A friend of mine has asked for help in putting together an outfit for a 1940s party. I thought this was a good chance to put together a how-to guide for those interested in replicating the blitz style themselves. We’ll start from the top, and work our way down.
There are loads of tutorials out on the Internet showing how to curl your hair in a 1940s style, one of the most popular styles of the time being known as Victory Rolls. Here are some of the best tutorials:
An everyday 1940s set from Snoodlebug
An easy way to give your hair a more 40s look is to add a flower ornament tucked into a simple French roll. Another option is to bundle your hair into a crocheted snood (there are always plenty available on eBay), or tie it up in a printed scarf like a factory girl.
For those who don’t have long hair to play with, an instant 1940s style trick is to don a hat. Hats with netting or small feather adornments were popular, as were more mannish styles such as trilbies and homburgs . Whichever style you choose, it should be worn at an angle, slightly to the side and tipped forward. You would be amazed how something as simple as moving a hat a few degrees to one side will give you a more 40s look.
London girls, if you want to cheat then visit Nina’s Hair Parlour, who specialise in retro hair and make-up.
The single most important aspect of 1940s style is giving yourself the reddest of red lips. Most other make-up was fairly simple and subdued; eyes only need a swipe of mascara and neutral nude or brown eyeshadow (if any). Keep blush to a bare minimum. Brows should follow your natural curve, but be fairly defined.
The 1940s shape was structured in appearance, reflecting the military background to the era. Shoulders were sharp and strong, the waist was smartly belted at the natural waistline, and skirts hovered sensibly around the knee. Simplicity is key: elaborate trims such as lace, ruffles or embroidery all but disappeared, while buttons began to be used in abundance (being one of the few haberdashery items to escape rationing). Matching fabric covered buttons were particularly popular.
Look for something tailored, with padded shoulders. A peplum flare is also good. Wear a brooch at the shoulder for a feminine touch. For evening, wear a fur coat or stole if you can get one.
Matching dress and jacket sets were popular. Day dresses could have a sweetheart, round, square, v or shirt style neckline, but they all have sleeves (of any length) and are usually worn with a belt. Colours are often muted, and prints are likely to be a small floral or similar (away from the frivolous designs of the 30s and atomic concoctions of the 50s). One of the most commonly used fibres was rayon in a crepe type of fabric. For daytime, dresses came to about knee level, but in the evening the length dropped almost to the floor. Evening dresses might be in a draped satin, chiffon or taffeta, and unlike day dresses can be worn sleeveless.
Usually in a straight pencil style or a slight a-line flare. Again, due to rationing excess material could not be used on full skirts, though in the late 40s (and the introduction of Dior’s New Look in 1947) full skirts began to come into fashion. Hip pockets on either side of the waist were often used for both skirts and dresses, and as with dresses skirts were usually worn with a belt. Common fabrics would be wool tweed or twill.
Again, keep it simple. A plain crisp blouse in cotton or rayon, with capped or full length sleeves. Keep it tucked into your skirt or slacks and define your waist with a belt. A simple figure hugging jumper is fine too – again, tuck it in and wear with a belt.
Belts were often in the same fabric as the dress, or leather for skirts and trousers. The most important thing is not to wear anything too wide, as the waist cincher is more of a 50s style. Keep the belt around your natural waistline, and make sure it is fairly thin.
|Wolsey 1940s seamed stocking advertisement, from Glamour Daze
At this time women were still wearing seamed stockings. These are easily available now and a very easy way to get the 1940s look. Stockings were often very difficult to get hold of during the war, so a nifty trick girls often used was to draw a faux seam up the back of their leg with eyeliner. You could always take this approach – get a friend to help draw the line and make sure not to wobble!
Seamed tights or stockings are available from John Lewis
, Debenhams, or if you want to go for something more authentic get them via What Katie Did
**Aussie and US girls – I checked Myers, David Jones, Macys and Nordstrom but no luck on the seamed stockings. If anyone knows of a store which does them let me know and I’ll include the link. If not, What Katie Did does international shipping.
Callooh! Callay! Women were able to wear trousers without a second glance in the 40s, so if you don’t like skirts look out for something with a high waist and wide leg. You can see the type of style I mean over here on Heyday Clothing
(a great source for retro style clothing).
Heels were a mid to low heel in general, certainly not as high as we wear them nowadays. And try to keep them chunky – stilettos did not come in until the 50s. Cork and wood wedges were also popular, as were t-bars, saddle shoes, mary janes, buckles, buttons, and laced up styles. The toes should be rounded or possibly squared off, but never pointy.
|1940s advertisement for Mary Lamb bags, from Glamour Daze
A fairly simply frame bag in leather or mock croc should do the trick. People also sometimes crocheted their own clutch or handle bags but these are less easy to get old of, unless you want to get crafty and make your own.
|1949 ladies wearing day dresses and gloves, from Retro Ways
Another quick trick. Add a pair of short gloves to a simple day dress and you look instantly more 1940s in style. All the better if you can match the gloves to your bag, shoes or hat.
Not that kind of working girl you filthy creatures! During the Second World War, by necessity rather than choice, women experienced a professional emancipation. With men away fighting, previously non-working women stepped into the breach to work in factories, on farms, as engineers and mechanics and ambulance drivers and wardens. Pretty skirts and dresses were entirely useless in these circumstances, and women wore overalls or plain shorts and trousers with a pair of sturdy boots. The one concession to femininity would be hair tied up in a head scarf and a slick of the ever present red lippie (see Rosie the Riveter
This look is fairly easy to put together. For an army girl, add a khaki shirt and skirt together with leather belt and brogues. A land girl, knee length shorts, shirt with rolled up sleeves, boots and headscarf (you could even carry a hoe). A factory girl, grab a pair of overalls and head scarf and you are done (wear the seamed stockings underneath if you want to be a little saucy).
Some good blogs to read for tips on 1940s style:
If anyone wants to add any tips or sources, please let me know in the comments. I’ve tried to make this comprehensive without being overwhelming, but I know there are lots of girls out there who live and breathe this stuff – so if I have missed something vital let me know!