Adopting Vintage Style from the 1940s

A fashion illustration from the 1940s.
A fashion illustration from the 1940s. Photo: elegant musings – http://www.flickr.com/ photos/elegantmusings/ 2878769599/.

The best thing about modern day is that many styles are perfectly acceptable. Without one overwhelming “look,” anyone is free to find their own signature style. For many people, this means looking backward to find inspiration.

Usually people gravitate to one particular period. Maybe it’s the lean and elegant style of the 1930s or the swinging style of the 1960s. A lot depends on what style works well for your figure and what you’re comfortable wearing, as some styles are more confining than others. A slender person might like the dropped waist and flowing garments of the 1920s.

No matter what period you like, the process for adapting the style to your everyday life is similar. The best place to start looking for inspiration is period cinema and photography. I prefer photography because the movies tend to be highly stylized, especially from the early 20th century, and are hard to adapt for everyday wear. As you observe, make notes of the shape of the garments. If you focus on the basic lines of the style, you can translate the overall feel and look to things you can find off the rack. Write your observations and tape pictures into a notebook that you can bring with you shopping.

Another option is buying vintage. There is great responsibiity with wearing vintage period clothing. Definitely brush up on your laundering skills so that you don’t damage the garments. Recently, model Kate Moss destroyed a vintage gown simply because she forced herself into something too small and wore it carelessly. Vintage clothing is very fragile so you want to make sure you wear it for the appropriate occassion and not stress the fabric.

A great alternative is to have something made or make it yourself. Basic pieces from any period in the 20th century aren’t that complicated and great first projects to attempt. If sewing is not your thing, you can employ a seamstress. Having clothing custom made is not that expensive; maybe more than Target but cheaper than Saks. With a custom-made garment you have ultimate control over the finished look and are guarenteed a perfect fit. If you want immediate gratification, search the web. There are a lot of places that specialize in clothing from other eras.

You should realize that you’re not alone. There are many groups for every period. Some are quite extensive like the Society for Creative Anacranism. Even small groups hold events where people can immerse themselves in activities of days gone by, while wearing period appropriate clothing. It’s fairly easy to find groups on Facebook or the web in general using keywords specific to your period.

Until now I haven’t discussed, in detail, the 1940s because the process is the same no matter what period you like. I favor the 1940s because I like the music, swing dancing, and the clothing suits my figure. My love of the period began with a half-dozen or so hand-me-down dresses from my aunt, which I wore until they were in shreds. Note: Do not give an eight year-old vintage clothing.

I love other periods as well, such as the 18th century, but the 1940s is far more practical. It’s a great period for classic design and very easy to incorporate into an existent wardrobe. It also works in a professional environment.

I sew, so finding clothing isn’t that hard. The following companies sell replica patterns or patterns based on vintage designs, Amazon Drygoods, Past Patterns, Vogue Patterns, and Patterns of Time. Make sure you have accurate measurements because vintage patterns are cut a lot smaller than modern styles.

Because of the popularity of the styles of the 1940s, helped by the rockabilly scene, there are quite a few places where you can purchase ready made reproductions or vintage pieces for a reasonable price. Any of the following have a good selection of clothing as well as shoes.

To complete the look, there is a wealth of resources on the web. If you search YouTube, you can find tutorials on how to obtain the hair styles of the 1940s period. Libraries also carry vintage magazines which are very helpful.

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