1940s women's suits were conservative in cut by today's standards, but they were no less interesting than some of the styles we regularly see gracing the pages of Vogue today. With careful styling, you can pull off a 1940s women's suit look for yourself, or just take a peek at what made this style popular in the fashion history description below. Either way, you might find yourself inspired!
1940s Fashion Basics
Before you take a look at suits in particular, how about a quick glance at all the styles that made 1940s fashion so notable? People often attribute the "New Look" to the '50s, but it actually debuted in 1947. Before skirts were full and waists were waspish, women's suit jackets and blazers had a wide shoulder look (complete with essential shoulder pads). To balance out the impressive proportions of this early '40s suit style, skirts were worn slimmer, and hair was worn curled and shorter.
Popular 1940s Fashion Selections
Some of the most popular fashion selections from the 1940s were the following:
- Asymmetrical evening wear
- Hip peplum jackets
- Cap-sleeve blouses
Womens Suit Looks from the 1940s
If you were to compare the '40s fashions with another decade, you might take a look at some of the suit designs from the '80s. Shoulders were equally as exaggerated and overstated as the decade marched on, especially as fabric rations during World War II dictated less voluminous garments. As the war ended, suits became more full, and jackets returned to full lengths and covered the entirety of dresses and suit separates. Take a look at some of these popular features:
- Double-breasted looks and voluminous sleeves: Many suit jackets in tweed and wool had slim, feminine double-breasted shapes.
- Extremely wide shoulders with slim arms: Shoulder pads added width before the entire jacket trimmed down to a smaller silhouette. Some looks were very extreme in some cases, but made up for the lack of fabrics used in other circa-'40s suits.
- Rounded-hem jackets with nipped-in waists: Jackets had "petal-like" hems that arced into a traditional button placket. Quite often with this style, waists were small.
- Trimmed lapels with velvet or contrasting wool: Jacket collars and lapels were given a touch of contrasting fabric, sometimes used in the war to hide worn-out areas.
- Peplums and draped detailing below a smaller jacket waist: Peplums helped make a skirt look fuller and more luxurious, while also adding to the ladylike effect.
- Knee-length pleated skirts (mid-'40s): Pleats added curves to the hips, and were used frequently before WWII.
- Mid-calf length skirts in matching fabric (later '40s): Skirts became longer and fuller as the war came to a close.
- Trench-like details with exaggerated aspects: Many suit jackets had a trench-like appearance.
- Swing coats with little shape: Hip-length swing coats were worn in checks, yellows, plums, greens, and neutrals.
- Belted styles with external patch pockets: Patch pockets came back into fashion after the war.
- Gathered waistlines with unconventional belt closures: Chains and other decorative closures added a fashion element to more formal suits.
Accessories for 1940s Women's Suits
Accessories were key for the stylish, suit-wearing woman in the '40s, most likely like none of us can imagine today. It was simply unthinkable, even during the war, to leave the home without the proper finishing items, including a basic purse, matching shoes, a hat, and gloves. When stockings were no longer available during WWII, women simply painted lines on the backs of their legs to simulate stocking seaming and to complement suit looks that required more formal dress.
Hats were very daring during the '40s, often taking on asymmetrical or angled shapes that hit the head in a slightly more unusual manner. Hat pins were used to secure hats, often available in unusual colors and complete with trimmings such as feathers and ribbon, and were carefully selected to complement the suit color and style. Trimmings could often be replaced and substituted as necessary, especially during the time of WWII, when fabric was scarce and clothing had to be remade and refashioned.