What Did Women Wear in the 1940’s?

what women wore in the 1940sWhat Did Women Wear in the 1940’s?  In a nut shell 1940’s women’s fashion were about creating a certain silhouette. Wide padded shoulders, nipped in high waist tops, and a-line skirts that came down to the knee. This was the everyday shape for clothing from suits to dresses. Even pants had a similar shape.  1940’s fashions were all about the hour glass figure with broad shoulders, tiny waists and full hips. If you were not naturally an hour glass shape the clothes were designed to help you achieve the look.

Here is a thorough overview of everyday 1940’s fashions. It is a reduced version of my 1940’s Style Guide book. If you find this article helpful and want to know even more about the style, see more pictures and especially know where to shop for 1940’s clothing then I urge you to pick up a copy of the book today.

Now on to the fashion!

1940’s Women’s Dresses

1940's Women's Fashion dress

1940s Kitty Foyle Dress

With the start of the war and a strict rationing on fabric, dresses in the 1940’s got shorter. Whereas the 1930’s featured dresses down to mid calf, the 1940’s brought them up to knee length. The war also affected the top of the dress. Women’s clothes took on a masculine militant look with the invention of shoulder pads. Every dress, blouse or jacket was fitted with shoulder pads that extended just past the edge of the shoulder. This made for a boxy or square neckline and shoulder angle. Sleeves were often puffed up a bit with gathers at the top and extended down to just above the elbow. The neckline of the 1940’s came in a variety of cut outs. They could be square, slit, sweetheart, keyhole, shirred, cross front (wrap), or V with shirtwaist (button down) tops. There was no cleavage! All dress top designs

1940s womens wrap dress pink

1947 Wrap Dress

revealed very little skin, compared to today’s fashion. Evening dresses were the exception. They were spaghetti strapped or halter topped that revealed shoulders and chests but only mild cleavage. Skirts were long and full in the early 40’s and sleek by the end of the decade.

Later in the 1940’s more fabric could be used and more fabric choices were available. In order to forget the depressing war, women embraced colorful patterns with contrasting trims. Fabric material was usually rayon, a newer synthetic invention. America cotton was also a favorite for house dresses. The material was light and airy. Stiffer, wool like, fabric were used on suits and work wear.

Learn more about popular styles of 1940s dresses or shop for 1940’s style dresses and plus size 1940s dresses. 

1940s vintage style dress

Vintage Inspired 1940s Dress at Unique-Vintage.com

Plus size fashion in the 1940s was not something overlooked like it had been in previous decades. Most women were not the ideal curvy hour glass shape. As women matured, bodies matured to, and women found themselves shopping for clothing with a different eye on fashion.

1940s plus sizes dresses

1945 Plus Size Dresses from Lane Bryant Catalog Co

Catalogs and department stores now carried “Stout” size clothing lines with dresses, tops, coats and shoes in designs that were more flattering to the fuller figure.  Beauty tips and fashion advice books were full of Do’s and Don’ts tips for dressing a women’s best.

Read fashion advice to plus size women here.  See more examples of 1940s plus size fashion here. 


1940’s Women’s Suits

The shortage of fabric also caused the popularity of the two piece suit know as a Victory or Utility suit.  Women could mix and match skirts, blouses, and jackets for a new outfit everyday. Even after the war the suits remained popular due to its’ comfort and practicality.

1940's Fashion Womens Victory Suit

1940’s Victory Suits

Suit skirts were A line- not pencil. This means they flared out gradually from the hip to the knee. Dressed from the early years didn’t have any pleats or gathers because that wasted fabric. The later 40’s had some pleats and a wide “A” shape and even included some pockets. Teenagers were the biggest fans of skirts. They loved plaids and stripes and full skirts making the latest fad- swing dancing- easier to move in.

1940s womens peter pan collar white blouse

1940’s Blouse

Blouses were the next part of  a suit. The could also be worn plain or with a light cardigan sweater over it. Blouses were either solid color or a fun striped pattern. They could be short sleeved like dresses, or long sleeved with puffy gathers and tight wide cuffs at the wrist. They usually buttoned down all the way and had a small v neck or round peter pan collar neck opening. Learn more about 1940s blouses. 

1940s womens suit

1942 Women in Suit Dress

Finally the suit jacket topped the outfit. Jackets were of the same materiel as the skirt but could be mismatched if that’s all you had. They had the same padded, wide shoulder, high neckline and nipped in waist with only a slight flair at the bottom. The lower edge of the jacket came to mid hip length. Jackets were button down and featured a variety of lapel width, points, and shapes. It wasn’t necessary to wear a blouse under a suit jacket but was often more comfortable. The bolero jacket was a nice, short, rounded edge jacket that was worn over a blouse. They rarely buttoned in front- preferring to hang open and show off the blouse. Sleeves were always long and narrow.

1940’s Pants

1940s womens trousers

1940’s Women’s Pants

Pants or trousers were a men’s wear item only until the 1940’s. Women

womens 1940 vintage pants

1940’s Pants

working in factories needed safe clothing that wouldn’t snag in machinery. At first women just wore mens’ pants. Later manufactures made pants for women although they still looked very masculine. They were very high waisted, button or zippered down the side, and had full legs with wide cuffs at the bottom. They were made of cotton, denim or wool blends. Women wore them at work mostly but soon became a part of their casual wardrobe at home and for fun.

Read more about 1940’s Style women’s pants. 

