Winters Past

20th Century Fashion from Deco to Disco

Fanciful Forties Frocks

Recently I became the proud (though temporary) owner of some breathtaking 1940s day dresses.

Be still my beating heart!

Here are some snaps of them on my clothesline:

1940s day dresses

Pretty maids, all in a row

1940s day dresses

Each one is unique yet the overall silhouette is the same

The details:

1940s day dresses

Peplums and flounces and ruching, Oh My!

The prints:

1940s day dresses

And the colors! Swoon!

The edges of fashion decades are fuzzy, meaning that “the forties” style didn’t literally start on January 1, 1940 at the stroke of midnight.This dress style started in the late thirties, lasted through WW2 and morphed into something else-something with a fuller skirt- by about 1947.

The overall shape of these day dresses is womanly, timeless, easy to wear and very flattering:

  • defined but not exaggerated shoulders
  • jewel or modest vee neckline
  • fitted bodice
  •  bloused (not tight) top
  •  short, draping sleeves
  •  nipped in waist at the natural waistline
  • knee length gently flared skirt

Sometimes limitations can lead to greater creativity ; this is certainly the case with 1940s fashion. There were shortages of materials such as silk and wool. There were also restrictions on fabric quantity and skirts became slimmer and shorter as a consequence.

At the same time, American fashion was coming into its own. The US had always looked toward Paris for fashion inspiration, but wartime changed France’s role as a trendsetter. Hollywood became the major style influencer that designers copied and women emulated.

These dresses were available in many price points and were as accessible to shop girls and secretaries as they were to society ladies. In the 1940s, women needed to get things done on the home front and this was expressed in dresses that allowed women a full stride but addressed the fun part of fashion with very playful elements.

These simple day frocks had practical silhouettes but were lavished with creative details. There was some very innovative cutting, piecing and draping, along with ruching, gathers, peplums and layers that tie.

Then, there are the colors. This era was a perfect moment for printing on fabric. Synthetic dyes which gave vivid, clear hues were being developed. Rayon, a natural fabric made from wood pulp, had been perfected by the late 1930s. Its takes dyes really well.

The availability of so many color options led to wonderful fabrics. The fanciful prints tend toward dreamy florals or bold abstract designs and brought a sense of fun to dressing.

1940s day dresses

Fabulous forties frocks, indeed!



Author: Winters Past

I am a vintage clothing shop owner living and working in rural north Florida. I believe in adding a little vinegar and molasses to my greens, having my coffee outside whenever possible, and mixing something vintage into every room and every outfit.

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