Updated: Mar 10
Regarded as the last decade of elegance, 1940’s men’s fashion is an important chapter in the making of the modern-day gentleman.
The 1940s was an eventful decade and a critical time in history. For the first half of the decade, men’s fashion was based on practicality to best serve the war effort. However, when it ended in 1945, a strict era of rationing was replaced with an extravagant and stylish one.
1940’s men’s fashion paved the way for the modern-day gentlemanly style and is widely heralded as the last decade of true sophistication.
In this blog, we go on a journey to uncover the inspiration behind some of the best styles in 1940’s men’s fashion.
Wartime 1940’s men’s fashion
Just as the Great Depression ended, Britain faced another war. Sadly, fashion for men was dictated by economics, with practicality surpassing the need for making style statements. All clothing needed to be reliable and cheap.
Anyone seen wearing flashy attire was regarded as unpatriotic, with natural fibres being used for military clothing instead of everyday wear.
Gentlemen’s suits no longer had pocket flaps, vest or trouser cuffs. However, those who weren’t out fighting the war often chose to wear muted, simple clothing to try and blend in.
Prior to the war, France and Italy ruled the fashion world. But as expected, when the war broke out in 1939, all ties were cut off with the latter as they were deemed the enemy. As a result, this paved the way for the American fashion scene.
One of the most notable additions was the zoot suit. Influenced by the African American musical sub-culture, this suit was very popular among young Italian and Mexican men.
The high-waisted, wide-legged trousers that pegged in at the bottom and wide lapels on the long coat required a lot of fabric to make. Subsequently, it was regarded as an unpatriotic look and was often only worn by the gangsters of the day. Nevertheless, the zoot suit was renowned for its comfort and was a popular choice for young men who liked to dance the jitterbug in nightclubs.
1940’s men’s fashion accessories
Accessories remain the pinnacle of any dapper gentleman today. However, in the 1940s, the emphasis changed drastically throughout the decade.
During the war, gentlemen opted for suspenders to help elevate an outfit as belt leather became unavailable. Although ties were still worn throughout the decade, they were made narrower and in dull colours, before being widened again and made in a rainbow of colours following the end of the war. Silk ties became all the rage and were made in prints ranging from geometric patterns to the iconic pin-up girls. They were an expression of individuality.
As for shoes, changes were minimal. The classic wingtips from the 1920s remained a staple in any gentleman’s wardrobe, as well as cap toe shoes with two-tone laces and Oxfords.
Another essential 1940’s men’s fashion accessory, especially after the war, were trilby hats, homburg hats and pork pie hats.
Post wartime 1940’s men’s fashion
When the war ended in 1945, rationing became a thing of the past and the swing era began. Clothes were a celebration of the time and symbolised freedom. Suits were made full-cut again, with longer, double-breasted jackets and wider trousers.
While esquire jackets featuring a loose fit and broad shoulders, which remain a popular choice to this day, were a common choice among elegant gentlemen in post-wartime Britain.
It was the time when men started to think beyond a white shirt/suit combination too. Suddenly, colourful shirts were being worn with popular suit colours to add a new dimension to a look.
The late 1940s saw the introduction of the casual shirt as well, with men looking to loosen up and dress down from time to time. The ever-popular Hawaiian shirt emerged from California beaches and inspired many floral and jazzy prints we see in shops today.
The 1940s was a time of social change and a pivotal moment in time where men’s fashion became more versatile, colourful and expressive.
American sportswear design was favoured over stuffy European tastes and a gentleman’s suit was an opportunity to be creative and push the envelope.
It’s a decade that the Percy Stride brand encompasses and one every modern gentleman should thank for inspiring men’s fashion today.