How To Dress Up 1940s Vintage Clothing

Mixing old and new styles is one of the most fun parts of owning vintage clothes.

image for article How To Dress Up 1940s Vintage Clothing

Mixing old and new styles is one of the most fun parts of owning vintage clothes. Of course, the more recent vintage pieces are easier to incorporate into your current wardrobe, but the challenge of bringing in something older is a treat. For a unique spin on your current style, 1940s vintage clothing is the perfect addition.

In the ’40s, fashion was taking off from one-piece outfits like dresses and moving towards separates. This offers the opportunity for you to mix and match for an elegant mash-up of past and present. We’re going to show you how, but first, let’s take a look at why the ’40s were so transformational for fashion.

1940s Style

Taking a look back at the 1940s, we saw a lot of new styles emerging from past decades. The first half of the decade was overwhelmed by the war, but once that came to an end feminine fashion for women and sportier looks for men and kids moved to the forefront.

Straight lines and military cuts were common due to clothes rationing during the war, but come the middle of the decade, fuller skirts became dominant, and this trend carried over into the 1950s.

The shirtwaist dress became very popular in the ’40s and remains popular today. It is more or less just a long, button-up t-shirt that comes in at the waist. It is easy to understand how a comfortable and versatile piece like this has managed to stick around for roughly 80 years.

When looking back on ‘40s fashion, we can look to icons like Rita Hayworth, Grace Kelly, and Katherine Hepburn for inspiration. We’ll take their overall fashion sense into consideration when styling vintage 1940s clothing with modern pieces for your own wardrobe. Don’t worry—you don’t have to look like you’re from the past to mimic the elegance!

Styling 1940s Clothing

The most important first step to dress up 1940s vintage clothing is to stay true to yourself. Choosing pieces that are outwardly ‘40s but don’t quite fit your personal tastes will make it difficult to meld them into any outfit comfortably. But, don’t hesitate to take some risks. The pieces below offer some versatile ideas for a variety of regular activities.

Whether you’re running errands or meeting friends, heading to the office, or going to the beach, we have you covered with 1940s fashion that looks great in 2021.

The Shirtwaist Dress

Starting with the shirtwaist dress mentioned earlier, this adorable ’40s Blue and Red Plaid Day Dress is a must-have. You can easily wear this to the office, on a date, for a casual outing with friends, or truly any day-to-day activities. It is lightweight and comfortable and really embodies the era’s change in fashion.

You can style this dress in full ’40s fashion with gloves and a hat, fully embracing the original shirtwaist dress. Adding a floppy hat would lean into vintage fashion a bit while still staying on-trend with current fads. Or, you can modernize it by slipping on your favorite flats or espadrilles, adding some delicate accessories like a thin bracelet or simple earrings, and heading out in confidence.

This dress comes with removable shoulder pads, which you can either use or not based on your personal preferences. Plus, the front buttons and side zippers are all functional, so you’ll have no problem throwing it on for a very sweet look in just seconds. There is no stretch in this dress’s materials, and the slightly rigid form holds true to the time it was made.

The wonderful thing about vintage fashion is how authentic we choose to be to the time period. So if you want to wear period-authentic undergarments, you’re more than welcome to. But if you want to bring modern sensitivities to an outfit that calls back the past, that is super cool too.

Classic Ruffle Collar Blouse

Here we have a feminine 40s Beige Ruffle Collar Blouse, perfect for the office. You can pair this delicate top with a pencil skirt or even cigarette pants for a chic and professional look. This top is polyester and silk, with folded sleeve cuffs, a classic collar, and a ruffle at the neckline very indicative of its time.

Tops like this one can be gently tucked into your bottoms of choice for clean-cut continuity throughout your outfit. Accessorize with pearl earrings to tie in the white from the ruffle fringe, and you’re ready to go. Add a simple clutch or small handbag as opposed to a larger purse to avoid taking away from the gentleness of this top.

Bathing Suits

Vintage-inspired bathing suits have been on the rise for the last several years, but why have a replica when you can sport the real deal. This 40s Button Down Swimsuit and some sunscreen are all you need for a perfect day at the beach. The black one-piece is fashionable and flattering, offering good covering without sacrificing flexibility and comfort.

The three large buttons along with the cut are what set this piece apart from today’s swimsuits. Pair with a wide-brimmed hat, and you’ll be rocking the 1940s vintage look while still following today’s trends. 

Tips and Tricks

Dressing up 1940s vintage clothing is the perfect mix of fun and ease while still posing some small challenges. To make the process easier for you, be sure to look at what you already have in your closet and pinpoint a few key item types you should be looking for. Rather than shopping first and styling later, shop with a few ideas in mind.

For example, if you have some nice pants already, try searching for tops like this blouse or others. Take stock of your jewelry to determine if your look could benefit from vintage accessories as well. To an extent, styling 1940s clothing is trial and error while still learning the ropes. However, troubles can be avoided by making sure you won’t be left without an essential.

While shopping for vintage clothing, remember that sizing has changed drastically over the years. Check your measurements, and then check them again to avoid disappointment when you’re eagerly anticipated pieces come in the mail but don’t fit right. It can be difficult to judge at times, so never hesitate to measure meticulously, research sizing, and check product descriptions and details for any additional details.

Adding 1940s vintage clothing to your wardrobe is simple, straightforward, and an awesome way to dip your toe into experimenting with older vintage pieces.You will start to notice more era-specific silhouettes in more contemporary fashions after you’ve done your research to find your perfect pieces. Once you find your comfort zone with these looks, you’ll have broadened your options tenfold in fashion with authentic vintage finds. 

Embracing the shapes and details of the vintage looks while tying them into today’s styling is a surefire way to make the absolute most of each piece and look your best. If you’re looking for an authentic style that is in vogue with shopping small businesses, check us out here at Thrilling for all your vintage fashion needs.


1940-1949 | Fashion History Timeline | FIT NYC

1940s Fashion: Iconic Looks And The Women Who Made Them Famous | Marie Claire

1940s Fashion History for Women and Men | Vintage Dancer

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