1940s Fashion: The Decade Captured In 40 Beautiful Pictures

Despite the hardships of WWII, the 1940s were still a brilliant decade for fashion. Hollywood’s Golden Age stars – from Rita Hayworth to Katharine Hepburn – dazzled in gorgeous gowns, while women across the West embraced a more utilitarian yet chic look. Here, we highlight the best of the decade’s style in 40 stunning images…

1. Joan Crawford, 1940s
Check out Joan Crawford’s shoulder pads and decadent jewels – now we know where Joan Collins got her 1980s style inspiration from. A perfectly-tailored peplum finishes off her sharp look. Power dressing at its very best.


2. Christian Dior’s New Look, 1947
This was a groundbreaking move in fashion to redfine women’s post-war styles and revive France’s fashion industry after a difficult few years. The collection – featuring gorgeous full skirts and waist-cinching jackets – was Dior’s first and became forever known as the New Look after Harper’s editor Carmel Snow said in 1947: ‘It’s such a new look!’.


3. Eva Gardner, 1944
Eva Gardner was one of the biggest film starts of the decade. Here she is in 1944, showcasing the beauty of a belted waist.


4. Bette Davis, 1943
Bette Davis works a blue gown in this seductive shot, taken in 1943. So. Hot.


5. Doris Day, 1948
Doris Day shows us how to work the nautical trend during the filming of Romance On The High Seas in 1948. Remind us to drape our blazer over our shoulders on our next boat trip…


6. Rita Hayworth, 1940
The actress embraces androgynous style in a pair of wide-legged trousers and monochrome flats in 1940. Our new workwear wardrobe = sorted.


7. Katharine Hepburn, 1940
Katharine rocks a gingham dress and cinched-in waist on the set of The Philadelphia Story in 1940. Note the Peter Pan collar.


8. Joan Crawford, 1946
She’s done it again. Joan shows us how to do floral prints and statement jewels. Absolutely stunning.


9. Grace Kelly, 1947
Princess Grace looks flawlessly chic even as a teen model in 1947.


10. Ginger Rogers, 1942
That wide-brimmed hat and elegant skirt suit made Ginger Rogers look effortlessly pulled-together in 1942. Just check out those leather driving gloves – you couldn’t get more chic. If only we looked this good on our way to the airport. Love.


11. Barbara Stanwyck, 1941
Embellishment and huge cocktail jewels made Barbara Stanwyck look like a total screen goddess in 1941.

Barbara Stanwyck

12. Rita Hayworth, 1946
This famous black gown from Rita Hayworth’s striptease scene in Gilda set tongues wagging in 1946.

Rita Hayworth

13. Ingrid Bergman, 1942
We’d wear those midi-heeled sandals RIGHT now. Check out a flawless Ingrid Bergman working the monochrome look on the set of Casablanca in 1942.

Ingrid Bergman

14. Bette Davis, 1940s
Bette Davis knew how to rock clashing brights, topping off her look off with a slick of red lipstick.

Bette Davis

15. Rita Hayworth, 1940s
Here’s our next look for Ibiza sorted. Rita Hayworth works a printed bikini, huge sun hat and peep-toe heels. If only we looked this put-together by the pool.

Rita Hayworth

16. Ladies In Paris, 1947
These midi-length skirts couldn’t be more on trend for AW13. Have French women EVER been out of style?

Ladies In Paris

17. Swimsuit Competition, Paris, 1949
These Parisian girls showcased the latest swimsuit trends way back in 1949. We’re not so sure about all those ruffles, but we NEED to get our hands on that monochrome swimsuit.

Swimsuit Competition in Paris

18. Christian Dior Model, 1947
Has a fur coat ever looked so glamorous? Totally loving those pleats.

Christian Dior Model

19. Ava Gardner, 1940s
More monochrome. A first hint of statement prints. You can’t go wring with a 1940s tea dress.

Ava Gardner

20. Betty Hutton, 1945
Betty rocks a halterneck bikini and wedges witha  turban-style headband. No wonder she’s smiling. Hot.

Betty Hutton

21. Ann Sheridan, 1942
Ann works the metallics trend in this decadent high-neck gown. We could totally see this on the red carpet at next year’s Oscars.

Ann Sheridan

22. Reard Fashion Show, 1946
Bikini briefs in the forties were HUGE – and note the structured tops. Models perfect their catwalk struts at the Reard show in 1946. Gorgeous.

1946 Reard Fashion Show

23. Betty Grable, 1940s
We love the bright acid yellow of actress Betty Grable’s bathing suit. So on trend. And. That. HAIR.

Betty Grable

24. Lucille Ball, 1940s
This actress knew how to offset her bright red hair in midnight blue and huge earrings.

Lucille Ball

25. Ladies Sunbathing In London, 1942
These girls still managed to look relaxed and chic while tanning in a park in 1942, as rationing went on around them. A sun tan was the perfect alternative to stockings. And check out those John Lennon-style round sunglasses. This scene would not look amiss on Primrose Hill in 2013.

1942 Ladies Sunbathing In London
26. Brenda Marshall, 1940s
Pleats, zips, ruching, AND statement headwear? So many trends. We can’t get enough of Brenda’s turban.
Brenda Marshall
27. Models On Bond Street, London, 1942
The wartime look in Britain became much more austere as the years went by. This was the first collection of Utility Dresses For Women, designed by Norman Hartnell in 1942, and showcased on a very quiet Bond Street.
1942 Models On Bond Street in London

28. Land Girl In Southern England, 1944
British women headed to the fields during WWII in dungarees and buttoned-up shirts. We love how this Land Girl has cinched-in her waist with a belt. If only we looked this stylish when doing chores.

1944 Land Girl In Southern England

29. Hedi Lamarr, 1941
Actress Hedi rocks a huge floral corsage for Come Live With Me. So this is where Carrie Bradshaw got her inspiration from…

Hedi Lamarr

30. Lana Turner, 1946
Another stunning shot, another turban. Lana’s pastel wardrobe for The Postman Always Rings Twice is simply stunning.

Lana Turner

31. Lana Turner, 1943
…and she knew all about the importance of diamonds.

Lana Turner wearing diamonds

32. Lauren Bacall, 1944
Lauren looks flawless in this thigh-split satin gown in 1944. We could totally see Angelina Jolie wearing this vintage wonder.

Lauren Bacall

33. Barbara Stanwyck, 1940
Barbara rocks a tailored pastel blue suit in 1940 with a pop of leopard print. Lovely.

Barbara Stanwyck

34. Betty Grable, 1943
World War II pin-up Betty’s white bathing suit and understated gold jewellery is totally chic. And just look at those curves.


35. Claudette Colbert, 1941
Dear designers, can someone please re-make this? French actress Claudette rocks a gorgeous striped bikini in 1941. Want.

Claudette Colbert

36. Doris Day, 1945
We just love Doris’ preppy chic style and her gold wedges.

Doris Day

37. Ginger Rogers, 1942
Ginger knew all about the power of embellishment. This was her official portrait taken by Paramount Studios.

Ginger Rogers

38. Ida Lupino, 1940s
Actress-turned-director Ida rocks a printed crop top and matching skirt. And we just love her cigarette holder – so sophisticated.
Ida Lupino
39. Olivia de Havilland, 1941
The crop top was a big look in the early forties, too. We adore Olivia’s impossibly glamorous jewels.
Olivia de Havilland
40. Claudette Colbert, 1942
Claudette looks fabulously decadent in a floor-length pink gown, while filming The Palm Beach Story in 1942. Haven’t we seen Cheryl Cole rocking that elegant hood?

1942 Claudette Colbert



by Francesca Rice