Learning about men’s 1940s fashion history is a big help in creating vintage looks for a swing dance or WWII history event, yet questions still come up about how to put an entire look together. The hardest part about finding 1940s men’s clothing besides vintage clothing being to small is finding wide cut suits and pants in today’s world of “slim fit” and “skinny” everything.
Online, the choices are few and far between but with a little creativity you can get an approximate 40s look using modern, vintage inspired clothing ($100-200) or a more accurate look with 1940s reproduction clothing ($200-500). Here are some outfit ideas.
1940s Men’s Outfit – Classy Suits
Day to day, most working middle class men wore suits to their jobs. For most of the 1940s, this meant wearing single or double breasted suits with heavily padded shoulders, wide notch or peak lapels, and a nipped in waist. Matching trousers were also quite wide and high-waisted and they were held up with a belt or suspenders. A plain white or blue dress shirt was the most versatile option for all suit colors. The final details were in the shoes (solid or two tone Oxfords) and choice of hat (fedora, homburg, or porkpie).
- Hat: Grey Fedora Hat
- Shirt: Dress Shirt Solid White
- Tie: Light Brown Striped Neck Tie
- Suit: Black Pinstripe Double Breasted (Medium to dark grey would be more accurate than black)
- Shoes: Lizard print dress shoe
1940s Semi – Casual Men’s Outfits
The next look exchanges the formal business suit for a slightly more casual sport coat. Sport coats and trousers were often paired together in the same color family with contrasting prints. In the example below, a blue plaid sport coat was worn with plain blue trousers. Otherwise, check, herringbone, windowpane or pinstripe trousers were mixed with solid sport coats. Shades of brown and shades of blue were the most common semi-casual looks.
Accessories were more relaxed as well. A fedora hat could still be worn but wasn’t necessary. Contrasting brown leather belts and two tone brown and white or black and white shoes added to the semi casual style. A white dress shirt made the perfect backdrop for a bold splash of color with a striped necktie. However, a white pocket square was still worn in the breast pocket. The time for matching tie and pocket square was not ready to reappear in fashion just yet.
- Sport Coat: Blue Blazers
- Shirt: Dress Shirt Solid White or light blue
- Tie: Striped tie in blac/red
- Belt: See all Belts
- Pants: Men’s wide leg or classic fit trousers
- Shoes: Black/White shoes
1940s Men’s Casual Clothing
Taking casual to the next level means forgoing a suit or sport coat altogether. The dress shirt also disappears, and in its place is an open collar sport shirt in a solid color or big pattern. Sport shirts often had two large patch chest pockets, although a single pocket was possible. These types of shirts are not very common in our modern wardrobes. The closest match is usually a camp shirt or lounge shirt seen in summer fashion. Open collar shirts sold with matching dress pants called a “casual walking suit” is another option.
The shirts are wide fitting with large collars — perfect for a 1940s look. The matching wide leg pants are great to have as well, although most casual men’s 1940s looks did not come in matching sets. Save the pants for another outfit and instead pick up a second pair of high-waist wide leg pleated trousers in the same color family as the shirt.
Accessorize the casual look with a brown leather belt. Textured belts in alternative leather like ostrich, alligator, or embossed scrap leather were necessary during the war years when good cowhide was rare. They were cheaper back then, but quite expensive today.
A note about suspenders. Some men continued to wear button on striped elastic suspenders in the early 1940s, but overall they were out of fashion. Belts were in style and more comfortable to wear. The choice is yours.
Finally, brown and white two tone shoes return for this casual look. Solid brown Oxfords could also be worn. Black looked best as a formal and semi-formal shoe option, while brown was best for casual styles.
- Shirts: Solid or striped camp collar shirts (ideally with two chest pockets). Long sleeve Pendleton Board shirts.
- Belt: Narrow belt. Leather pebble grain/reptile skin or plain.
- Pants: Brown Wide Leg Dress Pants
- Shoes: Brown and white / Black and white wingtip shoes
Casual Knit Shirts
Instead of a button down shirt, young men would often choose a knitted pullover shirt with a coordinating “ringer” neckband. These shirts were often striped horizontally. In the later 40s the all over knitted design of tropical life, airplanes, western themes, and funky geometric prints were popular.
