20th Century fashion history: 1940 – 1950

The 1940s are a decade of fashion lows and highs. From the product ransons of the war to the revival of couture – the decade surely lived through its changes. The 1940s fashion began in a world of crisis and ended with the new bloom of fashion. From fabric ransons to Dior’s 15 layers of underskirts: This is fashion history: 1940 – 1950!

The Society during 1940-1950

The 1940s began with WWII dominating (obviously) the world situation. People had to adopt their life after the current situation with ransons of food, fabric and luxury products. As with WWI, women overtook the men’s work and dressed accordingly to the new tasks. The fashion from the 1930s, of not looking too rich, stayed as people showed respect to the war. The focus in society shifted from the everyday life to survival and fighting WWII. When the war ended, society and fashion began to slowly recover. Fashion was relaunched with Dior, the movie and music industry expanded and people faced a new type of life.

Style of the 1940-1950

The 1940s style can be divided into two categories. The first half was practical, masculine and a rougher version of the 1930s fashion. The latter half was luxurious, with a clear focus on elegance. The early 1940s was an extension of the past decade, but with a reality check. The length of the skirts and dresses hit right above the knee due to fabric ransons. The shoulders 20th century fashion history 1940-1950went a bit oversized, similar to the men’s. The waist was slightly defined with a simple belt. The hat was still an important accessory and print was popular for dresses and blouses. Similar to the 1930s, the details were kept simple with a focus on buttons, collars and perhaps a bow or two.

The overall silhouette was rather slim and long. Women looked elegant with their knee-long skirts and heels that gave a longer impression. As they often worked the hats too and coats or trench coats – they embodied sophisticated elegance. Even though the fashion had a masculine touch, it was still done with refinement through the flow of the fabric, the makeup look and the slightly defined waist.

For the latter part, Dior’s style vision for women emerged and he brought back the joy of fashion again. With his collection The New Look in 1947 he brought back the focus on the female shape with corsets, heavy skirts and puffy blouses. Dior’s idea of fashion was similar to the one of the early 1900s, where fashion was more of a constellation than practical. Fashion was supposed to be pretty and not functional. More on him below!

The clothes between 1940-1950

Dresses, skirts and blouses were three of the most popular go-to pieces. Women’s dresses hit knee-length, had defined shoulders and waists. They were decorated with buttons and pockets (inspired from military clothes). They were common in floral prints, but gingham, dots and neutral colors were popular as well. Even though it was a restriction on fabrics, the skirts and dresses of the 1940s were quite flowy. Something that added to the femininity and balanced the strict lines of the military fashion.

Pants became a clothing piece to count on and was often worn with blouses or defined jumpers, often knitted. The blouses had a similar style to the men’s, commonly in bright colors and sometimes with a matching blazer. With matching pants, blazers and blouses, women embraced a masculine fashion. Clothes that were more functional and suitable for work. As with the 1930s, movie stars such as Ingrid Bergman kept the inspiration level high and pulled of the pants.

Towards the end of the decade all details of the 1940s were intensified. The skirts were wider and heavier, the waist even thinner and the shoulders wider. This was Dior’s fashion, and a fashion that, according to many, brought back femininity into fashion again. (Just compare the looks to the right and the ones above in floral!)  

Beauty between 1940-1950

Makeup became acceptable and the red lip was the makeup star of the decade. The beauty look consisted of relatively plucked eyebrows, long lashes, a winged liner and perfect skin. The ideal was dark brown hair. It was longer than before and often curly and done in a hairdo. It was popular to take the fringe and curl it backwards to a loop (making sense, see left). The beauty look gave a quite perfected impression with done hair and porcelain skin.

Spotlight of 1940-1950

The New Look, and Christian Dior behind it, is undoubtedly the fashion star of this decade. With his launching of The New Look in 1947, he rewrote the game of fashion. Gone was the days of restricted war fashion and here was the celebration of couture, luxury and the sculpturing of women’s bodies. Dior was tired of the simplified fashion that had been dominating fashion since the 1930s. He withdrew inspiration from La Belle Epoque and re-launched the hourglass-silhouette. To achieve the right look, it’s said that one single look could consist of 15 skirts to get the right volume. This, with precise and refined couture skills, he would set the tone for the fashion of the 1950s. Thin waists, voluminous skirts and femininity in focus. He re-established Paris as the leading capital of the fashion world – something he did with success. See more of the collection below!

Transition to the 1950s

Dior stood for the transition to the 1950s. His collection was a game-changer on a fashion, societal, historical and even economical level. The defined waist, the elegance, the luxury and the refined surface would all underline the petite fashion of the 1950s. The focus on women’s role of fashion, housewife and be dressed accordingly, would be stressed through the fashion that yet again emphasized women’s appearance. Corsets were back, the woman’s body in full focus and fashion as a product of consumption. Some thought this was a feminist backlash and others welcomed the old fashion back. The New Look can thereby be interpreted as an old one –  Literally and metaphorically.

So that’s the summary of the fashion history: 1940 – 1950. Next week there’ll be the ideals of the 1950s housewives, the youth culture revolting against parents and Hollywood stars going influential!

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28 thoughts on “20th Century fashion history: 1940 – 1950

  1. I have always had a very soft spot for history but an even bigger and softer spot for beauty and fashion history. It never fails to amaze me how fashion and beauty evolves throughout the decades.

  2. To be honest I am not a fan of the 40 (obviously because of the whole situation in the world) but the transition into the 50s with those feminine dresses by Dior? Amazing!!! ♥

    Have a great weekend Love, hope you can enjoy some sun and relax 🙂


  3. I think I prefer the 1920’s over the 1940s to 50s as I find the long hemlines a bit too feminine for my personal taste. I do like that the waist was really defined by Dior and you see a lot of that today. Especially with the corsette tops and belts I’ve been seeing around lately. I’m actually just about to buy a corsette belt =P Thanks for the fashion history lesson babe =)


  4. You always make such interesting and thought-provoking points. I’d never really considered how post-wartime would still have an effect on the dress code, due to people wanting to not appear disrespectful during (and soon after) difficult times. Very interesting!


  5. It’s amazing how society’s conditions always influences choice clothing and fashion. I can imagine the relief that swept the nation once the war was over and everyone’s anticipation for creating a sense of normalcy or optimism for what would lay ahead. I’ve always admired the silhouettes of the ’50s, I love the cinched waists and voluminous midi skirts! Prior to reading, I had no idea that Dior had so much influence over the fashion and style season during this time, so good to know! Thanks so much for sharing, beauty, and I hope you’re having a great day so far!



  6. Boo to the corset! I can’t even imagine having to wear that–I don’t even like wearing spanx, ha! I do like the New Look silhouette though, although maybe not as pinched in at the waist. I need to be able to eat 🙂

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