Pre-WWII Fall/Winter Fashions of 1940

In 1940, American designers were still following the dictates of Paris who were  under restrictions for fabric rationing because of  World War II.   So US fashions that year were inspired by the Paris collections that were showing a narrower silhouette, shorter, less full  skirts, shoulder pads and generous use of rayons and other synthetics, since natural fibers were saved for military use only.

The Paris collections in spring of 1940 would be the last for another few years and America would eventually enter WWII after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in Dec. of 1941.  These events would force American fashion designers to give up their dependency on Paris couture  for inspiration, while having to adhere to the  fabric rationing imposed by the US War Production Board.  The  American fashion industry, especially sportswear designs,   flourished during this time.

Below are photos from a 1940 Vogue magazine depicting various fall/winter fashions.

Notice how  this rayon crepe dress and suit have a more tailored look.  The styles are  similar to those of the very late 1930s, as opposed to the earlier 30s where the silhouette was fuller, with longer skirts and generous use of flowy bias cut fabrics.   The jacket here is fitted and short, a look that will become common throughout the war years.  Small shoulder pads are in place. Trapunto and large decorative buttons add interest to the conservative design.  Hats with lots of decoration will become very popular to offset the “seriousness” of wartime fashion.

Rayon crepe fashions from 1940s

Rayon crepe fashions from 1940s

Here you see formal wear  showing full, floor length skirts.   Rayon taffeta and tulle would continue to be produced in quantity because it wasn’t needed for the war. So  full skirted evening  gowns would still be available through the early 40s.

From a Lord and Taylor ad-” Flames and flowers……eyecatching dresses sprinkled with glistening nosegays so when you walk, when you dance, you’re all agleam with a hundred sparkling lights.

The dress on right is called “Heart on my Sleeve” and is made of a fabric called “Desert Moon”, a rayon satin jacquard in black and flame.

The gown on right is called “Beau Night” and is made of “Armel” a rayon taffeta jacquard in silvery white with velvet straps and bow.”

Flames and Flowers-Dress ad from Vogue 1940

Flames and Flowers-Dress ad from Vogue 1940

Another popular evening style during the war era would be the simple, long,  straight gown over which a peplum blouse or fancy embellished jacket would be worn. The glamorous singer/actress, Carol Bruce, models a stunning sequined black silk marquisette peplum top over a black crepe sheath. Cuff bracelet from Tiffanys.

This is the same Carol Bruce who played “Mama Carlson” in the 70s tv show WKRP in Cincinnati.  Anyone remember that?

Singer Carol Bruce in black silk marquisette peplum top

Singer Carol Bruce in black silk marquisette peplum top

Dead leopard’s  head aside, you can’t help but admire how fabulously chic this outfit really is.

The cape is stunning with its red lining, over the russet color wool dress.  The dangling jewels on the wool jersey hat and the  bracelet worn over the black gloves are from Marcus.  The clothing is from the exclusive Salon Moderne at Saks Fifth Avenue.  Sophie Gimbel ran the Salon from the 1930s to the 1960s, selling famous designer fashions along with her own creations. Since there was really no couture to speak of out of Paris after spring of 1940, coupled with the fact that she was their only designer during the war years,  I’m thinking this is probably one of her own designs.

Wool dress and leopard cape from Saks Fifth Avenue

Wool dress and leopard cape from Saks Fifth Avenue

By | 2014-02-17T09:08:02-04:00 September 4th, 2010|Fashion|Comments Off on Pre-WWII Fall/Winter Fashions of 1940

About the Author:

Theresa
Hi, I'm Theresa, owner and chief classy dame at the Blue Velvet Vintage online boutique. Lover of mid century fashion and home decor, classic films, Old Hollywood, pretty dresses, red lipstick, swing dancing and retro culture in general. Between my ecommere site and vintage style blog my mission is to revive the eras of classy dressing and inspire women to add more glamour to their lives! So don't be shy! I love to hear from others who share my appreciation of the styles of the past.