The Shirtwaist Dress: The Ultimate 1940’s Day Dress

1940s shirtwaist dresses

1940’s Shirtwaist Dresses

Thumbing through my 1940s catalogs and 1940s vintage dresses on Pinterest  it is clear that the most popular style of day dress was the shirtwaist dress or just shirt dress. Why? Because they look good on every body type and because of this the style has remained popular ever since the 1940’s. It is the classic dress of the 1940’s, 1950’s, 1960’s, maybe not the 70’s but back again in the 1980’s and still common today.

1940s shirtwaist dresses

1944 Polka Dot Shirtwaists House Dresses

The shirtwaist dress got its name from how it combined a blouse top and a skirt bottom into one dress. Blouses, called shirtwaists for most of the early 20th century, were buttoned up the front for a style that was easy to put on. They used to button at the back but that required help from a servant or willing husband, a luxury fewer had after WW1.  Attaching the shirt top and skirt also made dresses easier to slip on and button up. No fuss dressing was the way of the 1940’s.

1940s shirt dresses

Full Button Shirt Dresses with Peter Pan Collar and Pointed Collar

Another style of 1940s shirt dress extended the buttons all the way down the skirt. A bit more tedious to button up they were even more popular as 1940s day dresses. The big buttons up the front of the dress made it look casual and fitting for both house work, running errands, and in some rare cases dinner dresses. For a slightly less casual look buttons were run up off center, to one side. They appeared more decorative than practical but they were both!

1940s day dresses shirtwaists

1944 Shirtwaist Dresses with Contrasting White Buttons.

The half shirtdress tops had 4 to 6 large matching buttons and a small pointed shirt-collar. A small, rounded peter pan collar was occasionally used for this style as well. The collar led to a small V neck opening with narrow lapels before reaching the top button. This was a very classic dress top style for most of the 1940’s especially on day dress.

1940s day dresses

1947 Floral and Blue Pleated Skirt Shirtwaist Dresses

The shirtwaist skirt for either half or full button up styles was always an A line cut. Flared just enough to be loose over the hips and wide enough for easy walking. It was also light on fabric quantity which met the rationing restrictions during the war years. As rationing lifted more gathers were added to skirts for even more fullness. Long knife pleats were also in style and added to the straight military inspired look of the 40s. The long pleating also slimmed down the A-line skirt into a rectangle tube which was a trendy shape going into the late 40’s.

Shopping for a 1940s Shirtwaist Dress

Luckily since shirtwaist dresses have never gone out of style they are still easy to find today. For vintage I like to shop etsy.com or ebay.com. If you want to be authentic to the era avoid 80’s does 40’s shirtwaist dresses. They look similar but are made of polyester or some other horrible man made material (can you tell I despise polyester!) Vintage 1940s dresses were made of Rayon or cotton most of the time which are both great fabrics to wear.

Shop new 1940s Shirt dresses:

More 1940s style dresses are here 

Soda Fountain Dress in Pink from ModCloth
 

Soda Fountain Dress in Pink from ModCloth

$49.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Floral Field Day Dress from ModCloth
 

Floral Field Day Dress from ModCloth

$99.99

Buy at: ModCloth

About the Artist Dress in Navy from ModCloth
 

About the Artist Dress in Navy from ModCloth

$54.99

Buy at: ModCloth

About the Artist Dress from ModCloth
 

About the Artist Dress from ModCloth

$54.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Soda Fountain Dress in Grape from ModCloth
 

Soda Fountain Dress in Grape from ModCloth

$49.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Star Studded Performance Dress in Comets from ModCloth
 

Star Studded Performance Dress in Comets from ModCloth

$99.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Jovonna Vintage Style Shirt Dress
 

Jovonna Vintage Style Shirt Dress

$56.85

Buy at: ASOS.com USA

Vero Moda Skater Shirt Dress In Color Block
 

Vero Moda Skater Shirt Dress In Color Block

$17.41

Buy at: ASOS.com USA

Journey to the Mast Dress in Navy from ModCloth
 

Journey to the Mast Dress in Navy from ModCloth

$46.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Chord-ially Yours Dress in Blue from ModCloth
 

