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.
  • We may be a little obsessed with all things 70s at the moment, but we’ll always have a soft spot for 1940s 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.

    How did ladies dress in the 40s?

    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.

    Clothes definitely had a military, utilitarian feel, due in no small parts to rationing. Skirt suits were popular, with squared shoulders, narrow waist and tailored skirts that ended just below the knee. Everything was more casual and less fussy (think no embroidery or patterns) due to the times. Short sleeves also replaced longer ones.

    What were 40s dresses called?

    The shirtwaist dress was a popular style at the time, one which is still very much popular today. It was defined by a button-up top which ended at a nipped-in waistline, with a full skirt.

    1940s fashion designers

    When it comes to 1940s fashion, Christian Dior was one of the most influential designers, thanks to his groundbreaking new silhouette which 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?

    1940s fashion icons

    When it comes to women who defined 40s fashion, leading actresses of the Hollywood Golden Era were it. We’re talking of course of the likes of Ava Gardner, Bette Davis, Rita Haywarth, Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman, Katharine Hepburn and Doris Day.

    Rita Hayworth

    Katharine Hepburn

    They wore tailored skirt suits, beautiful dresses with full skirts and cinched-in at the waist, and embraced androgynous style with suits or a pair of wide-legged trousers and monochrome flats. They certainly weren’t afraid to experiment.

    And let us not forget that hats were still de rigueur at the time, pulling everything together oh-so seamlessly.

    Reading now

    Popular fashion stories