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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Dressing for War: Recreating the 1940's


DRESSING FOR WAR: Recreating the 1940’s

Recently, I was asked to assist the staff of Watermark 920 in dressing appropriately for an event called the "Lumber Baron's Ball"; a WWII time period evening of dancing, cocktails and silent auctions to benefit the Lakeshore Museum Center! Not only do I love events like this, but I adore the fashion of the era, so it was an instant "YES" moment for me! I blogged about it just last week, here.

So, how do we re-create the fashion of the 1940's? Let's first consider some interesting fashion facts from the era, taken from

• Panythose cost 20 cents

• Mens suits cost around $25

• Velcro was invented (along with the atomic bomb and napalm! Eek!)

Of course, there was that unpleasant reality in the back of everyone's minds...war.  The war DID effect women's fashion, as well! Clothes became a little more practical and utilitarian; as women went to work and were taking care of an increasing amount of duties otherwise considered "manly", the woman's pant suit, jeans and jumpsuits began to emerge.  New York replaced Paris as a center for fashion influence over the United States,  and many other changes in the fashion world emerged. (source:

So, with that in mind, let's break down some elements of WWII fashion and figure out what you might need (or better yet, what you might have on hand ALREADY) to recreate the the fabulous 40's.

(And don't forget...I've been pinning resources for you 
Follow Me on PinterestALL week on my WWII fashion board! I included many new items just last evening. Check out Thrift Trick's 
World War II/1940's Fashion board and follow along! Also note you can find my photo credits for today's post, which come from various sources and websites.)


Hair and Makeup

Haircuts: they cost money! With the war effort bringing the budget down for trips to the salon, guess what? Women grew their hair out.

Long hair was in! And it was always curled. However, you'll see many lengths in 1940's styles! Never straight, curly will be your theme for hairstyles when it comes to WWII! 

Pinned curls, brushed out curls, elegant chignons with curled and pinned bangs, updos and some of the oh-so-overdone-in-our-day rockabilly hairstyles (in my opinion) were all present. Check out some tutorials here!

What about makeup? Well, it's really quite simple: Defined brows, simple liner and mascara, and a bright red or fuschia lip! That's really all there was too it, with few varations! See some great makeup tutorials here!

1940s shoes


Here's what you really need to remember about shoes from this era, and recreating the look: no pointy heels. 

Chunky heels were where it was at; and you'll notice that many of the styles sported a rounded toe or even peep toe.  Bows and other adornment were very popular, as well as booties, granny style shoes, Mary Jane style straps, high heeled Oxfords and other strappy styles. It is highly probable that you might already have a high heel shoe that fits this bill already in your closet! Don't forget to take a look at the Pinterest board I've created; I've pinned dozens of shoe styles there from the era for you to reference!

What to wear during WWII


What about clothes? Well, like any era; there was much variety! Yes, the woman's pant suit and jean were starting to become popular, but I'm not focusing on that, because my main purpose is providing support for a WWII themed event that is an "evening out", therefore I feel that dresses are probably the most appropriate choice!

Use these guidelines when considering your look (if you can't afford to buy something directly from the era!):

• It should fit well.

Though tops and dresses were "blousy" in nature, they were well tailored.  Extremely full skirts (think sock hop dresses) didn't come until later; the 50's and then a little more in the 60's!

1940's Men's Fashion, Slacks,Hat, Matching jacket

• Shirt dresses were popular; made of many different fabrics, and well fitting in nature, with high waists and often collars. I pinned many, many of these looks on the board, so take a peek and see! You may have a shirt dress already in your closet with a fun print that would work with a belt and the right period shoe. With your hair set in a vintage style, you can most likely pull the entire look off with a modern dress in the right cut--if need be! 

• Another option would simply be to wear a fitted or tailored blouse with a high waisted pencil skirt or another high waisted skirt with minimal fullness. Don't forget the pantyhose and the right shoe!

• Two piece jacket and skirt sets were very popular as well. If you ask me, many of the dress styles from the 1960's work very well in this era, and they are much easier to find out and about when you are vintage/thrift hunting! As always, I recommend Hope's Outlet in Muskegon and Grand Haven--they are a fabulous place to get vintage clothes at very reasonable prices!

If your mission is to be ultra-glam, well, the good news is that beautiful, glamorous and tailored gowns haven't really changed much over the years! A fitted evening gown with the right accessories and perhaps gloves and clutch, fur, earrings and period correct hairstyle is certainly a timeless winner. 

• It's all in how you put the look TOGETHER that counts. Beautiful hat pieces, furs, dress gloves, shoe and belt embellishments were very popular. Matching hardware, and matching belts/purses/shoes were very chic! More accessory ideas are waiting for you on the Pinboard!

A word on menswear...dapper. Men's looks were also tailored, suits with bride, wide ties and polished shoes in conservative styles were popular. Tweeds, fedoras and classic trenches accompanied the well put together man. Though he's from the 60's, my mind wanders to the "Don Draper" (Mad Men)look, which is exactly what you should be going for.

Excuse me while I try to get Don Draper OUT of my head.

OK--I'm back. What are some other menswear looks from the 1940's? I've seen sweater vests done with ties, white dress shirts with tweed pants, suspenders and "newsboys" hats. 

"The Hat Makes The Man"...yep, that can really be true. And it certainly was in this era! If you are a man dressing for this event and you CAN find a really great hat, I would!  Don't forget the cufflinks, and the boutineer! If you really want to nail things beyond belief...find a pair of wing tip shoes!

Other less common looks include the Zoot Suit, or those "low swinging pants" of the swing dance scene. I'd recommend NOT wearing these looks for a fancy, swanky event such as a ball. ;)


So...there you have it!

I'll be giving readers an inside look on my own outfit for the event, complete with an outfit post and event coverage as well! Stick with me this week for more random tips and a little "peek" at how I'm preparing for the event. See you at the ball!'s a few fun shots of our group thrifting session last week. We found some great items! Thanks to Sarah Rooks for snapping these shots with her cell phone! 




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