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Influence of the 1940's on Modern Menswear

Posted by Rishi Chullani on

Ryan MacMorris

Men’s Fashion is a constantly changing beast, but what does not change is that classic style is drawn upon to make new trends blend with the old. The best way then to achieve a classic formal menswear style is to look at where it has come from, in this piece we will look at the influence of the 1940s on modern menswear and you can learn a bit about how to work these styles into your look. The 1940s style has been popular in recent years as a classic menswear style that is still rather close to the mainstream of today’s fashion trends. The influences of such an important decade for men’s fashion can still be seen in the popular suits we see worn everyday. So whether you are hoping to find a new personal style or just look more like a few of the gangsters in your favorite period films, let’s take a look at the influence of the 1940s on modern menswear.

The War

One of the major influences on one of the most stylish periods in suit history was in fact not directly fashion related at all. The war placed stresses on the major economies of the world and things like fabric became a luxury that many were unable to afford, for this reason fashion before and after the war departed from fashion during the war a great deal. Many of the fashions we associate with the 40s era were in fact those of the war period. Rationing and shortages of many goods led to the slender no fuss suits that the men of the day would wear.

Single and Double Breasted Suits without Vests became a hallmark of 1940's Suits, as war time rationing resulted in excess layers being thrown out, and did not resume post World War Two.

This meant that waistcoats or vests were right out, and that unnecessary embellishments, like pocket flaps and the double breasted jackets were luxuries that few could get a hold of. Wide ties, pleats, and folded hems on trousers were in fashion up until the start of rationing in many countries but were then limited from growing in popularity during the war. The war-time rations also meant that many would wear older suits and ties in a show of solidarity. Anything that would save fabric was done during the war which meant that legs on suit trousers were much like the slim legs we see today and ties were a more traditional width.

Post War Fashion

With all of the limitations of war-time life when soldiers and your everyday citizen were allowed to buy what they wanted when they wanted again there was a definite backlash. Pant legs became wider and double breasted jackets were as popular as ever. Ties resumed their wide width and, with bow-ties having been out of fashion, had a new style to them altogether. No longer was the tie a monochrome article to match the rest of the outfit, like had been the trend in previous decades, the choice of tie was now dictated by the personality of the wearer. Ties became emblazoned with symbols of the wearer’s hobbies, clubs they belonged to, etc. making the tie more personal and individual to the wearer.

Ties however were not the only thing that got an overhaul, with the restrictions on the usage of fabric lessened suits were less traditionally fitted and became slightly boxier towards the end of the decade. The Zoot-suit, which started as the uniform of the gangsters during the war in the 40’s, was a popular style of suit with a long jacket, wide shoulders and a generally oversized look altogether that became popular as others were able to emulate it.

Zoot Suits characterized rebellion against fabric rationing during the 1940's and were popular amongst gangsta's and underground clubs, often used by people who were into swing dancing and jazz music!

Themes and What to Wear

Despite the period of change that the 1940s were for fashion and the world, there was still a definite style of the era that still looks good today. The influence of the 1940s on modern menswear can still be seen today, and with the right sort of fashionable discernment can make for a modern classic style. The large and wide fits of the early 40s were extremely popular in the 90s and late 00s and more recently the slimmer fitting style of the 40s during the war has taken over the mainstream. The best nods to take from fit in the 40s would be to stay away from embellishment but don’t be afraid of the double breasted jacket or wider straight legged trousers.

The double breasted jacket was the height of fashion during the 40s and has since seen fluctuations but will easily give off a modern vintage aesthetic. Forgo the waistcoat, as was the trend of the time, and make sure the double breasted jacket fits well and even on the tight side if need be. The suit pants of the day were hemmed and pulled up higher than today’s pants and fitted with a wider waistband to keep shorter dress shirts tucked in. Suspenders had become old fashioned and the success of the belt has continued ever since.

Wide suits with padded shoulders tapered around the waist, with pocket squares, were increasingly used during the 1940's.

The tie was also tied to hang higher than is popular today and so any tie should work if it is the right length for your body. Because of the placement of the tie knot the tie will appear wider, as was the fashion, and will be much more visible behind the double breasted jacket front. The selection of tie allows for a great deal of choices as many different tie styles were popular at the time. A tie style that suits the wearer and could even be used as a conversation starter would be a truly 1940s choice. With ties becoming increasingly more stylish pocket squares saw the same change as they became entrenched as a show piece instead of a utility.

Higher hanging neckties and wider pant bottoms were extremely popular during the 1940's!

Hats may not be a mandatory accessory in today’s age, but to pull of a classic style the hat is a necessity. Styles like the Homborg and Porkpie hats were exceedingly popular during the time period and have even been making a comeback in recent years.

Many of the world’s style icons come from the 40s, and even many of the style icons of today often nod to one of our most stylish decades. Pulling off the 40s look is a great way to tread the line between classic and chic because of the great influence of the 1940s on modern menswear.


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