1940s fashion: The decade captured in 40 beautiful pictures

Francesca Rice
Francesca Rice

Despite the hardships of WWII, fashion in the 1940s still ruled as women everywhere embraced a more utilitarian (yet chic) look, and Hollywood's Golden Age stars - from Rita Hayworth to Katharine Hepburn - dazzled in gorgeous gowns. We highlight the key looks of the decade in 40 stunning images and list our favourite vintage fashion shops so you can get the style yourself...

1. Joan Crawford, 1940s
Check out Joan Crawford's shoulder pads and decadent jewels – now we know where Joan Collins got her Dynasty inspo from. A perfectly-tailored peplum finishes off her sharp look. Power dressing at its very best.

2. Christian Dior's New Look, 1947
Dior's groundbreaking new silhouette redefined women's post-war style and revived France's fashion industry after a difficult few years. The collection – featuring gorgeous full skirts and waist-cinching jackets – was Christian's first and became forever known as the New Look after Harper's editor Carmel Snow said in 1947: 'It's such a new look!' Imagine if every designer could knock together something like this for their debut...

3. Ava Gardner, 1944

Ava Gardner was one of the decade's most successful (and beautiful) actresses. Here she is in 1944, showcasing the beauty of a belted waist and a chic neckerchief.

4. Bette Davis, 1943
An original pin-up girl, Bette Davis works a blue gown in this seductive shot, taken in 1943.

5. Doris Day, 1948

Doris Day shows us how to work the nautical trend during the filming of Romance On The High Seas in 1948. Remind us to drape our blazer over our shoulders on our next boat trip...

6. Rita Hayworth, 1940
The actress embraces androgynous style in a pair of wide-legged trousers and monochrome flats in 1940. Our new workwear wardrobe = sorted.

7. Katharine Hepburn, 1940
Katharine rocks a gingham dress and cinched-in waist on the set of The Philadelphia Story in 1940. Note the Peter Pan collar.

8. Joan Crawford, 1946
Joan does it again. Here she shows us how to work floral prints with some seriously statement jewels.

9. Grace Kelly, 1947
Princess Grace Of Monaco always looked flawlessly chic - even as a teen model in 1947.

10. Ginger Rogers, 1942
That wide-brimmed hat and elegant skirt suit made Ginger Rogers look effortlessly pulled-together in 1942. And check out those leather driving gloves. If only we looked this good on our way to the airport.

11. Barbara Stanwyck, 1941
Uber-embellishments and major cocktail jewels made Barbara Stanwyck look like a total screen goddess in 1941.

12. Rita Hayworth, 1946

This famous black satin gown from Rita Hayworth's striptease scene in Gilda set tongues wagging in 1946.

13. Ingrid Bergman, 1942

We'd wear those block-heeled sandals today. Check out the flawless Ingrid Bergman working a perfect 'jet set' look in Casablanca.

14. Bette Davis, 1940s

Bette Davis knew how to clash her brights right, topping off her look off with a slick of red lipstick.

15. Rita Hayworth, 1940s

Here's our Ibiza style inspiration sorted. Rita Hayworth works a printed bikini, huge sun hat and peep-toe heels. If only we looked this put-together by the pool.

16. Ladies In Paris, 1947
These midi-length skirts couldn't be more on trend for AW14. Have French women EVER been out of style?

17. Swimsuit Competition, Paris, 1949
CHECK OUT THOSE RUFFLES. And don't get us started on the sun-bursting lady-parts. These Parisian girls certainly knew how to push boundaries when they showcased the latest swimsuit trends way back in 1949. We could totally see Rihanna in the suit on the far right.

18. Christian Dior Model, 1947
Has a fur coat ever looked so glamorous? This lady seems to have predicted exactly how we want our winter layers to look, 60 years into the future. How clever.

19. Ava Gardner, 1940s
More monochrome. A first hint of statement prints. You can't go wrong with a 1940s tea dress.

20. Betty Hutton, 1945

Betty rocks a halterneck bikini, wrap skirt and wedges with a turban-style headband. No wonder she's smiling - she looks HOT.

21. Ann Sheridan, 1942

Ann works the metallics trend in this decadent high-neck gown. We could totally see this on the red carpet at next year's Oscars.

22. Reard Fashion Show, 1946

Bikini briefs in the forties were HUGE (no, literally) and always teamed with an, ahem, on-point structured top. These gorgeous models perfect their catwalk struts at the Reard show in 1946.

23. Betty Grable, 1940s

We love the bright acid yellow of actress Betty Grable's bathing suit. And that's before we even mention that hair.

24. Lucille Ball, 1940s
This actress knew how to offset her bright red barnet and sparkling blue eyes with a pair of statement earrings. And let's talk about that pre-Photoshop complexion - flawless!

25. Ladies Sunbathing In London, 1942
These girls owned a relaxed look while chilling in a park in 1942. As rationing went on around them, a real tan was surely the perfect alternative to stockings? And check out those John Lennon-style round sunglasses. This scene would not look amiss on Primrose Hill in 2014.

26. Brenda Marshall, 1940s
Pleats, zips, ruching, AND statement headwear? So many trends. An outstanding example of 1940s drapery.

27. Models On Bond Street, London, 1942
The wartime look in Britain became much more austere as the years went by. This was the first collection of Utility Dresses For Women, designed by Norman Hartnell in 1942, and showcased on a very quiet Bond Street.

28. Land Girl In Southern England, 1944
British women headed to the fields during WWII in dungarees and buttoned-up shirts. The Land Girls still kept things stylish though, cinching-in their waists with classic belts.

29. Hedi Lamarr, 1941
Actress Hedi rocks a huge floral corsage for Come Live With Me. So this is where Carrie Bradshaw got her inspiration from...

30. Lana Turner, 1946
Another stunning shot, another turban. Lana's pastel wardrobe for The Postman Always Rings Twice is simply stunning.

31. Lana Turner, 1943
...and she knew all about the importance of diamonds.

32. Lauren Bacall, 1944

Lauren looks flawless in this thigh-split satin gown in 1944. We could totally see Angelina Jolie wearing this vintage wonder.

33. Barbara Stanwyck, 1940
Barbara rocks a tailored pastel blue suit in 1940 with a few pops of leopard print to accessorise. Lovely.

34. Betty Grable, 1943
World War II pin-up Betty's white one piece with understated gold jewellery is totally chic. And just look at those curves.

35. Claudette Colbert, 1941
Dear modern-day designers, can someone please re-make this? French actress Claudette rocks a gorgeous striped bikini in 1941. Want.
36. Doris Day, 1945
We just love Doris' preppy chic style and her gold wedges.

37. Ginger Rogers, 1942
Ginger knew all about the power of embellishment. This was her official portrait taken by Paramount Studios.

38. Ida Lupino, 1940s
Actress-turned-director Ida rocks a printed crop top and matching skirt. And how fabulous is that cigarette holder? So sophisticated.

39. Olivia de Havilland, 1941

The crop top was a big look in the early forties, too. We adore Olivia's impossibly glamorous jewels.

40. Claudette Colbert, 1942
Claudette looks fabulously decadent in a floor-length pink gown, while filming The Palm Beach Story in 1942. Haven't we seen Cheryl Cole rocking an elegant cowl hood just like this in a certain music video?




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