1940’s men’s shoes came in lace up oxford, with or without a toe cap style. To be really in style you had two toned oxfords either black and white or brown and white. Solid color non lace shoes were in the brogue style. Slipons loafers were starting to come out in the very late 40’s. Read more about 1940’s Mens Shoes
Outerwear: Overcoats and jackets were an important part of Men’s fashion, especially in the cooler weather months. Most men’s coats were long, hip length, straight cut, with a simple two button front closure and pointed collar and lapel. They were made of leather, corduroy, or smooth gabardine fabric. For lighter climates, waist length, smooth jackets that either buttoned up or zipped up were good for casual wear. Men returning from the military often wore military issued pea coats and jackets.
Ties and bow ties: Men’s 1940’s neckties came in some colorful solid wool options as well as two or three color wide stripes. Basic colors were blue, red, yellow, green, black/grey, light green/grey or blue/tan/white. In the late 1940’s men wore silk scarves wrapped and tucked behind a sweater or made into a cravat. Bow ties were almost exclusively worn for formal occasions and usually were just solid black.
Pocket square: No 1940’s suit would be complete without a silk pocket square, otherwise called a handkerchief. They were folded and placed in the suit chest pocket for looks. Don’t use these for “practical” purposes. Keep that one in your pocket.
Belts or suspenders: Thin black or brown belts were in, suspenders were largely out.
Gloves: Day wear for a gentlemen usually included a nice pair of leather gloves. Black was the most common but bright colors like yellow added that extra pop the 40’s men craved.
Cuff links: Art deco was the latest art movement that swept the nation and with it fashion. Cuff links were one more small piece of decoration that allowed freedom with color. Look for art deco style cuff links or solid gold cuff links monogrammed with your initials.
Flowers: Flowers for men? Yes. Formal occasions or just charming men wore a colorful flower in their jacket button hole.
Advice for putting together your own 1940’s Style Suit
1. If you are on a budget focus on getting a double breasted jacket and fedora hat. These two items alone scream 1940’s more then anything else.
2. Vintage or thrift stores surprisingly can give you everything you need for your outfit at low cost. Otherwise check out my 1940’s Mens Clothing store for any items you still may need.
3. Avoid modern fedora hats. Yes they will do just fine in a pinch but for just a little bit more get an original wide brim style fedora and really impress your friends. The modern one’s are just too narrow brimmed to look right.
4. Wear your best dress shoes. Don’t wear sneakers. Go the extra mile and splurge on a nice pair of two toned oxfords. If you swing dance then invest in a good pair of two toned dance shoes.
5. Be clean shaven. 1940’s men were not into facial hair.