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Bay to Birdwood - Fashions in the 1940's

Posted by Cassablanca on


The Bay to Birdwood is one of the very few events of it's type to incorporate a fashions element in the vehicle judging, as well as including a fashions parade as a part of the public entertainment program on the day.

In this fourth article in the series, long-time fashions partner, Cassablanca, takes a look at fashion trends in the 1940's and provides some ideas on how to impress the judges, both for the fashions component of the Concours judging, as well as for "Fashions in the Field".

Even though the world was at war for the first half of the decade, fashions continued to evolve.

In the early years particularly, fabrics were in shorter supply, which resulted in higher hemlines (usually to the knee). Styles became more masculine and practical, as women were drawn into the workforce to replace the labour losses when the men went to war. 

Styles were generally modest, again driven by practicality, with puff sleeves, collars and shoulder pads being common. By the middle of the decade, and with the world slowly returning to normal, more colourful fabrics started to emerge reflecting a more positive outlook.

War rationing caused the most significant change in men's suits during the 1940s. Although the shape changed little from the 1930's, vests, pocket flaps, and trouser pleats and cuffs were removed to conserve material.

In contrast, the flashy zoot suits, occasionally worn by young men, boasted baggy pants and large, wide shoulders. However, with the end of war rationing, came longer, full cut suits and a return to styles of the 1930's. 

Teenage boys of the 1940s typically wore high-waisted pants or jeans, with turned up cuffs, white socks, and penny loafers. T-shirts, collared shirts, or pullover sweaters were worn, a look which continued into the 1950's.

Creating The "Look"

1940's original clothing is, as with other eras, very difficult to find. However modern reproductions are plentiful, with some very authentic items available from brands such as Steady, Stop Staring!, Unique Vintage, Banned, and even Australian manufacturers like Lenny's and Bluebell Vintage. Couple these with accessories, period-correct hair styles and makeup (for the ladies), and you can easily create the required look.

Keep in mind, that there were a wide variety of styles worn by women during this decade, and it's important to ensure that all elements match the period being re-created. The image alongside will give you an idea of the scope of styles that were worn.

Men's clothing styles continued through from the 1930's, aside from detail items mentioned earlier, so again more modern  pin-striped suits with pleated pants and cuffs can be used.

Cardigans and pullovers were popular, but don't forget to add a hat, suspenders and a tie for anything other than casual wear.

For a younger look, modern high-waisted Levi jeans with the legs turned up to make a wide cuff, then worn with a white t-shirt, and loafers or sneakers, will work. Remember though,  that this will only suit teenagers or a young adult.

As we've mentioned before, the Vintage Dancer is a very good resource for more ideas, but the most important thing is to be clear as to what year and scene your outfit is replicating, as it's very easy to incorrectly match up the different elements. For example, we have often seen stiletto heals worn with house dresses. (Think flat or low-heel practical shoes).

Another important thing to point out, is that modern rockabilly style fabrics with skulls and so on, should not be used. The judges will definitely notice, and will mark your outfit down. 

Also for the ladies, it's wise to ensure you have no visible tattoos. (these can be easily covered up with various products these days), as the judges are looking at the most authentic period correct "package", which covers your outfit, accessories, and of course you. 

For gents, it's a little easier, as it was very common during the war years, to get tattoos, as a reminder perhaps of someone "back home", but even then tattooing was not as socially acceptable as it is today.  

Our final article in this series, will dive into the fashions of the 1950's which reflected the growing positive mood around the globe.. a period when rock and roll was born, and the start of what we now think of as a "social revolution"..    See you next time.