Shapes and Silhouettes of 1940s – headscarves and brooches


My Victory Jumper!

A glimpse into vintage fashion from the 40s and it’s commentary on society


‘Shapes’ and ‘silhouettes’ in fashion terms are the bare bones we start from when we talk about fashion styles. Each era of fashion has a ‘look’ – for example, 1940s fashion, as shown in the Victory Jumper above, is typified by shorter lines of tops, with skirts and dresses having a neat tailored look. Consider, in contrast, the long, flowing, evening dresses of 1930s, often portrayed in films from the Golden Age of Hollywood; and we begin to understand the meaning of ‘shape’ and ‘silhouette’ when we think about 1940s fashion.

I’ve now finished my vintage victory jumper (yey!) and am really pleased with the final result. As you can see, the fit is close, and the hem is shorter than what we find on sweaters from other eras. And there was very good reason for this. As my grandma used to say when she reminisced, “There was a war on you know…” and everyone was expected to do their bit. Textile and lace factories became (for a large part during WW2) munitions factories, worked by the munitionettes, the female factory workers.  This meant there was limited access to fine textiles, so many women turned to their knitting needles for a new garment. My grandma told me stories of unravelling knitted garments once they were too small and using the yarn to make something new; so an old jumper, and a worn out hat and gloves might become a new tank top and matching hat, maybe knitted in a fair isle style to make use of all the odd bits of yarn around. Being knitted in fair isle meant it had a double thickness, making it a really warm garment around the yoke and chest area; an added bonus for winter!

Unlike the yarns of today that are wide and varied; ranging from cobweb and 2 ply, through to extra chunky, yarn in 40s Britain was usually 2, 3 or 4 ply. It wasn’t until the 50s that ‘quick knit’, as my grandma called it, was created. So most knitting patterns could be used with almost any yarn as the thickness or ply, was very similar. Knitting in fair isle, or using a pattern such as a cable or vandyke; also made a plain garment look a bit more fancier and added interest.

Likewise, on tailored garments from the 40s, embellishments were usually added in the form of a brooch. Ladies coats and jackets were usually single breasted, skirts and dresses had minimal buttons too as buttons were expensive; and metal buttons were unobtainable as they were melted down and required for the war effort. There was a real sense of clothes having to be functional and practical, over being beautiful; and a brooch was an easy, and sometimes the only way to add beauty and interest. 

Hats were often worn by women; and ‘hat hair’ was a usual thing – infact, hair was usually washed and set just once a week. The line “I’m washing my hair” was a real thing, as washing and setting hair took a good hour, then usually dried overnight. Headscarves likewise were common place, especially for factory workers. Anyone whose worked in the textile industry, or any other factory can verify that the oil used for machinery sits on your skin and hair; so with a once a week wash a headscarf was a must!

So there you go – if you want to rock a 40s look you should keep an eye out for shorter line sweaters, single breasted coats and jackets, tailored skirts and dresses, headscarves, hats, brooches and a pin curl wetset! Oh, and a slick of red lippy! 🙂






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