Fashion through the decades: 40s & 50s

40s

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Despite the hardships of World War 2, the 40s were still a milestone decade for style, despite 1930s fashion being a hard act to follow. It was a decade of trailblazing styles and new silhouettes, and many of the styles we’re still supporting today. From Joan Crawford to Bette Davis, Rita Hayworth and Doris day, we chart the era’s style iconic, and top trends, that paved the way for 1950s fashion.

Put simply, 1940s women’s fashion was about creating an hourglass silhouette with masculine details, such as padded shoulders nipped in high waist tops, and A-line skirts that came down to the knee. This was the everyday shape for clothing, from suits to dresses. Even trousers had a similar high waisted, wide leg shape. If a woman was not naturally an hourglass shape, the clothes were designed to help her achieve the look. Being put together, cheerful, and practical was the job of women during WW2. Fashion accessories for this time included hats, gloves, handbags, and jewellery to complete an outfit, while natural makeup with bright red lips helped paint a happy face during difficult times.


50s

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There are two main silhouettes in 1950s fashion – the wasp waist with full skirt & the slim fitting pencil skirt. Both are iconic 50s looks that held great influence until 1956 & can be portrayed as super sexy or fun & flirty – all depending on how you wear them.

The beauty of the 50s era is that there is a ‘look’ that will suit everyone’s shape – the more womanly the better. For those who lacked curves, these were created easily with a bit of help from belts, foundation garments and plenty of net & padding!

From a fashion point of view, this was the rise of the ‘ready to wear’ phenomenon (RTW). Clothing was now being manufactured ‘in mass’ & with greatly improved standards in construction & cloth quality. Variety was now available & imports started to return from, in particular, Paris.

Dior’s iconic ‘New Look’ arrived in Paris in 1947 & due to it’s vastly different shape to the war years – had an enormous impact on the fashion world. Style was now back on track, ironically picking up from where it left off before the pause created by the war. Dior created a succession of silhouettes (which he based on letter shapes!) line A being an a-line silhouette which was achieved by a widening towards the hem & was quickly followed by the Y-line, created by wide dolman sleeves tapering to a slim skirt. However, Dior’s initial look continued to dominate for many years with fashion looking nostalgically to the past with its boned bodices & full petticoats.

Must have 50s accessories:- 

  • Red lipstick

  • Chiffon scarf

  • Gloves

  • Waist cinch belt

Fashion through the decades: 20s & 30s

Flapper Fashion - 1920s

Fay wray - actress and flapper girl

Fay wray - actress and flapper girl

Before the likes of Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis who brought us the iconic 1930s fashion styles, there were the super chic (and now very well known) styles of the roaring twenties. From the ultra-glam flapper girls to the first waves of cool androgyny, 1920s fashion was all about liberation, finally being able to try new things while having a lot of fun in the process.

After WW1, things loosened up (literally) when it came to ladies fashion - the corsets came off, skirts got shorter and thanks to one particular fashion legend, Coco Chanel, trousers for women were acceptable for the very first time! Fashion is eternally grateful to Mademoiselle Coco Chanel for so many definitive 1920s fashion styles, and some of the greatest fashion ‘inventions’ still to this day, for example; the little black dress, skirt suit, costume jewellery, espadrilles… But her greatest, most overarching influence? It has ot be the liberation of women’s clothing and the concept of ‘casual chic’ in the 1920s. Chanel led the trend for a flatter, corset-free bust, a streamlined silhouette with no hyper-waistline and as we already mentioned, she popularised trousers for women… So next time you let you are feeling bloated or just want to through on something loose fitting and baggy, you can aim your thanks to this woman.

Moving on to another iconic 20s style…

When it came to popular materials in the 20s, for evening dresses most were made of fine fabrics like silk, chiffon, taffeta and light velvet. They were usually sleeveless for young women and long sleeves for older women. Own anything with a dropped waist? You can thank the 20s for this iconic feature along with layers/tiers of fabric creating some fullness from the waist down. For those wanting to stand out and be more glamorous than the rest (basically anyone with good money) Beaded dresses were the way to go. Although everyone often thinks fringing and metal sequins when it comes to flapper dresses, this was actually quite rare. We often also think of these dresses as being short but this too is a myth! Real flappers wore knee-length or longer gowns that swished and swayed white dancing to jazz.

1930s

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Although the 1930s is remembered as a time of economic struggle, 30s fashion was an era of revolutionary style thanks to advancements in clothing production and the popularity of Hollywood cinema. As well as Great Depression (which began with the stock market crash in ‘29) causing an increase in the resourcefulness of ‘day wear’ fashion, as women could no longer afford to change outfits from day to night as the may have done before.

Advancements in technology also began the following following trends we still widely use today such as zippers as fasteners, fitted bras with cups and the bias cut method (a process of cutting material at a 45 degree angle so that it clung to the body.)

30s KEY ITEM: A “feedsack” dress, which as the name suggests, is a ladies dress made using the material from a sack of animal feed. (Bags from flour were also used!)

HISTORY BEHIND THIS ITEM:  Although the trend of the feedsack dress actually began in the ’20s when resourceful women realised they could upcycle the material used for the sacks to make clothing for themselves and their family, the trend grew rapidly due to economical necessity during the Depression era (30s). It didn’t take long for those in the animal feed industry to catch on to this ‘fashion’ trend, and competing companies released floral patterned sacks for women along with novelty prints such as animals, clowns, etc sacks for dresses made for the children. This led women requesting their husbands to buy the more ‘stylish’ feedsacks with their final outfit in mind.