How to get the look 

Have you been invited to a 40s “Old Hollywood” themed prom, wedding or charity ball? Or maybe a  WWII Canteen swing dance and not sure what to wear? This guide will help you put together a perfect period correct look for your 40’s vintage themed event.

Fashion for a good part of the 40s fit closer to the body, and used less fabric due to rationing because of the second world war.  Hemlines during that time tended to be just below the knee.

Toward the end of the decade hemlines dropped to mid calf and in the latter part of the decade Christian Dior introduced his “New Look”designs which involved very tight fitting bodices with very full skirts, utilizing copious amount of fabric. So what most people think of as a 50s silhouette started in the late 1940s.  After the war, when rationing ceased, designers were very eager to get back to utilizing as much fabric as they could in their creations. And women were certainly ready to embrace the change.

When recreating a classic 1940s look,  the easiest thing to do is find an authentic vintage dress or evening gown from that decade. But if you can’t find what you like in your size, you can also put together something from new “vintage inspired” clothing that will work just fine. Adding the appropriate accessories will complete your outfit and add more authenticity to the look.

Here are some of the key elements of 1940s fashions to aid you in recreating the style of that era.


  • A lot of the clothing was made of rayon, especially gabardines and crepe, since silk wasn’t available until after the war. Sheer fabrics in nylon were also popular.
  • Suits were very fitted with jackets that had nipped in waists.
  • Skirts were A line or sometimes gored with a slight flare, (good for swing dancing) and fell just below knee length until after the war when skirt hemlines dropped to mid calf.
  • Shoulder pads also got larger toward the latter part of the decade.
  • Solid colors tended toward the neutral, blacks, browns, navy blue. But the 40s were also know for their fabulous novelty prints in cottons and silky feeling rayon.
  • Playsuits, rompers and two piece playsuits with halter bra tops and high waisted shorts. Very cute if you’re going for the pinup look.
  • 1940s dresses and evening gowns had lots of interesting details to make up for the neutrals colors and restricted use of fabric. Look for swags, peplums, bustles, trains, etc.
  • Evening and formal wear was usually made in rayon crepe, lace or taffeta and sheer overlays were common. Lots of black, but embellished with lots of embroidery, studs and beading.  Pastel colors for parties and bridesmaid dresses were also seen, as were white and ivory luxurious bias cut satin wedding gowns.
  • After the war many soldiers returning from the Pacific brought back souvenir fashions. So Hawaiian prints and sarongs also became popular.


  • Hair flowers
  • Hats with lots of flowers, turbans
  • Peep toe shoes, wedges, and slingbacks. Platforms are the iconic shoe style of the era, especially with wood or cork soles.
  • Corde handbags, alligator purses
  • Snoods to hold hair in place.

Hair and Makeup

  • Victory rolls
  • Longish and wavy hairstyles. Parted to the side.
  • Red lips and nails.
  • Natural brow darkened and defined with pencil.
  • Matte finish pancake makeup, blush.

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