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How To Dress 1940s Style (For Her)

How To Dress 1940s Style (For Her)

Since I am helping host the upcoming “Summer of ’45” Vintage Picnic in Victoria, I thought I’d whip up a handy-dandy post on how to dress 1940s style for potential picnickers who are feeling intimidated by the dress code.

First things first:  torch the idea that you need to find genuine 1940s vintage. 

Even if you have all the time in the world, it’s hard to find a size, style and smell that fits your needs. Furthermore, unless you have access to grandma’s attic, genuine vintage can be pricey.

Once exception, if you live in Victoria, is the Vintage Fair (July 13), where you might find something special. Even just an accessory can lift an otherwise mediocre ensemble!

Thankfully, 1940s style is easy to fake.

Still don’t believe me? Have you seen The Notebook? 99.99999% of womankind has seen The Notebook, so let’s assume you have.

Bam! The Notebook is set in the 1940s, but in order to milk the box office it massaged 1940s style to appeal to our modern eye (for instance, we probably wouldn’t have oohed and aahed had Allie been clad in the shoulder pads that were fashionable at the time).

Therefore, let’s use The Notebook to deconstruct 1940s style.

The Dress\

For insta-forties beauty, snag yourself a tea dress or a shirt dress.


Tea dresses and shirt dresses are pretty, simple, everyday dresses that fall to the knee. Quick vintage fashion lesson: 1940s looks weren’t pouffy like 1950’s and early 1960’s dresses. Ask yourself: would Betty Draper wear this? If then answer is “yes” then it ISN’T forties. Remember that wartime was characterized by austerity and “making do,” so clothing wasn’t overly blingy.

1940s dresses usually have short sleeves and they may have buttons running up the front. Easy!

My friend Sarah found this red shirt dress at Value Village (a Canadian thrift shop) for a bargain. It looks totally ’40s but it’s modern.


If you find a dress (say, a sleeveless dress) that is almost there but not quite right, you can upgrade it by simply adding a little cardigan (I said a cardigan, not a hoodie! *wink*), like Allie does in this scene:



Should you have trouble finding a dress, don’t despair! Your next option is to pair a blouse and a skirt. You could go for some high-waisted trousers, but to be honest a) they don’t look universally smashing and b) you’ll sooner find a purse full of gold bars at the thrift store than a pair of proper 1940s pants.


Since I couldn’t find an example from The Notebook, here are a few authentic images to guide you. Note the peasant blouses on the left – they should be a breeze to source. On the far right, we have some peplum blouses. Note that the natural waistline is always defined in 1940s style, and that the blouses aren’t skin-tight.


Admittedly, I just wear flats because I find they complement just about everything and they don’t make me trip or hobble as though I desperately need medical attention.

1940s shoes

The key to 1940s footwear is a litany of “no’s.” NO pointy toes, NO stilettos, NO fluorescent colours. NO (do I really need to say this?) running shoes.


Wedges are also approved.


Hair is a vital component of 1940s style, and I daresay some effort with the mane can compensate for a weak performance below the neck.

The secret here is curl. Hot rollers are to the vintage girl as the DeLorean was to Marty McFly. They will transport you (or, your head at least), back in time.

If you don’t want to bother with hot rollers, here are a few additional hair tutorials I’ve found that you may find useful:



EASY ’40S UPDO (suitable for those who don’t want to bother curling):


It takes only two elements to give an immediate 1940s impression:

1. Red lipstick

2. Winged black eyeliner on top lids


If you want to take it further, watch this tutorial:

There you go! Now that you know how to dress 1940s style, you’re ready to go forth and have your own tear-jerking love story.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post on mens 1940s fashion!

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