June 5, 2012

15 photos of terrific real world 1940s summer fashions

While there is much to be gleaned from the sartorial inspiration provided by yesteryear starlets and staged mid-century fashion shoots in magazines (and goodness knows I adore both of these things unceasingly), my biggest source of vintage fashion inspiration has - and I believe always will be - the looks that real everyday women like myself were sporting during my favourite decades.

I'm intrigued to see how those on a budget dressed, to know how they did their hair, what shoes they opted for, and how they interpreted the trends and timeless looks of the era alike. Oftentimes when one sees an old photograph we know little to nothing about the person in it, and so must form a backstory for that person in our minds (a topic I chatted about in this post last year).

Then, as now, even though we swoon over the looks that most ladies sported during the time, it's interesting to keep in mind that not every gal we see would have been a fashionista, a clothes horse, or perhaps (unthinkable as this may be to many of us now) even the biggest fan of the styles of the decade. Many however, were, as us gals have always veered towards harbouring a significant love for fashion and clothing, no matter what year it was.

The 1940s aren't exactly known for being the easiest decade of all time. For most, clothing rations were in place for most of the forties, and even when items were available, many often could not afford to buy them frequently. This wartime culture created the famous make due or mend mentality which truly helped to steer people from all walks of life through the challenges of the decade and ensured that what little there was to go around was able to provide for everyone - and to last for years. I myself have often adopted this same principle, guided and inspired, by those of both the tumultuous thirties and the harrowing forties.

One season that - in the western hemisphere at least - rarely calls for the need for too much in the way of clothing is summer (a point which I'd venture to guess women of the 40s liked a whole lot). And so this week as we head into June and summer looms ever closer, I wanted to share a selection of vintage fashions - sported by real world ladies of the 1940s - with all of you that will definitely be providing a hefty dose of guidance for own fashion choices this season.

{Love the array of patterns on the skirts and dresses, as well as the middle gal's beautiful flower adorned hairstyle.}

{Stripes, cuffs and saddle shoes while sitting on the sand - that's a look I could easily see myself sporting, as I like to remain fairly well covered at the beach most of the time.}

{The caplet-esque collar and generously sized plaid pattern make this summer dress a real standout.}

{A trio of classic 1940s warm weather button front daywear dresses and three very pretty smiles, to boot.}

{A ruffled neckline and cute plaid pattern don't discuss the sense of plucky spunk I see radiating from this cool gal's face.}

{It's short shorts and strappy sandals for this stylish pair of girlfriends. (Love the overall/jumper style of the shorts on the right!)}

{In part because I rarely expose my bare arms completely, I often includes lightweight knits in my outfits during the warmer months, and could totally see myself wearing this sweet little short sleeve sweater all summer long.}

{Two gals munch on something yummy on a stick - taffy perhaps - while out camping. One sports shorts, the other pants, and both look completely cute - and comfortable - for a day spent out in the wilderness.}

{The tunic-like quality of this tie neck (and waist) blouse is so airy and appealing for the dog days of summer.}

{I love longer hemlines on my vintage dresses, and would happily don either one of these pretty summer frocks - as well as the adorable (and highly practical) wide brim straw hats.}

{Plaid Bermuda shorts, a short sleeved knit top, saddle shoes, and dark red lips add up to one thoroughly terrific warm weather casual look.}

{Romance and style abound in this heartwarming photograph of a 1940s couple. He in his military uniform, she is a wonderfully pretty summer dress and ankle strap sandals.}

{Though casual, there is an undeniable sense of elegance to this beautiful woman's outfit which comes through in the timelessness of the trousers and blouse, as well as her sweet little watch and voluminously curly hair.}

{Another excellent pants based 1940s summer look, this time partnered with a short sleeve suit jacket.}

{A quintet of fashionably fabulous 1940s dresses, each stylish and highly covetable to this day. I'm especially fond of the ruffled pinafore number in the middle and the bow collared floral number on the far right.}

{All images above are from Flickr. To learn more about a specific image, please click on it to be taken to its respective Flickr page.}

♥ ♥ ♥

Whether humble and simple, or fancy and elegant, there is such a timelessly wonderful appeal to the looks of this era. Interestingly, even though the 1950s are often seen as being a decade filled with youth culture (and it certainly was), I've always thought that there was a beautifully youthful quality to many of the looks of the 40s, too.

Perhaps that stemmed from the way many of the 1940s classically tailored pieces hugged the figure, the fact that for much of the decade hemlines were relatively high, or that handmade and mass produced garments mingled side-by-side in most peoples' wardrobes.

Whatever the case, whether gaily youthful or starkly sophisticated, the forties are a decade I never tire of looking to - and dressing from. I hope that today's images of fashionable gals just like us will provide you with as much inspiration as they will for me this summer - and well, well beyond.


  1. Thank you very much for this post! I adore 40's style and these ladies on these photos are fullfilled with femininity. My number one is a girl in light dress with a soldier. So sweet!

