Shorts were not a new item in women’s 1940s wardrobes, but they weren’t very common. The 1930s style short had a high waist with wide waistband and pleated legs, giving it the look of a tennis skirt/skort. This continued to be the trend in the early 1940s for women gradually slimming the leg and bringing up the hemline.
Contrasting buttons on the side came from the Navy/sailor influence. The crotch drop was deep and the length was mid thigh.
This Skort style carried over through the war years without much change. As the decade move don the pleated style lost favor to the new, and shorter tailored fit shorts. Same came with small coin pockets on on side and folded cuffs.
1940s shorts were made of medium blue denim, navy blue denim, corduroy in tan or navy, and rayon or cotton in green, white or sky blue.
While shorts with a print or pattern were less common, they did exist, especially in the later years. I have seen cotton and rayon shorts with sailboats, tropical leaves, and other novelty themes on them. Western Wear sometimes made denim shorts with a paisley pattern usually seen on bandannas. Vertical stripes were popular, too. Usually, patterned shorts came with a matching top for a playsuit look.
Denim shorts often had a cuff hem and leg press just like denim trousers. As the decade moved away from the war, shorts lost the skirt-like pleating and took on the short trouser look with slit pockets on the side. Some shorts mimicked little boys’ and girls’ styles with a small flap coin pocket on the front. Others had a simple elastic waistband, making them look like men’s underwear (worn as gym shorts.)
Short-alls were short overalls with bottoms similar to either blue jeans or button front shorts. They were similar to playsuits.
Pedal pushers emerged in the late 1940s. They were halfway between full pants and short shorts, ending just below the knee. Teens were the first to adopt the style, but some women wore them with casual knit shirts, crop tops, denim shirts, and summer jackets. Belts were sometimes worn with them too, but they were not necessary.
The pedal pusher influenced other shorts style that were to become part of fashion in the 1950s. Go here to learn more about 1950s shorts, pedal pushers and capri pants.
40s Shorts Outfits
What to wear with a pair of 1940s style shorts? Women choose a casual kit pullover top or T-shirt, usually horizontally striped, but could also be plain white, blue, tan, or yellow. When I shop, I look for “Ringer T shirts” that have a crew neckline with a matching color as the stripes (white or colored).
Other styles of shirts could be a short sleeve button down blouse, a tie front crop top, or polo shirt in the 40s style. Co Ord sets which into pleated shorts and matching crop top are back in style now and are really fun to wear.
- For shoes consider a pair of 40s style sandals, peep toe heels, wedges, flat loafers, or nearly any summer slip on shoes made of colorful canvas. Shop shoes.
- Hats? A wide brim sun hat is an excellent statement piece. They came with and without crown in flat or rolled brims. Look for a stiff, not floppy brim straw hat. Shop hats.
- Hair flowers place on one side or in the center of a half updo was a pretty hair accessories for days at the beach. A simple ribbon headband in another option. Some gals like a Rosie the Riveter style bandana or hair snood. Shop hair accessories.
- Sunglasses. You can’t possible forget the sunglasses. Look here for history and here to shop retro style sunglasses.
Need more ideas on what to wear this summer?
1940s Style Shorts
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.