Retro & Vintage in Buffalo NY
Retro & Vintage in Buffalo NY
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1940's for the Modern Gal

Posted Julie Ann Davis Fashion Style

I often get asked how can a modern woman dress in the 1940s style?  The 1950s and 1960s styles are readily available and identifiable, with big crinolines or mini skirts but the 1940s seem to elude us.  Whether you are going to a themed party, night on the town, or a swing hangar dance, the 1940s style is a great option.

1940s style for the modern retro gal


Vintage clothing from the 1940s can tend to be trickier than most decades.  Like any vintage clothing- it runs small.  During the 1940s fabric was rationed along with everything else because of the war and people tended to keep their clothes longer and wear items out.  So there’s not a lot of available vintage clothing from the 40s out there, plus it’s getting more and more scarce.  What’s a girl to do? The answer is retro or repro clothing.  Retro clothes are new clothes in classic styles, made with modern fabrics. This is the best of all possible worlds: great style, modern sizing, and stretchy and flattering fabrics.  You probably already know all this if you’re reading my blog, you snappy dresser you!


In the 1940s there was a lot of structured clothing with emphasis on the waist and female figure.  A great way to draw attention to a small waist is to balance the shoulders and the hips for an hourglass shape.  


Enter the world of shoulder pads.  I know it’s sounds scary, like a 1980s flashback, but when worn in a blouse or jacket with an A- line skirt, the proportions are there to look like a 1940s style.  Shoulder pads were used to give a squared off look, very similar to a military uniform. With all the men going off to war, this was a patriotic evolution in women’s fashion. 


However, if shoulder pads are too scary for you, try wearing a puff sleeve blouse, jacket or dress.  It will have the same effect and draw attention to your shoulders.  Here is the Evelyn Date Night Dress by Nicole Katherine in black along with a 1940s dress pattern.  Note what a vintage size 14 is equal to...


nicole katherine date night dresspuff picture



Another thing that I have noticed about 1940s fashion is the ladies wearing lots of details in the bodice area.  This includes V necks, whether they are blouses or dresses, draping, collars, or even ties (think sailor ties).  All of these styles are flattering on all bust sizes too.  If you have a lot to hide there’s room, if you don’t have much it creates the illusion you do!  Again this draws emphasis to the bust area and female form but keeps your outfit structured and refined. 


Ah the infamous peplum.  A peplum is a little skirt on the bottom of your blouse, jacket or dress that flares out and emphasizes your hips and small waist.  This is the bottom balance needed for your structured shoulders and hourglass shape.  Here are some great examples.  The Vicky Dress is once is again from Nicole Katherine and it's pretty close to this 1940s suit dress pattern...


nicole katherine vicky dressvintage peplum


The early 1940s were a much less frivolous time where casual dress was slowy becoming more popular.  This is true, especially for the ladies that had to work during the war effort.  For women to don pants was just practical.  Plus some of the women couldn’t afford new outfits, so they would alter their husband’s clothes to fit them.  The trousers were made for comfort and tended to be high waisted and wide legged and worn with a fitted tucked in top.  


The Nicole Katherine overalls and blouse paired with a Lil’ Darlin hair danna are super comfortable without compromising the 1940s look.  Rosie the Riveter would be jealous!  


overalls by nicole katherinerosie


(If you don’t see your size in the overalls~ have no fear more are on the way at along with wide leg trousers ~in all sizes!)


Don't forget the details 


- Curl your hair.  You can use a curling iron, hot rollers, sponge rollers, anything to give your hair some curl, if it’s not already curly.  Victory rolls would work too.  Don’t forget to add a ribbon, flower, hat or snood.


- Go easy on the makeup.  Stick with foundation, mascara, and red lipstick.


- Wear gloves….dress gloves, NOT winter gloves silly!


satin retro style gloves


- Wear seamed pantyhose.  There are great alternatives to wearing garter belts and stockings that can often be lumpy underneath dresses and come apart if you’re dancing.  Leg Avenue offers a good variety of pantyhose that give the appearance of garter belts without all the hassle.  They have lots of seamed styles too!  


retro style back seam pantyhoseretro style faux garter belt pantyhose


- Choose shoes that are either a platform or spectator style.  These ReMix Vintage shoes are amazing...

remix vintage 1940s style shoes



-For a more casual footwear try saddle shoes or a spectator style with bobby socks.  Some great shoes that I’m currently lusting over are the Bass saddle shoes.

bass saddle shoes





-Lucite and bakelite accessories were very stylish then, the Lux de Ville Lucite Paris bag is a great example. 

lux de ville vintage style lucite bags




Hopefully this will help and inspire you to have fun dressing 1940s retro!  


-Julie Ann

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