1940’s Coats

1940s women coat

1940’s Box Coat

Early 1940’s coats were very square and usually plain. They had a few large buttons down the front, plain or cuffed narrow sleeves, and a variety of necklines. They were long, down to the knee, to keep warm and covered up. Shorter box coats hang to the hip in a wide cape like fashion with big bell sleeves.

Fur trims were still very popular like in the 30’s. Fox was the best and other furs were dyed to look like fox. For formal wear, fur stoles and capes were a must.

Read more about 1940s womens coats.

1940’s Shoes

1940s womens shoes ad

1940’s Pumps

Shoes of the 1940’s lacked the elaborate detailing of the 30’s and were mostly plain, sturdy and “chunky.” What makes them special is not the style but the material. Leather was needed for the war so shoes came in velvet, mesh, reptile skins and even all wood (clogs.) Heels were short and thick in the early 40’s and slightly thinner in the late 1940’s. The later shoes were called pumps.

1940's womens oxford wedgies shoes

1940’s Oxford Wedge shoes by Remixvintageshoes

The 1940’s were most notable for the popularization for the wedge or wedgie. The wedge sole was all one piece, gave moderate height and were considered safer then tall pumps. They came in solid slipons or fun summer sandal types. The peep toe was one common style. It was a small slit in the front of the toe. Peeptoes could be seen on pumps, sandals and wedges.

The more casual style of shoes were the oxfords and saddle shoes. These single or two tone shoes resembled men’s shoes with a rounded toe. They were causal, comfortable, and all the rage with teenagers and working women.

Read more about  1940s Women’s Shoe Styles and follow the 1940s shoe pinterest board. 

1940s shoes for sale

Shop for new 1940’s Style Shoes

1940’s Swimsuits and Beachwear

Swimsuits came in one and for the first time two pieces. One piece suits were tighter fitted, then in the 30s, had padded bras for support, and thin shoulder straps. The neckline was a V but revealed little cleavage. A Halter top style was very popular as well. The suit bottom came to the top of the thigh in either a skirt shape or slightly loose shorts.

1940's one pice swimsuit two piece bikini

1940’s Swimsuits

The two piece suits was like the one piece but with the middle cut out. The pants came up high above the belly button with only about 4 inches of space between the top and bottom. The Bikini invented in 1946 was similar in style but tighter and lower on the waist. They were too revealing for most women’s taste.1940s romper

Beachwear, called play suits, were really just very short dresses that wrapped over a swimsuit. They were button down, loose fitting dresses in light cotton. They were also high waist shorts, with a swimsuit style halter top. These were mostly worn by teens and younger single women. Mature women had play clothes as well but they were longer and more conservative.

Read more about the styles of 1940’s swimsuits and shop for vintage inspired swimsuits. 

1940’s Hats

1940s snoods

1940’s Snood

Head wear of the 1940’s was very diverse. There were only a few new styles that became trademarks of the 1940.s The first was the beret- a one piece round, flat, french inspired hat that sat directly on top or angled off to the side. The next hat was the turban- a piece of fabric wrapped around the head and 1940s hats womensdecorated with flowers, feathers or jewels. Small hats with veils were another trademark style. They were not practical for sun protection, merely decorative.

Working women had to keep their hair tied back. They wore hair snoods- knit bags that gathered hair back and out of the way or scarves tied around and up. Rosie the Riveter made the hair scarf a recognizable icon of the 1940’s. They were made of silk with a variety of fun hand painted patterns.

1940’s Bra, Underwear, and Stockings

1940 underwear


Ahh the undergarments or foundation garments were the sole of 1940’s fashion. They created the hour glass shape with smooth lines that were critical to 40’s fashion. They were also very uncomfortable. Girdles were the worst offenders. They looked like granny panties but with much tighter, flatter fronts that sucked in every belly bump and lump. Bras were large with full back coverage. They encourage a natural rounded shape. The pointy bullet bra came much later in the 50’s. A full slip was usually worn over the underwear to keep the shape smooth.

1940s fashion stockings

1940s Sotkcings

Stockings are what kept women from feeling naked with those shorter dresses. Nylon was invented prior to the 1940s and quickly replaced silk stockings. Both materials were needed for the war and women had to go without for a short time. Stockings were a shade darker than natural skin. They usually they had subtle seems down the back but seamless stockings were increasingly common by the end of the decade. Stockings only came up to thigh high and were fastened on by garters. Read about the history of 1940s stockings here. 

Socks were popular with working women and teenagers. Bobby socks with saddle shoes are an icon of the 1950’s but were really started in the 1940’s. During the war women wore patriotic colored socks instead of nylons, even with heels.

1940’s Fashion Quick Guide

1940s fashion for women

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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.

10 thoughts on “What Did Women Wear in the 1940’s?

  1. allthatisgolddoesnotglitter

    Hey this really helped me with my English project on 1940s fashion, thanks SO much!!

  2. maday

    thanks i had to do a project on the 1940’s fashion and now i know what it is.thanks for the info!!!!=)im glad about the information.

  3. Jack Read

    Excellent article—and oh, didn’t our girls look ‘classy and feminine’ in those lovely clothers that swirled about at a dance–graceful and ‘all woman’

    (WW2 vet)

  4. Faye

    My mom was telling me when she was in her early 20’s when WWII was going on there was a shortage of stockings, and what she use to do to make like she was wearing stockings; she would draw a line down the back of her before stepping out in public. When the war was over in May 1945, the women would style their hair, rolling the sides going to the back of the head in a v shape for “victory”.

    1. Faye

      I mean drawing a line down the back of her legs to look like the lined stocking with an eyebrow pencil.
      sorry for the typo in the earlier message.


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