Blouse styles have not changed dramatically in the past few decades, but every era has a little something that makes its blouses different. 1940s blouses are easily identified from their tailored collars, button up fronts, and puff sleeves.
Blouses were always worn tucked into skirts or pants with a bit of blousing left out to keep them comfortable to move in. Inspired by the menswear fit, the 1940s blouse took on a different shape than the feminine 1930s which favored large bows, ruffles and flounces. In the summer, short crop tops and knit t-shirts were the sporty and trendy tops to wear.
1940s Blouse Fashion
WW2 and the restrictions of L-85 made sure blouses, while pretty, were not too frilly or impractical to wear on and off the job.
- There could only be one pocket.
- If tucks or pleats were used, a ruffle could not be, or vice versa.
- There could only be one ruffle per sleeve.
- There could only be two bows per shirt.
- Cuffs couldn’t be more than three inches wide.
These limits made early 1940s blouses simple and minimally decorated. The inspiration came from men’s dress shirts, which were tailored to a boxy or square body with equally angular point collars.
The one item that made them more feminine was the gathering on the top of the shoulder sleeves, which created a “puff” effect. This gave blouses a masculine broad shoulder with a softer ladylike touch. Many blouses also came with shoulder pads to increase the width and square off the shoulder line. The sleeve puff was one element to decrease significantly in the 1950s, making it a fashion icon of the 1940s.
After the war years when restrictions lifted, women’s fashion turned more delicate again with the addition of lace insets, ruffles, pintucks, tonal embroidery, pleats and gatherings. They looked more like Victorian era blouses than those of the prior few decades.
Blouses were made using rayon for a silkier look and cotton for casual and work wear. Blouses were fairly short, between 20 and 25 inches long. Sleeves were either long and full, coming to a tight wrist-cuff, or short-sleeved, hitting above the elbow. Sleeves were gathered at the shoulder, and the cuff on long-sleeved versions created a roomy tube of ample arm ease.
Blouse colors were usually a plain white, cream, pastel, blue, red or black. Large plaids, checks, polka dots, and vertical stripes were also common. Blue and white or red and white stripes made women appear faithfully patriotic. The western trend had an effect on blouses worn for riding or Hollywood ranch life. They favored gingham checks or solid cottons with a western design on the front, just like the men’s western shirts.
Blouse collars came in the same styles as dress collars: pointed, like men’s dress shirt collars, or round Peter Pan collars of various sizes. Some had no collars, and instead were trimmed in a small ruffled edge. Many button up blouses also had lapels leading up to the open collar while others buttoned all the way to a closed collar. Shirt buttons could either be covered to match the shirt material or were contrasting white.
1940s Knit Tops and T Shirts
Nearly all blouses were button-up. The exception was the knit top and t-shirt. Knit tops, which were often called sweaters despite not being worn over a blouse, could be buttoned up and usually came in pullover styles. They had puff sleeves, with high round collars and slim fitting silhouettes. They were usually a winter item that was worn layered with full sweaters and jackets. They came in bright colors such as red, blue, and yellow to ward off the winter doldrums.
Get free 1940s sweater (jumper) knitting patterns here.
The summer knit top was the classic T-shirt or polo shirt. Much like T-shirts today, it was short sleeved with a high rib knit neckline, sleeves, and a wide ribbed knit waistband too. It was normally worn tucked in, hiding the waistband entirely. Similar modern shirts are called ringer tees.
The polo shirt did not have a ribbed waistband and was worn untucked. Wide horizontal stripes were the big fashion trend of T-shirts. Otherwise, solid colors were the most practical for a versatile summer wardrobe.
Summer Sport Tops
What did teens, pinups, and young beach-loving women wear in the summer? Crop tops! The crop top or bolero top came down only to the lower rib cage, exposing about 2 inches of midriff! They were worn with pedal pushers, shorts and playsuits.
Midriff tops, as they were usually called, looked like mini peasant tops, cap sleeve blouses, and button up cotton shirts. The styles were endless — as long as they showed off some skin!
1940s Peasant Blouses
One trend that surfaced in the ’40s was the peasant-style blouse, thanks to popular Latin Hollywood film star Carmen Miranda. It was made of white cotton and had short, puffed sleeves that gathered at the arm. It was also loose-fitting, with a scooped or square neckline, sometimes decorated with an eyelet at the neckline and sleeves. Bits of ribbon were woven through the eyelets on the tops and tied in bows at the neck and on each sleeve. The peasant blouse was worn with a gathered ‘dirndl skirt’ made of colorful floral patterned or striped cotton, sitting at the waistline and flowing to a wide hem.
1940s Style Blouses Today
I have a few vintage 1940s blouses that I love to wear when I feel like dressing 100% vintage.
Otherwise, I like to wear vintage inspired ’40s blouses and shirts on a day to day basis. Here are some good choices from the 1940s style blouse shop: