Cutting a Great Shape in the 1940’s – The Official Garb


During the early part of this decade, most western nations were still involved in World War II, which means that clothing manufacturers and home sewers both were operating under the severe sumptuary laws restricting dress of the time.

For men, fashion during the 1940s was also reflective of the ominous tones of the wartime era. For special occasions, “men wore suits made of rationed materials, or V-neck sweater vests or knitted waistcoats over a shirt and tie.

An iconic men’s suit to emerge in the 1940s was the illicit zoot suit. This Zoot Suit, Made famous by African American Jazz and Swing Musicians like Cab Calloway but then adopted by any young blooded male with a rebellious fashion sense and was usually worn at nightclubs and consisted of an oversized jacket, wide lapels, broad shoulders, low crotches, and the pants narrowed toward the ankles.” The darkness looming over the wartime 1940s fashion persists until the end of the war.


 For women, it meant that most hems were about 19” from the floor, skirts were simple A-lines, and the most often used fibre was rayon in a crepe weave. (Rayon is a manufactured fibre made from wood pulp and so did not use up the supplies of cottons, silks, and wools that were needed to support the war effort.) The styles were generally simple and restrained. Decorations on women’s clothing were mostly of sequins or glass beads, because metal was also essential to the war effort.   To compensate for the (what they thought) was a lack of flare or colour or flamboyance in their clothing they worn amazing hats, flowers, snoods, do rags (Incidentally we sell these on our site!), feathers etc, they came up with creative hairstyles and really used these looks asd their accessories to liven up a re-hashed mens tweed suit for example: 

  By 1946, the war was over. Rationing was done away with in the United States, although it continued in Great Britain for some time longer. In response to the celebratory mood of victory, the silhouette for women’s fashions changed radically to the full skirted, pinched waist, highly structured “New Look” and by contrast, men’s wear became looser, more comfortable, and casual “sportswear” finally gained popularity among all classes of men, rather than just with the upper class for leisure activities. One of the most important contributions to men’s clothing was the addition of the “T” shirt. Because of its use in military clothing during the war, the T-shirt, now in white rather than military issue khaki, became the standard undershirt for men, supplanting the sleeveless tank T.  Are you thinking Marlon Brando?  mmmmm

  Check out movies made in the Forties about the Forties: 

I was a Male War Bride
Mrs. Miniver
The Maltese Falcon
Key Largo
Arsenic and Old Lace
Woman of the Year
State of the UnionAdam’s Rib
The Philadelphia Story
The Lady Eve
The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek
The Man Who Came to Dinner
Or Google images for:

MEN: Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stuart, Gary Cooper, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Humphrey Bogart, Henry Fonda

WOMEN: Greer Garson, Lauren Bacall, Dorothy Lamour, Katherine Hepburn, Barbara Stanwyck, Betty Hutton, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Ingrid Bergman.

 Written content courtesy of

Cathie McClellan, Costume Designer
Associate Professor, Chair
Theatre Arts Department
University of the Pacific

 Descriptions of 1940’s Garb for Ladies & Gents: The information is quoted from two excellent books by John Peacock: 20th Century Fashion and Men’s Fashion: The Complete Sourcebook.



    Square shoulders, short skirts, heavy shoes


    Fitted with drapery, ruching or gathers; padded shoulder.


    High round, sweetheart, small collars


    Inset, short or long, puff


    Knee-length, flared, straight, single pleats


    Wool, cotton, linen, easy-care synthetics


    Limited buttons, contrast color collars and cuffs, patch pockets


    Subdued, blue grey, bottle green, donkey brown


    Tiny hats, large bags, shoes with high thick heels and some wooden soles



    Fitted into waist, single- or double-breasted, wide padded shoulders, wide lapels,
    piped patch and flap pockets, breast pockets, wool cloths


    Collarless, single-breasted, cloth matching jacket, often not worn.


    Wide, pleated from waist, wide hems with cuffs, center creases, cloth matching
    jacket, grey flannel pants popular.


    Long pointed collars, plain or striped cotton.


    Subdued blue, brown, grey; grey flannel with white chalk stripe popular.


    Trilbies, homburgs, wide ties, pocket handkerchiefs, lace-up shoes, brogues.



Til next time boys and girls, go forth and lokk twice in theat mirror and ask yourself:  Do I Cut a Great Shape?


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