The 40s were a troubling time for fashion as people had their attention on the war. Rationing also took much of the available cotton, leather, and other materials needed in the fashion industry. Governments encouraged their citizens to improvise, which led to a vibrant home sewing culture. The designs were simple and basic, following the guidelines of the government that encouraged economizing on fabric and other materials. The fashion industry regained its vibrancy after the war and the end of rationing. Sewing patterns could use more fabric, and there were more choices in both natural and synthetic fabrics.
Make do and mend
Rationing in the UK was harsher, which called for more improvisation. The UK government issued the ‘Make Do and Mend’ pamphlet which encouraged recycling old fabrics and prolonging the life of available ones by creative repairing and mending. This pamphlet contained comprehensive sewing patterns for all kinds of garments for children, women, and men. In the US, there was the ‘Make It Do Until Victory’ slogan that also encouraged the citizens to get creative in homemade garments to help the war effort.
If you are recreating vintage clothing from the early 40s you could use the guidelines as they were issued for both women and men’s fashion. Here are some of the guidelines issued by the US government;
Skirts and Play Suits:
- Hem circumference at a maximum of 78 inches. Non-wool fabrics should be used, and if wool is used it should be kept under 9 pounds of weight.
- The waistband should not be more than 3 inches in width
- The skirts should not be reversible or in culottes design
- a quilted dress should not exceed 300 square inches
- An evening dress should have a maximum sweep of 144 inches
- Only pleating or ruffling can be used on a garment, but not both on the same blouse
- No hoods should be attached to a blouse
- A blouse can have only one pocket whether it is on the inside or out. The pocket should not cover an area greater than 25 square inches
Even 1940s men’s fashion was not left out of the guidelines. These are guidelines for men’s coats for example;
- Coat design should not be having Norfolk or bi-swing backs
- No epaulets or tabs on the shoulders
- The sleeve circumference could not exceed 16 ½ inches.
Fashion magazines in the 40s
Sewing patterns were available in fashion magazines in the 40s. Publications such as Vogue were already popular for discussing trends for 40s women’s fashion. These magazines carried sewing patterns which their fans could use to recreate trending designs.
The Hollywood scene was a big inspiration for 40s fashion because movies were being released even as the war was progressing. Hollywood stars such as Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, and Joan Fontaine were closely followed for women’s fashion trends. Men actors like Laurence Olivier, James Stewart, and Henry Fonda inspired men’s fashion.
The Late 40s
For the late 40s vintage look, Christian Dior’s New Look provides the perfect inspiration. This decadent and luxurious look with layered and rich fabrics was the perfect happy ending to this turbulent decade.