Unlike modern T-shirts, vintage knitted shirts were thick and heavy, like a sweater. Learn more about 1940s men’s shirts.
You can use a lighter modern jersey T-shirt and achieve the same look if you size down for a snug fit. Wear them tucked in too for the most 40s styling. Polo shirts were not too common in most of the 1940s nor were button down knitted shirts- so I would avoid those.
While men’s shorts were not common until the end of the 1940s, you can achieve a late 1940s summer look with a pair of long, pleated walking shorts. Pair them with a knit t-shirt, polo shirt, short sleeve button down shirt, belt, tall socks and casual shoes or sandals (yes, with socks.) Alternative styles of shorts are either gym shorts or swim trunks.
Another classic men’s summer outfit in the tennis look. With a white pullover sweater vest with contrasting edging, long sleeve cotton shirt, wide leg trousers, two tone wingtip shoes, belt and vintage tennis racket you have another outfit that can be worn for sport or leisure.
1940s Zoot Suits
The iconic Zoot Suit associated with rebellious inner city youth and bootlegging gangsters is a favorite 1940s men’s style to dress in. The oversized suit jacket in large stripes and bright colors paired with wide and often peg legged pants for an exaggerated ’40s fashion statement.
The Zoot Suit could be worn with a plain dress shirt or open collar sport shirt, with or without a neck tie. Neckties could be flashy and wide, long and very skinny, or an oversized bow tie. There were few rules to Zoot fashion, other than to be the opposite of what classy men were wearing.
Suspenders or belts. A long single or double gold chain. Solid or two tone shoes. You can mix and match to your hearts content with Zoot fashion.
- Suit: Royal Blue Fashion Zoot Suit or other pinstripe/dark suits
- Shirt: Striped tie
- Suspenders: Y back suspenders
- Shoes: Black/White shoes
- Wide brim Fedora hat
The gangster, the criminal, the detective or the suave leading man were common characters in 1940s era Film Noir movies. Learn more about creating these outfits here.
Men’s Vintage Workwear
This article will guide you to the many 1940s workwear / working class clothing choices.
Read about dressing in tuxedos, dinner jackets and other formalwear.
More Men’s 1940s Outfit Ideas
- 1940s Men’s Outfit Inspiration | Costume Ideas
- 1940s Zoot Suit History & Buy Modern Zoot Suits
- 1940s Men’s Work Clothes
- 1940s Men’s Casual Clothing- Shirts, Trousers, Pullover Vests
- 1940s Men’s Formalwear, Tuxedos, Evening Attire
- Film Noir Costume Ideas
- Vintage Men’s Outfits -1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s Ideas
- Men’s Swing Dance Clothing, Vintage Dance Clothes
- 50 Men’s Vintage Halloween Costume Ideas
- Men’s Vintage Boating Outfits, Sailing Clothes
- 1940s Men’s Reproduction Clothing
- Read all 1940s men’s fashion history articles
Need help with your outfit? Ask us!
Shop 1940s men’s costumes such as
- WWII Uniform / Pilot – Choose a 1940s WWII uniform as your Halloween costume to compliment your Pinup partner. A vintage pilot costume is the most requested of all the uniforms.
- Sailor – A classic 40s costume to pair with a partners white nurse for the famous “kiss phot.”
- Vintage Baseball Uniform – Coach the Rockford Peaches or be baseball legend Babe Ruth in a 1930s -1940s striped vintage baseball uniform.
- Comic Superhero – Most comic superheroes were formed in the 1940s — Green Hornet, Superman, Dick Grayson, Captain America, Aquaman, Green Arrow, and many more. Join the superhero trend this year and be at home in the 1940s.
Debbie Sessions has been teaching fashion history and helping people dress for vintage themed events since 2009. She has turned a hobby into VintageDancer.com with hundreds of well researched articles and hand picked links to vintage inspired clothing online. She aims to make dressing accurately (or not) an affordable option for all. Oh, and she dances too.