Knitted sweaters were a clothing staple throughout the ’40s. Sweater styles shared similar designs to the blouse, and were often called knit blouses instead. In the UK, sweaters are called jumpers (not to be confused with an American jumper dress, popular with teens).
1940s sweaters were made from wool when available, wool-synthetic blends, full synthetics such as rayon, and/or simple cotton. The weave of the sweater varied by designs, from a narrow flat knit for light weight sweater blouses to a heavy shaker knit for winter layering.
Sweaters could be store-bought, but more often women knitted their own. They were a big part of homemade clothing during the decade. The 1940s are called the “Golden Age of Knitting.” Entire magazines were dedicated to home knitting patterns. Most home or women’s magazines also included free patterns for knitting sweaters for the entire family. During the war years, an old knit sweater was often unraveled and reworked into new designs.
1940s Sweater Styles
Sweaters could be a wide variety of colors, often bright ones like red, yellow, and blue. In spring, pastel colors like rose, white, and powder blue were pretty. Solid color sweaters were the most versatile item for a standard wardrobe.
“In 1940, American designer Claire Potter included decorated evening sweaters in her collection. A year later, Mainbocher took British-made cashmere cardigans and decorated them for eveningwear. Sometimes they were made as part of a dress ensemble, with the lining of the sweater matching the dress. They were decorated with beads, sequins, metal studs and fabric trim. This started a trend for decorated sweaters that continued into the 1960s.” Lizzie Bramlett, Vintage Fashion Guild
Besides beading, decorative embroidery or ribbon applique on the sweater fronts in floral or patriotic themes created cheerful designs for less than cheerful times.
Angora hair (long rabbit hair) was also very popular in the late ’40s. There were sometimes called “fluffies. ” Cheaper versions were made of brushed wool.
They were short sweaters trimmed in beaded cuffs, buttons, collars and novelty designs as well. Both cashmere and angora were quite warm to wear, yet because of how pretty they were, they were mostly worn in Spring with a light skirt or pant. Cashmere was usually blended with silk to reduce the heat. The beaded soft sweater style really took off in the 1950s when women had more disposable income to spend on these pricey sweaters.
Sweaters were usually crew-necked (high and rounded), wide at the shoulders (early styles had large puff sleeves) and fitted through the high waist. They could be short sleeve (just above the elbow) or long sleeve. Retail sizing was determined by bust size, although it was necessary to buy two inches up so that it would fit over a camisole top or thin blouse as well as provide some room for shrinking – especially wool sweaters.
Sweater blouses were quite short, hitting above the hip with a wide rib knit band to hold the sweater in place. The fit emphasized the ideal ’40s torso which was a thin waist, full shoulders, and soft natural chest.
The term sweater girl started in the 1940s with movie star icon Lana Turner. She and other young women wearing snug fitting sweater tops were seen as both innocent and sexy. The modest coverage of the sweater said “I am a good girl” while the two sizes too small fit said “I have breasts!” To be so flaunting with a woman’s natural assents was taboo in good company. With the invention of the Bullet bra in the ’50s, the Sweater Girl look only became more pronounced.
The cute character sweaters with knit in designs of animals, insets, fruit, flowers and seasonal icons are highly collectible today. Women of the ’40s certainly embraced some whimsy in their sweater choices. They came in both pullover style and button up as well as long and short sleeves.
1940s Cardigan Sweaters
The long-sleeved crew-neck, the short-sleeved crew-neck, and the twin-set – which consisted of a crew-neck sleeveless sweater with a matching cardigan – were three common but plain styles of sweaters. Cardigans were a little bit longer (to mid hip), and were often decorated with a matching ribbon down the front where the buttons went. Ribbon on the inside kept button holes form stretching out of place.
Button up sweaters had buttons made of synthetic pearl, nylon plastic, or real “salt water pearl.” They could be plain white, but were more often dyed to match the sweater.
1940s Winter Sweaters
The heavy knit winter sweater was worn as a layer over other tops. It was nearly always made of wool and designed either as a button up or pull over style. Collars were large and high around the necks and wrists bands were tight to keep the warmth in. The same bright colors popular in summer were worn in winter as well. Bright red, blue, and green made women visible while skiing, too.
1940s Teen “Sloppy Joe” Sweaters
In the 1940s, American teenage girls known as bobby-soxers became famous not only for their fashions, but for their love of male crooners such as Frank Sinatra. Bobby-soxers wore ankle socks, rolled-up jeans or plaid skirts, sloppy sweaters, and saddle shoes.
Unlike women’s tight fitting short sweaters, teenagers wore oversized women’s (or men’s) sweaters that bagged around the low hip, with loose sleeves and a large crew neck opening. Many were button up styles similar to the collegiate look, however to be really stylin’, teens never wore it traditionally. They either draped over their shoulders or wore them backwards, buttoning up the backside. This odd trend continued into the ’50s as well.
Pullover styles like those worn on the right were acceptable teen wear too. They were purchased a few sizes up to get the perfect amount of sloppiness.
See more examples of sweaters from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.
1940s Sweater Patterns
While simple knit cardigans are easy to find today, a short waisted ’40s style sweater blouse is not. Besides vintage options on Etsy or eBay, your best bet for getting 1940s sweaters is to knit one from a vintage pattern.
- Vintage Knit Sweater Patterns on Kindle reader- 35 sweaters from the ’40s and beyond. Great reviews. Or 25 sweaters from the 40s and 50s.
- Free vintage knitting patterns – A mix of decades. Many ’40s.
- Vintage 1940s Sweaters on Etsy – Due to age and moth damage, vintage sweaters are a rare treat.
- Jimmy Beans Wool – My favorite yarn shop.
- Some ’40s but mostly 1950s style sweaters, cardigans and twin set tops for sale here.
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