The 1940s Fashion in a Nuttshell- The Skirt Suit
The slogan “If you don’t need it, don’t buy it!” may well have been familiar to a woman living in 1940s wartime Britain; a time polar to the opulence of my beloved 18th Century and yet a period that still holds enormous sway over my own personal sense of style.
The real 1940s fashion decade was a tumultuous time, a now-forgotten casualty of war with scarce raw materials to work with and clothing factories that were turned over to military purposes.
Lana Turner in Keep Your Powder Dry (1945) Costume supervisor; Irene Maud Lentz.
Austerity And The CC41 Utility Clothing Scheme
In Britain, the real 1940s fashion saw restriction after restriction on what could be produced and yet more restraint was still needed. So British Austerity Regulations were sought to narrow fashion choices further by introducing a set of rules for clothing –
- Jackets and Coats can have no more than 3 pockets
- Dresses may only have 2 pockets
- No metal or leather buttons
- Boys under 13 may not wear long trousers
- No tailcoats
- All braid, embroidery and lace are banned *
As a way to help people adjust to these limitations, the British Government also introduced the Utility clothing scheme which offered to guarantee, price-controlled clothes affordable for everyone. Leading designers of the time established the London Fashion Group, who together with the Board of Trade, designed suits, dresses and overcoats, following the rigid regulations which restricted designers to using very specific amounts of fabric on each garment. Two looks emerged from these wartime confinements, a military – which consisted mainly of a jacket with broad shoulders, knee-length skirts, slacks and matching headpieces, worn mainly by women who served in the war, while the alternative was a utility look with tailored suits being favoured.
By 1943, when austerity had reached its peak, the policy became “Make Do and Mend!” which was the title of a pamphlet issued by the British Ministry of Information that became useful with its tips on how to take care of clothes and make use of old garments.
- Readers were advised to create pretty decorative patches to cover holes in worn garments.
- Re-knit old jumpers into chic alternatives.
- Turn men’s clothes into women’s, as well as darn, alter and protect against the ‘moth menace!’
- Women also learned from the pamphlet that stockings that were very expensive and difficult to find could be created by drawing lines at the back of the legs to look like stocking seams.
PLEASE, READ MY EPIC ARTICLE ABOUT THE HISTORY OF CC41-THE UTILITY CLOTHING SCHEME!
“The New Look”
The seemingly endless rationing didn’t end with the war but was gradually eased, women were increasing desiring a return to fashion that accentuated their femininity and it comes as no surprise to learn that “The New Look” of 1947 was a huge success (although not everywhere!), firmly placing designer Christian Dior at the forefront of the next fashion revolution with his use of sumptuous fabrics, fuller skirts that hung just below the calves and fitted jacket which emphasised a woman’s sexuality. To quote from fashion historian Jonathan Walford “Feminine luxury and elegance became a symbol of post-war prosperity and defined the silhouette of the coming decade.”
The 1940s fashion
- Wide padded shoulders
- Knee-length A-line skirts.
- Sleeves ending above elbow or full-length.
- Two-piece suit consisting of skirts and a jacket with a flare at the bottom.
- High waisted, wide-leg trousers worn for comfort favourite amongst movie stars such as; Marlene Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn. You can read more about wide-leg trousers.
- Shirtwaist dress-buttoned in front usually with buttons covered in the same fabric as the dress.
- Button-down dress.
- Wrap dress-hugely popular in 1945.
Inspired by 1940s Fashion
As a huge fan of 1940s fashion, always hunting for authentic pieces on Etsy, and vintage fairs, even I struggle sometimes to find casual vintage clothes to wear around the house. And even though 95% of my clothes are true vintage, sometimes, I have no choice but to look for modern designer pieces that are inspired by 1940s fashion and one such gem that I’ve found is the Austrian designer Lena Hoschek. The Autumn-Winter 2016/17 “The Brits” collection was inspired by 1940s fashion in Britain, or more precisely, the British countryside.
I treasure the British traditions and the flea market-inspired style that allows for a mixture of spectacularly elegant and cosy, quirky fashion.
Lena Hoschek said of her collection.
I love Miss Marple and Sherlock Holmes reference so clearly visible in her designs and I’m more than excited to share with you all a couple of pictures from her latest look-book.
For the 1940s inspired fashion look No.1 I opted for;
- KOSSMANN Shirtwaist Dress
- WITTCHEN pumps
- Genuine Russian WWII Military Pilotka hat that I customised. The vintage numbers on the hat came from a British Police uniform.
For the 1940s inspired fashion look No.2, I chose;
- Freddies of Pinewood blouse
- 1980s slacks
- Birds and Fresia hat
For the late 1940s inspired fashion look No.3, I opted for;
- The 1940s inspired blouse from The House of Foxy
- 1952 Handmacher skirt
- Spitz Saddle shoes
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