Vintage 1940’s Dresses Still Look Fabulous To Me

I used to sell vintage clothing on eBay, and had a blast doing it. I learned so much about fashion history, and made a few dollars. As quality vintage became harder to find, I shifted my efforts elsewhere, but still remember pieces I wish I’d kept and pieces I actually did keep. My favorites were nearly all 1940’s dresses, jackets and skirts. They have a silhouette I love and that flatters me.

Women’s fashions during the World War II years took on a uniform-inspired look with strong shoulders (via shoulder pads). This made for a shoulder line that still flatters my torso. And I love the 1940’s bit of gathering at the shoulder, sometimes down to the elbow, so charming. Most dresses had narrow hips, defined waists, and skirts that ended just below the knee, a dramatic change from the long flowy dresses of the 1930’s (also delightful, but now hard to find).

1940's dresses

These cheerful dresses embody the puffed shoulders, defined waists, and flirty hemlines of the 40’s. And the adorable shoes! Source.

Nylon and wool were both rationed for war efforts, and Japanese silk was banned in the U.S. after Pearl Harbor. Rayon, a new hybrid fabric, stepped up to fill the gap, and most of my favorite 40’s dresses are rayon. That means super-careful care, but a lovely drape. (Note: there are many more, deeper analyses of 40’s fashions all over the internet, so please take this as my own humble observations and preferences).

1940's summer dresses

I would so wear these dresses right now. I especially love the green two-piece. Source.

1940's fashion

And the high-waist, wide leg trousers were fabulous too. Hello, Katherine Hepburn. I still love this silhouette.

If you’d like to revive the 40’s looks, but with more modern clothes, you can find lots of help in 1980’s styles. There was a definite Eighties Does Forties movement that produced some amazing dresses, in stronger fabrics and easier care. Find an 80’s frock, lightly pleated, or buttoned up at the front, with a fitted waist. Or just cinch your waist with a belt. Look for padded or ruffled shoulders (not too extreme). The overall look is angular on top, but with a feminine drape at the hem, and you are a 40’s babe.


1980s does 1940's dresses

There are all “Eighties Does Forties” dresses, found in abundance on Etsy and eBay.

Some fab looks that speak to 1940’s style:


Stay fabulous,

Please be aware that links to vendors may be affiliate links. I do benefit from your purchases through the links on the blog.

Header image via The House of Foxy.

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  1. I was searching for up to date information on this subject for a
    couple of days. Now I’m satisfied because I have finally
    reached your post.

  2. I agree about the classic style of a true 40’s dress or blouse. I am lucky in that I have some of Mom’s patterns from that era. I’m daring myself to finally make one…….

  3. I can definitely imagine you wearing the dresses in the photos. I love hats and coats from that era. You rarely see clothing from the 40’s and earlier that is in good shape unless it is at a vintage show, and then it’s priced accordingly. I love the clothing from the 20’s with the elaborate beading and the dropped waist.

  4. Loved this post, Patti. I also used to sell mid century vintage clothing in brick and mortar stores and on ebay and Etsy. Small world! I love to mix vintage accessories into my everyday looks, and have also saved some of my favorite 40’s and 50’s dresses. I wear them only occasionally, and am now inspired to get them out. Thanks!

  5. I never knew that about you Patti, how interesting! I love ’40s fashion, I have a collection of ’40s repro as well as a couple of original items. I don’t wear it all the time though as the other decades also have a lot to offer!

    • All the decades have something fab to offer! Hold on to your original 40’s pieces. xox

  6. I’m quite wary of shops that sell vintage clothes at what I think are very inflated prices, and the worst are the ones that sell 80s & 90s clothes as vintage. But, 40s dresses are divine. So feminine and a lovely cut.

    • agreed, I don’t mind a dress from the 90’s but it’s hard to think of it as “vintage” yet. xox

  7. I agree; these are lovely designs. I decided recently to have a dress made for me (by my seamstress friend Aimee) and I chose a style similar to these.

  8. As soon as I saw these I thought 1980’s. Probably because I rarely come across 1940’s fashion I find it harder to date. I’m pretty decent from the 1950’s onward.

    I do adore the patterns you’ve show here. And those shoes!


  9. I love 1949s dresses. I had a beautiful black dress with a shawl collar but unfortunately didn’t look after it very well. A little known fact: I interviewed the inventor of Rayon, a wonderful man called Edwin Beer. He had such an interesting life. He was also s geologist.

  10. I agree with you and so love vintage 40s. There is a gal at work that specifically recreates the look, right down to the hat. She looks fabulous!

  11. I had a great “80s does 40s” suit with a slim skirt and peplum jacket. Sigh.
    I found some of my mom’s clothes, not from the ’40s but the ’50s, and they were amazing. Sadly, I didn’t fit into them. A beautiful wool coat with a velvet collar and matching hat. A number of pencil-skirted dresses. They had the cleverest details, like cool buttons, or little pockets or small sections of pleating. She handmade most of them. I gave them to a slim friend who does vintage. Also her wedding dress; I hope it ended up with a happy bride and becomes part of another nearly 60+ year marriage.

    • How wonderful to find your mom’s clothing – I bet it was gorgeous. xox


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