1940s Mens Fashion: Austerity & After

Style mirrors circumstances and 1940s mens fashion reflects the devastating impact of the Second World War. After the war, both men's and women's fashions shifted again, as a reaction against the years of austerity.

Necessity of Change

In the early 1940s, fabrics were needed for uniforms and governments regulated supplies of material for civilian use. Quality fabrics like woollen cloth were reserved for the troops, and artificial fibers like rayon became more widely used.

To conserve resources, instructions were issued on styles. Cuts that used fabric economically, as well as sparing use of accessories like buttons, became the norm. Frills and extras, like cuffs and pocket details, were minimized. Suit jackets were shorter and the waistcoat became an unnecessary luxury.

Colors became more muted, corresponding with the mood of the times, while glamorous and flashy outfits seemed indulgent and unpatriotic. Fashion designers turned their attention to designing utility clothing that was simple, functional and less likely to date rapidly.

Characteristics of 1940s Mens Fashion

In a world at war, mens formal wear seemed like a frivolity. A semi-formal look became more acceptable, and the tuxedo correspondingly gradually declined in popularity for evening wear and special occasions.

Though the sartorial rules were changing, convention and tradition did not die overnight, with black tie still hanging on as the acceptable outfit for formal events.

In business suits, although the trend was for plain suits lacking in detail, one kind remained popular throughout the 1940s.

The zoot suit, which had made its first appearance in the 1930s, became closely linked to the music of the times: swing. It consisted of a long jacket worn with high-waisted, full-cut trousers that tapered sharply at the ankle.

The jacket was an exaggerated version of the 1930s drape cut suit, and sported wide lapels and generously cut padded shoulders. In the 1940s, though it contravened all the rules about economy and lack of flash, it was a popular choice for a special night out.

Key Influences & Role Models

World War II had enormous influence on mens fashion throughout the entire decade despite the war ending in 1945. As the world tried to return to peace & recover, Men's fashions changed again.

Designers and consumers embraced roomy, long clothing, in direct contrast to the economy measures of the war years.

Double-breasted suits made a comeback. Brighter colors were acceptable once more, along with playful, statement neckties, often in bold colours or striking geometric prints.

The post-war years also heralded a new interest in casual wear. Brightly colored, printed shirts, such as Hawaiian shirts, worn without a jacket, were adopted by many celebrating peacetime.

Loosely cut jackets with shoulder emphasis, or striped blazers worn with baggy casual slacks, embodied the spirit of the age after the end of the war.

Sportswear continued its rise in the popularity, and the rise of American sportswear designers as influential leaders in the world of fashion has strong roots in this period.

While the previous decade's look had taken cues from the aristocracy, 1940s mens fashion tended to look to more popular culture. Matinee idols and movie stars such as Humphrey Bogart provided style role models, but so did swing musicians and youth culture.

This was the era where fashion became ever more closely identified with the styles preferred by the younger generation – a trend that has strengthened ever since.

1920s Mens Fashion

1930s Mens Fashion

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