In the 1940’s lingerie became more diverse and representative of a larger range of body types than in previous decades. It was also designed for women who wanted to maintain their standards of beauty despite limited spending power during an economically challenging period—this legacy remains evident today.
The 1940s were an interesting time for modern fashion, with both practicality and beauty as top priorities. While New Look dresses were sweeping the runways, they also acted as a reaction to the corseted silhouettes that came before them—allowing women to be free from constriction and feel comfortable in their clothing was a key part of the message.
It’s no secret that the 1940s were a difficult time in America—the Great Depression was still fresh in people’s minds, World War II was getting underway, and the country was struggling to maintain its economy. With so many real-world problems to worry about, it’s easy to see how the concerns of women who were simply looking for something pretty to wear in the privacy of their own bedrooms would go unnoticed.
These ideals can be seen in the evolution of lingerie in this decade, which was aimed at making underwear wearable under even the most rigid dresses. Lingerie became more diverse, featuring brassiere styles for any body type or size, including strapless and convertible bras that could easily be converted into camisoles or halters. These garments were worn underneath clothing by women from all walks of life, from teenagers just starting out to older women still leading active lives and needing support—women with large breasts could finally find designs that met their comfort needs without sacrificing aesthetics.
How The World War II Affected 1940’s Lingerie
When you think of the 1940s, you might picture Rosie the Riveter, the homefront hero who took over many jobs in factories and shipyards. The women who worked during World War II didn’t spend nearly as much time wearing undergarments as women did in previous decades. Instead, they enjoyed a new level of independence and freedom of expression. They also didn’t have to spend a lot of money on their clothing; wartime rationing limited what they could buy, but it was still possible to look fashionable.
1940’s lingerie was characterized by natural fibers and lots of softness, with very little lace or embroidery. It was an understated type of lingerie, a far cry from the corsets and girdles that were popular at the beginning of the century. Underthings were sold at department stores like Neiman Marcus; unlike today, where most women shop for intimate apparel in specialized boutiques, back then any woman shopping for her underwear could be seen by anyone else in the store.
In addition to being practical for women working around machinery, this underwear was simply more comfortable than what had come before. Corsets had become popular again after World War I, but most corseted women found them to be uncomfortable and difficult to remove when nature called or they needed to bend over and perform other tasks. As a result, most women would take off their corsets when they weren’t at work and wear a brassiere which doubled as support and underwear.
1940’s Lingerie Styles
As brassieres became more common and women started wearing them outside of the house, so did other sorts of lingerie. Women could now buy bras in different colors and fabrics, with different levels of coverage and styles depending on their taste in fashion trends at the time. This new freedom to choose meant that many more women were wearing bras instead of corsets. By the end of the decade, this trend had taken off, with nearly all women preferring lingerie that supported their breasts but left their bodies free from constriction.
The bra got its name in the 1940’s lingerie, when it was shortened from brassiere. Bras at that time were simple without lace or decoration and made mostly with rayon satin (as a result of WWII silk shortages). They came in white, ivory, and peachy pink—the most popular colours for bras during this period.
During the 1940’s lingerie trends, bras were more about function than fashion; they had to lift and separate so that women’s breasts could fit into the restrictive clothing styles of the time. The full-cup bra was developed at this time because it was the only one that could do this effectively. It helped women create the illusion of having a smaller waist by raising their breasts up, while also creating separation between their breasts so they could fit into pointed blouses and V-neck sweaters without revealing their nipples.
1940’s lingerie saw a dramatic change in bra design in the late 40’s—women wanted something lighter, softer, and more comfortable than what they had been wearing before. Lingerie manufacturers responded by producing new bras that were decorated with lace, embroidery, and even trims like ribbon bows. These new fashions were impractical for the workplace but very popular for going out to dinner on dates or attending cocktail parties.
Girdles were still the most common piece in the 1940’s lingerie, but they changed a bit to fit the styles that were popular at the time. In place of multiple straps and garters, girdles began to use one strap and a small suspender pad. The pads were often secured to the stocking with elastic, which made them easier to wear with high-heeled shoes. Girdles also began to leave space for a crinoline petticoat, which was used as an alternative to shaping underskirts.
With so many styles available, it is easy to see why girdles were still so popular. They made women look and feel more feminine while still being able to wear whatever they wanted.
In the 1940’s, women were expected to have a certain figure and shape. The ideal body size was considered to be 36″-24″-36″, which was an hourglass shape. Panty styles reflected this ideal body shape. In the 1940’s, women wore panties that emphasized their rear ends and hips because these areas were considered to be the most attractive.
Women during this time also wore garter belts with suspenders to hold up their stockings. This is when the garter belt became popular.
Nylon was invented in the late 1930s, and by 1940 many brassiere and girdle manufacturers had begun using it. Nylon stockings had been introduced in 1938, so it wasn’t long before women were clamoring to wear nylon underwear. The material was more durable than silk or rayon, less prone to runs, and also less expensive. Even though there were a lot of initial problems with panties made of the new material (they tended to shrink) the improvements made it very popular among consumers.
We hope that you’ve enjoyed this look back at 1940’s lingerie trends. The 1940s was a bit of a transitional period as women were becoming more independent and working outside the home in greater numbers; and it certainly shows in all aspects of fashion worn by women at that time! Let’s not forget that this time saw the end of World War II, and the beginning of a time after which many American women would enter the workforce in greater numbers than they had ever done before. This era was an exciting and formative one in American history, and we’re glad to share it with you!