You only have to take a look at this year’s A/W catwalks to realise that forties fashion is this season’s hottest revival. From pussy bow blouses and fedoras at Gucci to fur and pearls at Donna Karen and feminine florals at Miu Miu, elegance is everywhere. And with a new generation of young actresses embracing the femininity of a forties silhouette, the look has made a modern comeback.
From Scarlett Johansson’s side-swept Hollywood wave hairstyle to queen of the hourglass Dita Von Teese’s entire wardrobe, forties glamour is no longer confined to pin-up magazines. Madonna, Diane Kruger and even pre-pubescent model Elle Fanning are also indulging in sophisticated shapes, sporting longer hem-lines and whimsical forties-inspired dresses by designers including Marc by Marc Jacobs and Milan fashion house Vionnet.
This season the look is a key feature on the high street too, with Miss Selfridge and Warehouse mass-producing forties-inspired accessories like faux-fur collars and long leather gloves. Statement midi skirts take to the streets and prove that covering up can be sexy too, especially when coupled with a sheer blouse or heeled loafers.
Of course, the revival of forties fashion did not arrive suddenly, in fact the circumstances of WWII created trends that are now seen as wardrobe staples – everything from female suits, a-line skirts, shoulder pads and wedges. Katherine Hepburn shocked the nation when she constantly wore trousers and used her defiant femininity to create a new kind of sex appeal. Long, rolling curls have always been on the Hollywood red carpet ever since Veronica Lake tried out the hairstyle in the early forties. Christian Dior created his voluptuous New Look collection and changed the shape of fashion, delivering soft shoulders, tiny waists and billowing skirts to his ‘flower women’ as a way for them to accentuate their curves and try something new after years of war, brutality and hardship.
Paul McCracken, head of ladieswear at Rokit, a true vintage clothing brand, admires the fashion of the forties. “Women still managed to look glamorous in spite of everything happening in the wider world, things like wartime brides making wonderful wedding dresses out of recycled parachute silk, tea staining their legs and painting seams up the back to imitate hosiery!” Rokit sells both original forties treasures – mostly tailored pieces like jackets and dresses – and pieces which are inspired by the forties, like the Rokit Designer’s Guild occasional hats, handcrafted by Bee Smith using forties patterns and trimmings.
Paul says that; “Throwaway fashion seems to have had its day; I think many people see vintage as the antidote to mass production both ethically and aesthetically. By buying something second hand you are not contributing to environmental damage caused by the fashion industry and as an added bonus you know you won’t be seen in the same outfit as anyone else.”
The torch for ladylike forties glamour is being carried by a tribe of committed vintage fans. “The early 1940s was a creative period for women due to the era’s military issues and there was (and still is) a lot from the period to take inspiration from.” says Bella Stefani, the owner of retro-fashion site Rag and Magpie. “I love a 1940s style day dress. It’s easy to slip on and makes you instantly feel feminine and glamorous.”
“Men, women and children [from the forties] in retrospect appear much more glamorous in contrast to today’s tracksuit or jeans culture, living a vintage lifestyle or dabbling in it can be seen as escapism.”
To escape from today and achieve the forties revival trend invest in a flirty tea-dress like the vintage shapes designed by Fearne Cotton for Very, accessorise with a ladylike bag and Mary-Janes to truly embrace a classic look. For the less daring add a subtle touch of Hollywood glamour by pairing a faux-fur stole or pearls with last season’s coat for an automatic ‘40s revamp – you’ll scream Gucci.