1940s Shirtwaist Dress History

1940s shirtwaist dresses

1940’s Shirtwaist Dresses

Homemade 1940s shirtwaist dress at VintageDancer.com

Handmade 1940s shirtwaist dress

Thumbing through my 1940s catalogs and 1940s vintage dresses on Pinterest  it is clear that the most popular style of day dress was the shirtwaist dress or just shirt dress. Why? Because they look good on every body type and because of this the style has remained popular ever since the 1940’s. It is the classic dress of the 1940’s, 1950’s, 1960’s, maybe not the 70’s but back again in the 1980’s and still common today.

1940s shirtwaist dresses

1944 Polka Dot Shirtwaists House Dresses

The shirtwaist dress got its name from how it combined a blouse top and a skirt bottom into one dress. Blouses, called shirtwaists for most of the early 20th century, were buttoned up the front for a style that was easy to put on. They used to button at the back but that required help from a servant or willing husband, a luxury fewer had after WW1.  Attaching the shirt top and skirt also made dresses easier to slip on and button up. No fuss dressing was the way of the 1940’s.

1940s shirt dresses

Full Button Shirt Dresses with Peter Pan Collar and Pointed Collar

Another style of 1940s shirt dress extended the buttons all the way down the skirt. A bit more tedious to button up they were even more popular as 1940s day dresses. The big buttons up the front of the dress made it look casual and fitting for both house work, running errands, and in some rare cases dinner dresses. For a slightly less casual look buttons were run up off center, to one side. They appeared more decorative than practical but they were both!

1940s day dresses shirtwaists

1944 Shirtwaist Dresses with Contrasting White Buttons.

The half shirtdress tops had 4 to 6 large matching buttons and a small pointed shirt-collar. A small, rounded peter pan collar was occasionally used for this style as well. The collar led to a small V neck opening with narrow lapels before reaching the top button. This was a very classic dress top style for most of the 1940’s especially on day dress.

1940s day dresses

1947 Floral and Blue Pleated Skirt Shirtwaist Dresses

The shirtwaist skirt for either half or full button up styles was always an A line cut. Flared just enough to be loose over the hips and wide enough for easy walking. It was also light on fabric quantity which met the rationing restrictions during the war years. As rationing lifted more gathers were added to skirts for even more fullness. Long knife pleats were also in style and added to the straight military inspired look of the 40s. The long pleating also slimmed down the A-line skirt into a rectangle tube which was a trendy shape going into the late 40’s.

Shopping for a 1940s Shirtwaist Dress

1940s shirt dress or shirtwaist dress costume idea at VintageDancer.com

1940s Day Costume with a Shirtwaist Dress.

Luckily since shirtwaist dresses have never gone out of style they are still easy to find today. For vintage I like to shop etsy.com or ebay.com. Vintage 1940s dresses were made of Rayon or cotton most of the time which are both great fabrics to wear.

If you want to be authentic to the era avoid 80’s does 40’s shirtwaist dresses. They look similar but are made of polyester or some other hot horrible man made material (can you tell I despise polyester!) However because the style is very 40s and they are still very affordable they do make good costumes. I do own a few that a wear in the cooler seasons.

1940s costume afternoon dress at vintagedancer.com

1980s does 1940s Shirtwaist Dress

Shop new 1940s Shirt dresses:

More 1940s style day dress here. 

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Debbie & Oscar have turned their hobby into a career by teaching others how to re-create vintage style with affordable new vintage inspired clothing and accessories. We connect shoppers to the best vintage inspired clothing, shoes and accessories and teach fashion history as it was worn by everyday people. Need help? Contact us anytime.

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