The 1940’s are a perfect example of Pendulum swing. The clothing went from functional and frugal to elaborate and over-the-top. It was a time of war and a time of peace. Woman in the work place went from almost nonexistent to a cultural norm. The economy went from a deep depression to an economic boom.

ImageEach of these swings was due in part to World War II Classics such as “A Wonderful Life” and “Casablanca” were released in the 1940’s and made an impact on the people of that day as well as current pop culture. “Casablanca” was the top grossing film for this decade. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard “Of all the gin joints in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine” or “I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship” uttered during my lifetime because of  this iconic film.

ImageSome famous cinema starts included Ingrid Bergman, Hedy Lamarr, Rita Hayworth, and Fred Astaire. The movie stars of this decade were glamorous and beautiful in every sense of the word. There was a lot of fear and paranoia during this time, but the cinema served as a short escape from these everyday worries.


During the war, women had to take over factory jobs forcing women to leave the home for work for the first time. A famous poster from the era entitled “Rosie the Riveter” was displayed with the quote “We can do it” above a portrait of a women flexing her arm and wearing a work uniform once reserved for the boys. When the men returned, the women went back to being homemakers. This taste of freedom and work equality was just enough to change the way women viewed the workplace. It gave women their first chance to work outside the home, and was a precursor for many social movements.


Coming out of the depression and rationing for war, Woman’s clothing was very plain and economical. The designs were simple, the colors were drab, and the fabrics were plain. After the war, with the help of Christian Dior, woman’s clothing became an exciting thing. Structure, corsets, small waists, full pleated skirts, draping, and fine fabrics were all the rage. Christian Dior displayed the “New Look” in 1947 and it changed the way women dressed for the rest of the decade. From hair to makeup, the new woman was well put together and more stylish after the war.

1940’s style has influenced us today from the not-so-subtle red lip trend, to resurgence of peplum style blouses and dresses. Peter Som revisited the structure of “New Look” style garments in his 2011 collection. Peplum, influenced by the “New Look”, has been very popular this year. It has been popping up across runways and on fashion blogs. In 2012 designers like Badgley Mischka, Tory Burch and Jason Wu all showed pieces featuring peplum. Other trends from the era we still see today are headscarves, pencil skirts, and floral dresses.