Each decade, fashion dictates the ‘ideal’ body shape for women, and the clothing of each era seeks to enable all women to replicate this silhouette. Whilst wide, padded shoulders are often associated with the 1980s, we first saw this look in the 1940s, whereby big shoulders were contrasted with a cinched-in waist. The ‘ideal’ shape was considered to be an hourglass – a body type that comes in and out of fashion, but can easily be achieved by accentuating the breasts and hips with clothing. That said, it was also during and after the Second World War, so women’s clothing became more practical. Due to this time period, the impact of rationing also meant that materials were reused.

Dresses and Skirts

Another way that the practical issues of the time influenced fashion was the length of dresses and skirts. It was partly due to the practicality of fabric rationing that day dresses became shorter, at around knee-length. In turn, sleeve lengths were also shortened, with designs featuring cropped wrists, and at times capped at the upper arms. As well as shoulder pads, sleeves were usually puffed up with gathering at the top. When it comes to evening dresses, more skin was exposed, with popular styles featuring spaghetti straps, halter-necks, and other designed that revealed the shoulders. To create authentic vintage dresses and skirts from the 1940s sewing patterns, choose fabrics such as rayon – a new synthetic invention at the time.

Tops and Bottoms

Women’s suits became popular in the 1940s as they offered both comfort and practicality, where women would mix and match skirts, blouses and jackets. The two-piece skirt suit was known as a ‘Victory’ or ‘Utility’ suit, and tended to be A-line shape, again, still accentuating the hourglass figure. Post-war, pleats were added once rationing was no longer in place, creating a fuller skirt. As more women were in the workplace rather than confined to domestic work at home, trousers were also widely worn by women in the 1940s. Overalls and coveralls also became a popular item that started out due to practicality – made famous with the image of Rosie the Riveter, now a symbol of women’s empowerment. As safe clothing was required when working in factories, the practical purpose of trousers soon became an opportunity to look fashionable. Trousers were high-waisted, with full legs with wide cuffs. For an authentic look, use cotton, denim or wool blends with your vintage pattern.

Coats and Jackets

The bolero jacket was a popular design at the time, which was fitted to still accentuate the hourglass silhouette, and featured short, rounded edges. These were usually worn over a blouse unbuttoned, with long, narrow sleeves.  Coats were generally square and plain, with large buttons. These were usually either down to the knee or a short box coat length, which were cape-like in design with big bell sleeves. Browse our range of vintage 1940s jackets and coats patterns for ideas.


Before the 1940s, swimwear featured only one-piece suits; the bikini was invented in 1946. Bottoms came high up to the waist and tended to have a maximum of four inches between the top and bottom. Additionally, headwear included new designs: the beret, the turban, and fascinator-style hats with netted veils. The aforementioned Rosie the Riveter image also popularised scarves as headwear. For practical reasons, handbags were larger than the clutches of the previous decade, inspired by military service  messenger bag, they featured long shoulder straps with a flat envelope design. See our 1940s patterns for lingerie, nightwear and swimwear for inspiration, as well as our range of patterns for hats and accessories.

Contact Us

In order to create a 1940s look with our range of vintage sewing patterns, please get in touch through our web contact form, or by emailing us at thevintagepatternshop@yahoo.com. Alternatively, you can reach us directly by calling us on either (+44) 1621-331441 or (+44) 7595261171. A member of our team will be glad to help you with any questions you have about our 1940s vintage patterns, or any other eras.