In the early to mid-1940s, fashion was hampered by fabric rationing, brought about by World War II. Inventiveness was necessary, and the clothing of the decade showed it.
Wide shoulders, with padding, were all the rage, as were high-waisted shirts. Skirts came down to just below the knee, as in the previous decade. This created a sort of hourglass figure without the use of corsets.
In the 1930s, hemlines were lower. In the 1940s, they had to be brought higher, due to the aforementioned fabric rationing. Necklines varied widely, but they had one thing in common: they must not show any cleavage. Evening dresses showed a slight hint of cleavage, but this was the only exception to the rule. The fabric used was often rayon. Cotton was also popular.
During the fabric shortage, two-piece suits were commonly worn. These were known as “utility” or “victory” suits. Since gathers and pleats were a waste of fabric, the skirts that formed a part of these suits followed an A-line. The second item, long-sleeved blouses, often sported wide wrist cuffs. They buttoned down the front and had round or “v” necks. The suit jacket was usually, but not always, made of the same material as that used in the skirt. They followed the standard pattern: wide and padded shoulders, high neckline, and nipped waist. The jacket tended to come down to the hip. Sometimes, the suit used a bolero jacket, with a shorter waistline.
With the onset of World War II, many women went to work in factories. Skirts and dresses were highly impractical to wear when working with machinery, so pants became worn far more widely than ever before. These pants fastened down the side (with zippers or buttons) rather than down the front, and the cuffs were wide. They were generally made from natural fabrics, including wool and cotton. These work pants gradually became something that was worn around the house, as well as on the job.
In the 1940s, swimsuits became two-piece outfits, showing the midriff for the first time. They had shoulder straps, rather than sleeves. Halter tops were also common. In 1946, the now-classic bikini was invented, but it took a while to catch on, given the amount of skin it exposed. Women’s dresses were also often two-piece affairs, showing the abdomen without revealing the navel. Gloves had a plain design, and neutral colors were the most popular.