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Jul 6, 2011

Hurray for Hollywood!

Friends, we're off on another journey today!

I'm the biggest old movie fan ever -- as if you didn't already know -- and one of my treasures is a small collection of vintage movie magazines in fantastic condition which I bought many years ago, for something like $1 each, on the street from some guy who must have found them in a dumpster and just wanted to move them fast.  (Longest MPB sentence ever.)

I don't look at them often these days, but I thought now might be a good time to take another peek and share one with you.

So let's go back to September 1940.  War was in the air, though the United States hadn't been drawn directly into the conflict yet.  But these were anxious times both politically and economically.  For most Americans, the Depression lingered.

This was Hollywood's Golden Era, as audiences -- largely but not exclusively women -- sought escapist entertainment, and Hollywood delivered.  This was also the heyday of the movie magazine.  There's nothing tacky about this 1940 Photoplay; it's more like Vogue than The National Enquirer.  While most of the content is focused on films and film stars, the advertising (aside from film ads) is primarily for fashion and grooming products.

Nail polish was big...

As was fur.

New stretch synthetics were coming on the market and changing the look of underwear!

There's less advertising than in magazines of the Fifties and Sixties, but there was also less to buy -- and less to buy it with. 

Tailored suits were popular, for both the young and the not-so-young.

The youthful ideal was to dress like Deanna Durbin, Bonita Granville, or starlet Linda Darnell.   Can you believe these modest fashions were for teenagers (though the term had yet to enter the vernacular)?!

Needless to say, nobody ever flashed anything, ever.  Or if they did, we didn't hear about it.  As for tattoos and piercings...fuggitaboutit.  Pleats and tucks, however, were everywhere.


As you can see, fashion in 1940 was largely about looking elegant and "well-bred."  Styles were dictated by major fashion houses who took their inspiration from Paris.  Even for the young, the ideal was a mature look: glamorous but grounded in reality (as opposed to the mid-century "Populuxe" perfect housewife fantasy).  

Here's dancer Eleanor Powell...

skater Sonja Henie...

actress Myrna Loy (very much the ideal wife type).

Evening wear was more glamorous, of course.  Here's Loretta Young...

and luscious Hedy Lamarr, who was at her peak at this time.

This was also the peak era of Ginger Rogers (who won her Oscar in 1940).   Ginger personified the ideal woman of the period: an earthy but glamorous girl next door.  Ginger was accessible and all-American -- and brunette: her brassier blonde days were over (for now).

There's definitely an air of sobriety in 1940, with much more to come in the next few years. 

I love the designs of this period and the tailored details of the clothes.  Fit in the bodice is largely carried out through soft gathers and yokes.

Women's fashions of the period don't fetishize tiny waists, curvy hips, or prominent bosoms.  The strong V-shape, with its exaggerated shoulders, starts showing up, though the late-Thirties, milkmaid-style puffy sleeve is still popular.


Friends, what do you think?  Are these not the most elegant women's fashions of the last century?

You can see more photos of my 1940 Photoplay here.

Thanks for traveling with me and have a great day, everybody!


  1. Great mags, and love the fasions too.

    I saw on youtube once a series of how to take care of your skin, what to wear, the best clothing that suits your body type, how to choose fabric when making a dress etc.

    It was all from the 1940's, and it was hosted by a lady.

    She even showed you how to apply powder properly and don't forget that lovely red lipstick.

    Some of the comments were very interesting. I believe there was also a video about how to sew a dress to fit you properly. The young lady making the dress made it to fit her exactly, it was gorgeous and in red. Lovely drape. Comments were "I want that dress".

    As usual Peter, very interesting.


  2. Hi Peter!
    Great post. Your blog has a 'cheer-me-up' effect on me - especially these days. It's always interesting and fun to read.
    I was wondering - was corsets part of the everyday outfit? I remember my grandmother used to wear one right up till the time she got so sick that she went to a nursing facility and couldn't speak or move anymore. During my time in nursing school I used to work as a temp. in home-nursing and often met elderly women that wore corsets and where my task was to help the put it on/take it off. Why aren't there corsety adds in that magazines, when there are adds for giddles and other shapewear? Or were there adds for corsets in the magazines (the ones you have)? I have see quite a few Danish 1940'ish-50'ish magazines and I haven't really seen any.
    :D Ann

  3. Great question, Ann. My belief -- and please correct me, anybody, if I'm wrong -- is that once elastic girdles became popular, true corsets (the type you'd tie) went out of fashion.

