1940’s Women’s fashion was a time of great restrictions on design, fabric, and trim materials. The war forced clothing designs to be simple yet it also forced manufactures to be creative with what they could use and invent new materials. The 1940’s brought about new women’s fashion inventions many of which are still around today.
- The girdle. Prior to the 1940’s a women’s shape was made by metal boned corsets. In the 1940’s the girdle was invented as a form of tummy tuck underwear. It shaped just the middle down to the hips and created the smooth hourglass silhouette associated with vintage fashions. The girdle was uncomfortable and was eventually replaced by nylons or no shaping undergarment at all. Today the girdle returns with body shapers, control top stockings, control top underwear and other suck and smooth foundation garments. They name may have changed but these garments are just updated girdles in disguise.
- Wedge shoes. Leather and wood was needed for the war so shoe designs had to get creative. The solution was cork. A cork sole was used for shoe heels and then wrapped in a pretty fabric, mesh or even reptile skin. It was economical and allowed a taller heel then what was considered a safe heeled pump. Today wedgies come in and out of fashion, particularly in summer, when wedge sandals hit the beaches.
- Rayon. If you didn’t know, Rayon is a synthetic fabric. It was invented and became very popular in the 1940’s. Up till then wool, silk, and cotton was what clothing was made of. Silk and cotton were needed for the war so Rayon was used instead. It could be lightweight like silk or heavy like wool. Today rayon is still used in fine fabrics, especially in summer.
- Nylons. Prior to the 40’s women’s stockings were made of silk. They were very delicate and needed frequent mending and hand washing. Dupont then invented nylon and thus “Nylons” became a brand name for stockings. Today nylon is still used to make all kinds of hosiery and fabrics.
- The Zipper. Thanks to new inventions of the 1940’s women can zip up clothing instead of using buttons, snaps or lacing.
- Plastic. Although various forms of plastic had been around since the 1920’s it wasn’t until the 1940’s that they really took center stage in the fashion world. Jewelry was made of Bakelite plastic in big colorful designs. Handbags, makeup case, and household items were being made of Lucite. You may not recognize these plastic names but I am sure you are aware that plastic is everywhere in fashion- from cute barrettes to zippers to purse handles.
- Shoulder pads. You may think that the 1980’s were the first decade to use shoulder bags. They actually go back much farther than the 1940’s but as a regular fashion accessory for women the 1940’s were the first. They used shoulder pads in dresses, jackets, and blouses in order to square off the shoulder for a boxy military feel. The 1980’s were heavily influenced by 1940’s fashion and thus shoulder pads came back in style.