1940s fashion joan crawford

This is what women used to wear in the 1940s and it was pretty damn stylish

  • Marie Claire is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission on some of the items you choose to buy.
  • The key looks from the most decadent decade

    We may be a little obsessed with all things 70s at the moment, but we’ll always have a soft spot for 40s fashion and how glamorous it was – we’re pretty sure the current trend for slip skirts and dresses is a indirect result of that in fact.

    Despite the hardships of WWII, the 1940s were still a milestone decade for style, despite 1930s fashion being a hard act to follow. It was a decade of trailblazing styles and new silhouettes, and many of the styles we’re still supporting today. From Joan Crawford to Bette Davis, Rita Hayworth and Doris day, we chart the era’s style iconic, and top trends, that paved the way for 1950s fashion.

    Christian Dior’s 1940s fashion

    1940s fashion

    When it comes to 1940s fashion, Christian 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 Dior’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?

    Discover more with Christian Dior, The Complete Catwalk Collection.

    Ava Gardner’s 1940s fashion

    1940s fashion

    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; both of which were key 1940s fashion trends.

    Discover more about Ava Gardner with, Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations.

    Bette Davis 1940s fashion

    1940s fashion

    An original 1940s fashion pin-up, Bette Davis works a blue gown in this seductive shot, taken in 1943, perfectly paired with a full red lip.

    Discover more on Bette Davis with: Fasten Your Seat Belts: The Passionate Life of Bette Davis

    Doris Day’s 1940s fashion

    1940s fashion

    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.

    Discover more on Doris Day with The Doris Day collection.

    Rita Hayworth’s 1940s fashion

    1940s fashion

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

    Discover Rita Hayworth with: Screen Goddess Collection: Rita Hayworth

    Katharine Hepburn’s 1940s fashion

    1940s fashion

    Katharine rocks a gingham dress and cinched-in waist on the set of The Philadelphia Story in 1940. Note the Peter Pan collar, a trend that was also a big 1960s fashion talking point and still resonates today. We all know Alexa Chung is a fan.

    Discover more about Katharine Hepburn with Stories of My Life: Katharine Hepburn

    Joan Crawford’s 1940s fashion

    1940s fashion

    Joan does it again here, showing us how to work floral prints with some seriously statement jewels (no era did power florals quite like 1970s fashion, though).

    Discover more about Joan Crawford with The Joan Crawford Collection

    Grace Kelly’s 1940s fashion

    1940s fashion

    Princess Grace of Monaco always looked flawlessly chic – even as a teen model back in 1947.

    Discover more about Grace Kelly with The Grace Kelly Collection.

    Ginger Rogers’ 1940s fashion

    1940s fashion

    That wide-brimmed hat and elegant skirt suit made Ginger Rogers look effortlessly pulled-together in 1942 – hat brims were now much bigger than the cloche styles of 1920s fashion. And check out those leather driving gloves – if only we looked this good on our way to the airport.

    Discover more about Ginger Rogers with Screen Goddess Collection: Ginger Rogers

    Barbara Stanwyck’s 1940s fashion

    1940s fashion

    Über-embellishment and major cocktail jewels made Barbara Stanwyck look like a total screen goddess in 1941, along with her perfectly curled ‘do.

    Discover more about Barbara Stanwyck with The Barbara Stanwyck Collection

    Ingrid Bergman’s 1940s fashion

    1940s fashion

    We’d wear those block-heeled sandals today. Check out the flawless Ingrid Bergman working a perfect capsule holiday in Casablanca.

    Discover more on Ingrid Bergman with the Ingrid Bergman Collection.

    Midi length skirts

    1940s fashion

    These midi-length skirts couldn’t be more on trend, and these women in Paris demonstrate the timeless look perfectly. Have French women EVER been out of style?

    Ann Sheridan in metallics

    1940s fashion

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

    Hedi Lamarr’s 1940s fashion

    1940s fashion

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

    Lauren Bacall’s 1940s fashion

    1940s fashion

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

    Barbara Stanwyck’s 1940s fashion

    1940s fashion

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

    Olivia de Havilland’s 1940s fashion

    1940s fashion

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

    Reading now

    Popular fashion stories