    The point of shapewear -- still -- is to hold you in and approximate a youthful silhouette, and I think in the 40's any adult woman would wear something of that sort, like in the ads shown here.

  4. You might be right - I don't know but it seems reasonable.
    I've just thought about it a lot as I've seen so many women that were young during the war and just after the war that used corsets up untill the day the die(d).
    Perhaps I should look into it - and see what I can find on corsety in Denmark....

  5. Great post - lots of eye candy!

    Alas, I do better with fashion eras that DO fetishize tiny waists, curvy hips, or prominent bosoms. So, all I can do with these is admire from afar.

  6. This is the same era that even put suits on toddlers. I don't know about you, but putting a suit on my three-year-old isn't something I'd want to do, knowing how fast she can ruin clothes...

  7. Lorenakitty (aka: friggin' tired of blogger's cookie issue...)

    I adore your posts of period fashion! What so often happens is that get to look again with fresh eyes and see details and become aware of cultural ideals that got overlooked before.

    After a lifetime of de-emphasising my shoulders, the hyper V of the forties is far from my current fashion goal and yet I thrill with the thought that the ladies of the forties were relishing the visual power the V shape implied. They were slowly entering the man's world and their appearance indicated they were serious and should be taken seriously.

    When I watch films of this time (don't have the historical knowledge of you Peter!) the lead roles played by actresses are often intelligent, strong and witty. These women get around by being complex individuals on their way to being and doing - they are not some over-sexualized, juvenile nit-wit with bolt-on boobs.

    I prefer the hourglass for myself, it's my natural shape, but these forties silhouettes are such a breath of fresh air.

  8. Fun post, Peter!

    And PS - I hope you don't neglect your active-lather facial today...

  9. The 40's have to be my all time favorite decade for fashion. Nothing extreme, comfortable yet flattering glamour. I'd love to see it all come back again.
    Thanks for those gorgeous pictures!
    Really brightened up a rainy day on vacation.

  10. This is fascinating and fabulous commentary by yourself! I hope you have the time to share some of your others with us too! Many thanks!!!

  11. I actually have the perfect body (and look) for 40s fashion. I've always liked the thirties and forties, but the patterns have been out of my price range. As my skill improves, I'm tempted to pick up some of the easy shirtwaist dresses and try to make one. They were oh so practical yet pretty. I remember as a child coveting Aileen Quinn's fashion in the movie version of "Annie." Even the orphanage dresses!

  12. I Love the tailored suits of this period. Many years ago, I wanted a tailored suit, but couldn't afford one on my part-time, grocery store salary ( I was 17 ). So, I decided to make hard could it be?

    Well, it was harder than I thought, so I went out and bought a sewing how-to book and the rest, as they say, is history.

    That is how/why I learned how to sew. And I still LOVE the look of a tailored suit just like the ones in this post. OH, and that first fur coat is fantastic!

  13. This is blogging at its best- you do all the thinking, composing and writing. I do all the reading and enjoying.

    Yes, this totally resonates with me. Glamorous, but down to earth.

  14. Still more proof that my past life was in th 50s (and maybe 40s too, I guess): When I was 18 or so, my brother asked me when I was going to stop dressing like a 42-year-old. I've always loved the structured suit-style fashions and patterns of that era.
    But there's a new word for me: what in heaven's name is a "Girdleier?" Cross between a girdle and a brassiere?

  15. I loved the 40's fashions when I was in my 30's in the 70's! Used to buy them in the thrift store for practically nothing. Then the more boutique thrift stores caught on and the prices went sky high. Oh well, can't wear those tiny waists anymore anyway. Loved the magazine tour.

  16. Thanks for another great post and a fun journey to the 1940s!

    I love the more structured look of that era. It's more difficult to sew, but looks so much nicer than the quick sew/jiffy sew/extra simple/one-pattern-piece-makes-the-entire dress, loosey-goosey, make-it-work-somehow-by adding-a-belt look. That look always makes me look like I'm wearing a potato sack - 'cause it is a potato sack.

    I'm in love with the crisp look of Eleanor Powell's dress.

  17. ~ * ♥ * ~

    I adore 1940s fashion, it's my favorite era because to me it is the epitome of glamor and elegance. Thanks so much for sharing these beautiful images Peter! :D

    bonita of Depict This!
    ~ * ♥ * ~

  18. Wow, so much sewing inspiration here, Peter. Thank you so much for all the pictures and thoughts.



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