Chord-ially Yours Dress in Blue from ModCloth

$44.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Greeting Postcard Dress in Flowers from ModCloth
 

Greeting Postcard Dress in Flowers from ModCloth

$46.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Chord-ially Yours Dress in Magenta from ModCloth
 

Chord-ially Yours Dress in Magenta from ModCloth

$44.99

Buy at: ModCloth

ASOS Skater Dress With Covered Buttons And Tie Waist
 

ASOS Skater Dress With Covered Buttons And Tie Waist

$20.85

Buy at: ASOS.com USA

Address the Room Dress
 

Address the Room Dress

$104.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Beacon of Charm Dress in Coast
 

Beacon of Charm Dress in Coast

$61.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Beacon of Charm Dress in Plaid
 

Beacon of Charm Dress in Plaid

$124.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Summer School Cool Dress
 

Summer School Cool Dress

$54.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Authentic 1940s Vintage Periwinkle Blue & White Polka Dot Three-Quarter Sleeve Swing Dress - Sz Small
 

Authentic 1940s Vintage Periwinkle Blue & White Polka Dot Three-Quarter Sleeve Swing Dress - Sz Small

$210.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1940s Style Red Short Sleeve Marie Swing Dress
 

1940s Style Red Short Sleeve Marie Swing Dress

$97.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Onwards and Awards Dress
 

Onwards and Awards Dress

$79.99

Buy at: ModCloth

eShakti Women's Pleated poplin shirtdress
 

eShakti Women's Pleated poplin shirtdress

$64.95

Buy at: eShakti

eShakti Women's Retro poplin shirtdress
 

eShakti Women's Retro poplin shirtdress

$69.95

Buy at: eShakti

eShakti Women's Retro poplin shirtdress
 

eShakti Women's Retro poplin shirtdress

$59.95

Buy at: eShakti

eShakti Women's Scallop floral trim poplin shirtdress
 

eShakti Women's Scallop floral trim poplin shirtdress

$79.95

Buy at: eShakti

eShakti Women's Dotted retro poplin shirtdress
 

eShakti Women's Dotted retro poplin shirtdress

$89.95

Buy at: eShakti

eShakti Women's Dotted retro poplin shirtdress
 

eShakti Women's Dotted retro poplin shirtdress

$89.95

Buy at: eShakti

eShakti Women's Pleated poplin shirtdress
 

eShakti Women's Pleated poplin shirtdress

$64.95

Buy at: eShakti

eShakti Women's Retro poplin shirtdress
 

eShakti Women's Retro poplin shirtdress

$69.95

Buy at: eShakti

eShakti Women's Stretch denim floral print shirtdress
 

eShakti Women's Stretch denim floral print shirtdress

$89.95

Buy at: eShakti

eShakti Women's Ikat print cotton belted shirtdress
 

eShakti Women's Ikat print cotton belted shirtdress

$59.95

Buy at: eShakti

eShakti Women's Ruched bodice stretch crepe shirtdress
 

eShakti Women's Ruched bodice stretch crepe shirtdress

$59.95

Buy at: eShakti

eShakti Women's Scallop floral trim poplin shirtdress
 

eShakti Women's Scallop floral trim poplin shirtdress

$79.95

Buy at: eShakti

eShakti Women's Cotton poplin A-line shirtdress
 

eShakti Women's Cotton poplin A-line shirtdress

$69.95

Buy at: eShakti

eShakti Women's Fit-and-flare crepe shirtdress
 

eShakti Women's Fit-and-flare crepe shirtdress

$89.95

Buy at: eShakti

This entry was posted in 1940's Fashion History on by .

About Debbie Sessions

Debbie Sessions is passionate about wearing history through fashion. She and her husband, Oscar, have turned their hobby into a career by teaching others how to re-create vintage style with affordable new vintage inspired clothing and accessories. We connect shoppers to the best vintage inspired clothing, shoes and accessories and teach fashion history as it was worn by everyday people. Need more help? Contact us anytime.

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