Even if this blog is about the 1940’s you may have notice that I sometimes go outside the decade. Nothing exists in a vacuum and sometimes I feel the need to reach outside to give a little perspective. Something it’s much too easy to look at something and isolate it from the before and after, but I think it’s important to see the larger picture. The forties isn’t my sole interest either, even if it’s a big one. This post began as a tie in after my posts on the ideal body shape, found here and here , but if grow to include 50 years of body ideal. I hope you will find it interesting and not distracting.
Consider these two pictures, taken about 50 years apart and still, the figures of the both women are not that different. Granted, both Camille Clifford and Jayne Mansfield had exaggerated figures, even for their times, but even so they represent the ideal of the time. The Edwardians beauty is all curves, a youthful, but mature woman with ample, but rather low bosom, a narrow waist and wide hips. Miss Mansfield’s breasts are placed higher, but she is also very curvy. If you didn’t know more about the fashion changes of the 20th century, it would be easy enough to think that this body ideal went on interrupted for 50 years. I think we all know that this is not the case.
However, if we were to look at these three silhouettes, you may feel a bit confused. How on earth could the voluptuous Edwardian ideal metamorphose into the boyish figure of the twenties? And how did she turn back again? The truth is that the female shape didn’t change quite as rapidly as you may think.
During the teens the ideal shape took several steps towards a more boyish siloutte. First the hips narrowed even if the bosom remained large, it eventually shrunk too, leaving the figure much slimmer. And with a waist that steadfastly dropping well below the natural waistline, then, voila, the slim 1920’s figure has arrived. No more stately matron, but someone young and out to have fun. Charleston anyone?
The teens may have seen quite a few fashion changes, but it was a rather quite fashion nevertheless. The First World War demanded practical clothes, not flashy ones.
No wonder women were ready for some fun when it ended! Even if the skirts weren’t particularly short in the early twenties, the skirts grow shorter and shorter. Women’s legs above the ankles, and often not even that high, had never been seen before. It’s a bit hard for us to realize how extreme the twenties fashion must have felt for the older generations. Today this decade may look rather shapeless to our modern eyes, but I suspect that back then, people were so busy staring and these newly exposed body parts. And not just the legs, arms too. Totally sleeveless garments were new too as was the short hair. The twenties sure was a decade of new extremes- who has time for a curvy figure when you have legs and arms to look at?
A slim and rather straight figure remained popular in the 30’s, though the waist crept back to where it actually is. The overall feel of the ideal beauty isn’t as youngish as the twenties. The flapper has grown up, and the 30’s woman isn’t a little girl anymore. The skirts grow longer again and a new area of unexposed skin made its entrance- the back!
The thirties may have been quieter than the previous decade, but it had its moment of glorious extremes too.
There weren’t many extremes in the fashion between 1940-1947. Another big war made demands on clothes that could be worked in and the only thing that was allowed to be over the top were hats and shoulder pads.
The ideal figure became practical too. Still slim, but decidedly curvier than the 30's, the woman during WWII should be able to be useful. Skirts grow shorter again, but dresses aren’t low-cut anywhere, even evening wear is rather modest.
The 40’s figure is feminine, but she is not dainty. A woman who may know how to have fun, but she will be able to get up the next day and do her duty.
When Dior launched the New Look in 1947 it did some drastic fashion changes. The first two thirds of the forties fashion didn’t change much, but just after WW! There was a need for something new and fun. But this time new didn’t mean something never seen before, but rather a flashback. The femininity of the earlier 40’s suddenly gets super feminine with a narrow waist- welcome back the corset, padded hips and long and very full skirts. The masculine shoulder pads disappear and the ideal is suddenly much more useful if you don’t have to do any hard work. A reaction, yes, to the utility of the war years, but also a logical conclusion of a fashion trend that has slowly turned from the boyish twenties back to a more full-figured ideal.
Everyone didn't look like Jayne Mansfield, but the 50's fashion still stressed a figure that even on a slim small-breasted person like Grace Kelly, still looked rather curvy.
This is, of course, a rather basic overview. There are a lot of factors behind a change and I haven’t even tried to cover them all. I do hope that it has put the 40’s a little bit into perspective with was before and what came after. And I haven’t said everything I wanted to say either- there were quite a bit about girdles that just didn’t make it to this post. Oh well, can’t be helped, I will just have to write a new post.
You may have noticed that very often a subject seem to grip several people at the same time. Therefore I urge you to read American Duchess on The vintage figure vs today.
Wearing History on What real people wore
And, if you read Swedish, Dahling It’s Vintagy on the twenties ideal. (If you don’t read Swedish, the pictures are still worth a peek.)
All silouttes from: http://www.fashion-era.com/index.htm