Forties Fashion

The Forties Look…it’s glamorous, it’s stylish, it’s smart. What an era it was! The men looked like real men, the women were perfect ladies, boys wore shorts whatever their age, girls wore their hair in plaits, pigtails and bunches… and the teenager hadn’t been invented yet!

Of course it wasn’t all strawberries and cream or milk and honey during the period…for starters strawberries, cream, milk and honey were all rationed or impossible to come by! As were most things.

I have it on very good authority (a ninety-two year old lady of my acquaintance who is still as glamorous as ever) that due to the scarcity of stockings during the war (both silk or the newly invented nylon ones) she would use something called ‘liquid stockings’.

This was basically a make-up that you applied to your legs to give them a little colour, and to complete the effect a ‘seam’ was added with an eyeliner pencil. Though not perfect the proprietry liquid stockings was a definite improvement on the budget alternative of smearing watered down gravy or weak tea on your legs…I imagine!

Make do and mend was the battle cry of the home front during the war and every housewife knew how to make the most of what she had. Unfashionable clothes? Just get to work with that sewing machine and adapt them to the latest trend, Trouble with moths? Well don’t put your clothes away dirty and if you must store them make sure you wrap well in newspaper and air them once a month. Need a winter coat? Why not take that old blanket off the spare bed and transform it into something fit for the West End? With a snip snip here and sew sew there you’ll soon have something to be proud of!

Going back to my ‘source’ (Pegs, my ninety-two year old informant) her prefered hair-do of the time was inspired by the actress Ingrid Bergman in the film ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’, who wore her hair short and permed.

In fact at a time when many young women were going to work in factories to support the war effort this trend for short hair was not only expedient but actively encouraged.

The wonderful American actress Veronica Lake had her distinctive long tresses cut into a more practical style for a wartime newsreel. This public show of support for the many women working industrial machines who were required for safety reasons to adopt short hair styles no doubt boosted morale tremendously.

Let’s not forget the men, they could be stylish too. There was the rakish charm of the shady spiv in his fedora, pinstriped suite and spats, always skating the thin ice of illegality with a twinkle in his eye. Or the honest wholesomeness of the professional gent in his trilby, tweeds and brogues, maintaining standards and keeping a straight bat and stiff upper lip in the face of adversity.

Pity the poor children though! They didn’t have time to worry about the niceties of fashion.

If you were a boy you were probably too busy holding up your big brother’s pass-me-down trousers or suffering the extreme indignity of being forced to wear your sister’s coat…ekk!

Or if you were a girl you’d be wishing you’d not grown out of your favourite coat and were now having to wear something made out of an old blanket!

Anyway to summarize here are my tips for getting that forties look and capturing the style of that momentous era. Pay attention!

Firstly for men.

1. You want to get ahead? Get a HAT.

2. Polish those shoes mister! (Doesn’t work with trainers).

3. Moths are the deadliest foe of all…be warned.

4. Turn it up mate. Real men wear turn-ups.

5. Put a crease in it sonny. Iron those strides like your life depends on it.

Now for the ladies.

1. Pillbox, cloche, beret, turban…you know what I’m saying girls, cover that barnet!

2. Lippy up and look lovely.

3. Moths are the enemy…I wont tell you again!

4. Corset calamity? Then don’t use a safety pin, you’ll only tear the rubber.

5. Unmentionables? Pssst! Want to buy a parachute?

If you’ve been affected by any of the issues raised in this post you need to see the fabulous forties film ‘Blitz and Bananas’, it has all the answers…and a banana too, but hurry tickets going fast.

Simon Earwicker 



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