Stout. Not exactly a term we hear much today, but back in the 1940s (and earlier), it was the name for what we call plus size clothing today. Juniors, misses, women’s, and stout were the categories for dress sizing. The 1940s not only embraced curvy figures, but catalogs photographed real plus size women in the clothing. The 1920s and 1930s usually had line drawings, which often produced artistic liberties that were neither accurate to women’s real shapes nor to the clothing itself.
Flipping through my 1940s catalogs, I am happy to see the same dresses offered for misses sizes were also offered to plus sizes. Some dress designs didn’t make the transition, but the ones that did certainly are not any less beautiful. There are a few features that make ’40s dresses more flattering on curvy bodies that apply to both vintage and repro dresses today. Let’s take a peek, shall we?
This collection of dresses from 1943 are all in plain colors common during the war years: Navy, black, wine red, pine green, and sailor blue. Darker solid colors are a slimming color palette as well as certain design features such as pleats. All of the skirts on these dresses have long pleat lines down the front. Here the pleats don’t add volume, but instead add vertical lines, which aids in the slimming effect.
Even in winter, plus size clothing was not only in dark colors. These cheerful house dresses also from 1943 come in medium blue, mauve, wine, and medium green. The prints, long stripes, and small repeating florals are flattering on any body shape. Trim is minimal and usually of the same fabric, yet another trick of the eye. Whereas misses dresses had more contrast piping and buttons, stout dresses blended trim with the print. The effect was a streamlined look (and also frugal during hard times).
In summer, colors naturally must get lighter, and so it was with these cotton dresses in “larger women’s sizes.” Brown, green, blue, and my favorite, aqua, with white dots or flowers. The same technique of long lines in the skirts and minimal contrasting trim still applies in 1947.
Learn more about dressing the plus size body from advice written in the 1940s here.
Lane Bryant was one of the few companies specializing in only plus size fashion. Although I am disappointed they used line drawings instead of photographs, we at least get to see some dresses in color! I love each and every one of these, don’t you?
Plus Size 1940s Dresses Today
I am not going to lie. Finding 1940s style dresses in plus sizes is not easy. Even finding a pattern is hard. I do my best to stay up to date on what is readily available online.