1940's Hairstyles and Fashion
When I think of this era I think of all glamour. I’m not too far wrong as Hollywood characterized the 1940’s as a very romantic and glamorous time with the debut of such movies as Tennessee Williams “Glass Menagerie” and “Streetcar named Desire.” Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby were crooning and swooning into the hearts of lovers everywhere. Comedians Jack Benny and Bob Hope were making people laugh in their living rooms while listening to their radios.
Tight sweaters were trendy as their boyfriends would pick them up in the Zoot Suit. Eye brows were raised and disproving looks came upon the scene as the risky two piece bathing suit made its debut with many a distasteful frown. After all, what was this world coming to anyway!
Most men in the USA were drafted into the army and either married their sweethearts before they left for war or when they returned, if they did. They danced to the tunes of Glen Miller, Tommy Dorsey and Artie Shaw. These were the years of the big band sound of saxophones and clarinets that ushered in the swing and jitterbug. Fashions were elegant as ladies out for the evening would not have been caught dead without gloves and looking altogether; very feminine and definitely “in the mood” as the music played.
Sultry May West with much daredevilry quoted her famous “why don’t ya come up and see me sometime?” The ladies of that age were horrified by her boldness, men laughed and loved her. The average salary during this decade was a mere $1,299 and the minimum wage only .43 per hour. Only 55% of the people in the U.S. had indoor plumbing. There were war bonds to buy and food rationing being applied. When the GI’s returned from the war the baby boom began.
The fashions of this era were very practical, modest, elegant and oh, so classy. If I could put one word to the fashions of that era it would be “mystery.” Most of the time, men would use their imagination and wonder and dream about the lady he had such a crush on, because you usually didn’t see that much from the apparel they wore. The hemlines were below the knees and dresses and suits were carefully tailored to fit the frame of the wearer tucked in nicely with a belt. There were always shoulder pads under every dress, suit and blouse.
Hats of all kinds were very fashionable and always worn. Some hats were large brimmed with a floppiness cocked to one side, while others would dip in the front, then others would be worn completely on the crown making the head look almost like the inside of a flower. Perhaps that was the idea at that time. There were other hats that had ribbons twined around them with a big sash of a bow in the back or on the side as the lady would usually wear her hair up or back from her face. When she would marry, she would wear a veil over her face with the crown directly upon her head.
There were small hats with large feathers and large hats with small feathers or bows that sat directly between the top of her head and almost on the forehead. Some had ties going in the back of the hair, others had small veils to add mystery, some looked more like a very large hair ornament than a hat. Hats were considered a necessity and most ladies would not think of leaving their homes without their heads covered in some way, even if it was a tasteful decorative scarf.
Their hairstyles were more modest, although; just as bedazzling as their hats during this time, only in a different way. It was important for things to be organized during these troubled years and their hairstyles and dress revealed this. Hair was washed with a simple shampoo with a thick styling agent applied and rolled with either clips, socks, scraps of material or in the late 1940’s rollers (mostly clips) with a hairnet placed carefully over their head; as they sat under a very large tube like hot dryer to dry. After taking the clips out a vigorous brushing would follow as the stylist would proceed to design the hair in a style close to her head.