Just as the 1930s fashion industry was impacted by the economy, the 1940s fashion industry was greatly affected by the war. To help the American war effort, the usage of raw materials and textiles in non-war products was severely restricted. Clothes with little fabric and which could be worn throughout the year were promoted to women as a form of “patriotic duty.”
Because silk and nylon were restricted, stockings became hard to find and many women used leg makeup to compensate. Dresses and suits became slimmer, and skirts were generally knee-length. A structured military look became popular, with “Air Force blue” being the most popular color. Dresses hugged the waist and many had buttons down the front. Full shoulders and busts, often accomplished through shoulder pads, emphasized trim waistlines. American designers also introduced coordinating separates during this time that gave women the appearance of having more outfits than they actually did.
With men fighting in the war, women were essentially forced to take over the jobs men had left behind. Because of this, it became acceptable for women to wear pants and overalls. Hair was pulled back by snoods and handkerchiefs for work but, due to convenience, it became fashionable to pull hair back outside of the workplace. Working women were encouraged to keep their hair short, but most women wore it long. Hair was styled with the pageboy, in barrel rolls or the Victory Roll, and was often netted in the back, folded at the ear, pinned on top or twisted into braids.
It was also during the 1940s that the transition to two separate undergarments was completed. The bra and the girdle came into fashion and, after the war, wire was introduced into bras and stockings came back on the market. Padded bras came into fashion at the end of the decade to create fuller, more pointed busts.
Makeup during the 1940s consisted of the “classic” look – translucent powders, red lipstick, red nail polish and black eyeliner.
Such restricted fashion of the 1940s, in combination with the end of the war, meant the 1950s fashion industry was set up perfectly.