  2. These women all look so beautiful and classy. I really like the plaid pants and saddle shoes combo.

  3. I have been slowly collecting vintage snapshots over the years from antique stores and flea markets of everyday styles. I find it so much more charming in some ways (and reminds me a lot of the more relaxed version of vintage I wear on a daily basis) than the idealized images from those eras. I'm really loving some of these shorts outfits since mine have been in heavy rotation this year already. Those overalls shorts are really, really cute! Wonder if I could pull off a similar style with some pattern tinkering? ;)

  4. Ah, I loved this post! It's fascinating to see what these gals wore in everyday life, and even more fun to guess at the stories behind them: what was the occasion for the plaid dress with the capelet collar? How were that soldier and the girl next to him related? Would the girl in the plaid shorts and red lipstick be my friend, or am I not cool enough? The era seems so real through these snapshots!

  5. being a 20's gal iv never been a huge fan of anything above the early 30's but i just adored these pictures!!!!!!!!! :) :) :) I love seeing the clothes and the hair of the everyday people of that time they looked very sharp and their hair was just adorable1 :) i love the picture of the women and her fella with the car in the background its so warm feeling! :) i just adored these pictures and my mind is working to guess about how you found such lovely pictures! :) great post my dear keep them comeing hahaha i cant wait to see the next one! :)

    big hugs and best tuesday wishes,
    TheRitzyFlapper (Alicia)

  6. Wonderful photos Jessica, I really enjoyed your post. Love the girls in the snazzy shorts. I spied the 2 vintage camper trailers behind the 2 women selling (what is that one the boards?) roadside, such a great photo. They're all great! Pam

  7. Thanks so much for sharing these. I love the 40s. All the girls look so gorgeous. It's hard to believe that the photos were taken so many years ago.......they all look so modern and the photos still look so vibrant. They were definitely trendsetters ;)

  8. I love these! Vintage photos are always fascinating to me, both on the history-nerd level and as curios (and also, of course, as fashion inspiration!) I picked up an album of late teens-early twenties photos at a tag sale this past weekend and am having a great time going through it trying to come up with narratives to solve all the history-mysteries the photos present.

    (I'll have to show that photo of the girl in the striped top, trousers and saddle shoes to my boss at the archive, by the by--she came in to work in almost the exact same outfit the other day!)

  9. I just love the white shoes of the woman on the right of the trio in their day dresses. Even though the two in strappy sandals and shorts are wearing very short shorts, the style of them means they still look ladylike and demure.

  10. You always find the best photos to share! Some are so great I had to share them on my tumblr as well :D
    -Andi x

  11. My mom grew up in the 30's and 40's (she's 80). She told me she hated, hated saddle oxfords. To her, they were unfashionable. They were also indestructable, so she was stuck wearing them all during high school.

  12. Oh I love this!!!! Very inspirational! I love those overall shorts too. Those ladies sure knew how to dress!!!! xox

  13. I love 1940s fashion! The shorts are the most incredible shape! <3

    Lost in the Haze: a Fashion Photography Blog

  14. Great pictures! I am making a 40's inspired ruffled top just now! :) xxx

  15. I love looking at pictures of 1940s fashions, my favourite is the three girls in button front dresses. I never have liked the fashion for ankle with dresses and skirts though. REally nice post.

  16. Jessica, those black and white photos you found are just beautiful! We're not familiar with Flickr; we thought Flickr was a place to upload photos, we had no idea it is a place to find and use (re-publish) photos? Or are those photos that you actually did upload yourself?

  17. Hi ladies, thank you all so much for your fantastic comments! I'm so happy you enjoyed this post and am thinking I might do a similar one featuring 1950s gals later this season (or next summer, if it doesn't happen this year).

    @Pinup Style, Flickr is both a place to upload and share your photos and also to enjoy, and in some instances, use those that others have posted. Each Flickr user has the right to set their own permission levels, so not all images are usable, but many (especially those that are published under a Creative Commons licence) are (for personal use). A basic Flickr membership is free, and I highly recommend you join and check it out yourself.

    Thanks again, ladies, tons of hugs to you all!
    ♥ Jessica

    1. Jessica, thank you very much for helping out with the information about Tumblr, you're a sweety!

  18. Beautiful photos and beautiful fashion! It's always so lovely and encouraging to see photos of 'real' women, and be reminded that just like today, not everybody walked round looking like Rita Hayworth, especially in terms of hairstyles - as someone who frets over getting perfect vintage hair, in a way, it's comforting to see frizz and wonky victory rolls!

    That said, all of these girls look impossibly glamorous and immaculate compared to the general public today!

  19. why has everybody got the same shoes...?

    1. Though they're not the same in all the photos, what I think you're referring to are the saddle shoes, which were an extremely common and popular style during the 1930s-50s. You could think of their popularity a bit like sneakers today.

  20. This is a well written post and I think for the reasons you stated I am mostly identify with the 40's. Looking forward to checking out the rest of your blog too.