Fashion is a heating issue in daily life, which is close to nearly every aspect of society. As the expansion of globalisation, fashion companies are seeking to more opportunities in international market by establishing subsidiaries all over the world. According to Helen (1965), fashion design is using dedicated art in clothing and accessories to establish a unique style. In today’s fashion field, Italy is considered in the leading place for its elegant and dedicated style. However, France and Japan are also produce excellent designers who have gained international reputation in fashion design and establish famous brands.
The history of fashion design could be dated back to 19th century with Charles Frederick Worth to sew label into the garments, and only clothing created after 1858 could be considered as fashion design1. During that historical period, most fashion designers are self-employed in a family-based clothing shop and provide design service to individual customer, which are quite different from today’s specialty stores or high-fashion department stores. During the whole 20th century, fashion design had gradually been developed systematically and has become an important industry in society. It is therefore useful for analyzing the fashion history of 20th as a guide for the new century’s development. This essay will pick up specific decade between 1940 and 1950 as the research target.

Background information of 20th century fashion design

The development of fashion design in 20th century has experienced a unique process. The first decade of the century was a period to pursue new element into the design (Baudot, 1999). The emergence of new female generation and solid trend in arts had stimulated fashion design to combine new elements. The Europe trend was still focused on elegance and grace, while U.S trend was developed to natural style, provided a step from the dedicated style of 19th century. Between1910-1919, there was a great change in fashion design influence by Deco arts. The distinct character of Deco arts was the use of straight and folded line. It brought a boyish style in the fashion design to adopt a concision style and add some eastern elements. During next decade, the fashion design added girlish style to the clothes and continue to keep the youth elements in the design. Chanel’s style created by combination of coat, skirt and dress privailed and expanded until nowadays. Another characteristics is the attention on sport clothes design. There is also fashion design trend in China with the amend of traditional cheong-sam. 1930-1939 was an important decade for the fashion design. In reaction to the economic crisis, the patch-up skirts which represented saving appeared. Then a long skirt lap prevailed until the Second World War. The broken of war stimulated a trend of nostalgic new Victorian style. Another important contribution of this decade is the establishment of modern fashion design criteria, combining the elements of elegance, beauty and taste to emphasize the corresponding of clothes and circumstances. The next decade, also the target period in the research, is 1940-1949. The luxurious style during the war time was restricted by law and moral codes. Practicality had become a criteria for fashion design. The pursue of function made the women clothes be input more male elements by the prevail of army clothes and frocks. The war time also provided America with the chance of developing its own fashion design instead of totally relying on Europe.

Aims of the research

Nowadays, fashion designers create their original work to express their unique taste and style. However, they also produce works to follow the existing fashion trends. They are hired by mass market manufacturers to create clothes for men, women and children. The most successful designer brands today are those brands with long history, such as Chanel, Christian Dior and Louis Vuitton. It took them years to establish and develop their positions as fashion icons. In regard to the historical context, 1900-1950 is a very important revolution in fashion history, manufactures started more creative on the design of their clothes. Fashion design corporations have to produce their own brand with high quality and reputation to survive and compete in the promising market. To define and understand what constitutes fashion design and how fashion design has emerged in today’s time as place the fashion design in certain imperative time periods is important way to understand fashion industry. The aim of this research is to present fashion design in the decades of 1940-1950 to explore the relationship between fashion design and a series of factors, such as arts, health& beauty, science &technology, and so on.

Fashion Design and Its Related Factors


Before 20th century, fashion design is only a passive reflection of arts. When came to 20th century, especially the decade between 1940 and 1950, fashion designers were willing to cooperative with arts. They combined their design with major arts genre. Schiaparell’s desk clothes and laniate clothes are representation of super-realism (Buxhaum, 1999). During this period, the popular music trend was bop and big band. In the dance area, jive, swing and foxtrot was in the heating position. All the trends in arts have influenced fashion design deeply. All this new ideas brought fashion market into a new generation. At this time, enterprise were normally operation by designers them or family business.

Politics and current events

The most influential event during this period is the Second World War. War as an important factor to change the history of human being, as well as the development of fashion design. During the decade after the Second World War, fashion design had a great transformation. Women’s fashion of the beginning of the decade was masculine, and by the end of the decade2 it changed to extremely feminine. During the war time, the fashion design style was changed from elegance, dedicated to concision, while it was emphasized on feminine again after the war. Moreover, the pursue of practical function during the war time enabled the fashion designer to add more male elements in designing female clothes, some even used male manner into women design (Marsha, 1993). The strictly restriction on dressing was also carried out in several countries, for example, there was a point system in Britain to restrict the dressing style of women, set out a series of rules to lead women’s dressing way (Janet, 1977). This kind of restriction not only put on female dressing, but also guided male’s way of dressing. Male’s uniform style was most affected part such as utility suit of Britain and victory suit of America (Boucher, 1987). The whole decade was dominated by the wartime practical function and the after-war feminine style.

Health & sport

After 1945 a series of revolutionary changes took place in sports clothe. Firstly, pullover dresses, underwear and gym tops often used new range of synthetic fibres which suited in the early days of production to knitted fabrics. During the fifties, some earlier inventions and new use of synthetic fibres particularly nylon combined with practical techniques developed in military clothing were introduced into civilian production. For example, hoods that were concealed in neck collars; pockets in jacket fronts which were designed to store snack foods; gloves with zip pockets for ski passes; elastic inserts in the sides of ski pants and stirrup straps underfoot made for pull on, pull off clothes. These features are expected by us automatically today. In addition, nylon running shorts and cotton vests3 were adopted by athletes. Zip up windcheaters and anoraks were taken onto the athletics and sports field, though trouser bottoms often appeared to be odd, they helped to keep off the chill. Stretch garments became quite popular by the mid sixties; and one attractive advantage was the comfort factor of being able to move with a garment.

Hair & beauty

In this decade the most popular hair styles is tresses curled and rolled longer. The movie stars of that time such as Veronica Lake and Lauren Bacall gave the best demonstration of the long curling styles. Though putting your hair up into compact elegant up-dos was the standard style for weddings and proms, this kind of occasions became rarer and rarer.
World War II heavily influenced the beauty industry in this decade. The fashion, cosmetics used and beauty standards were affected by the mood of sad and depression. As Ingrid Bergman showed in the 1942 movie Casablanca, a typical beauty style should try to demonstrate serious, glamorous in a very subdued, sophisticated way4. A wholesome look was much more acceptable than showy. The mood for excess and flamboyancy was considered as inadequate, both because the effects of the Depression still were influencing people’s life, and because a lot of American young men were sending to European battlefields to fight and die.


The fashion icon in this period was Rita Hayworth. The Great American Love Goddess was born in Brooklyn, New York. She represented the most fashionable style of 1940s in the movies of “The Strawberry Blonde” (1941), and “Blood and Sand” (1941). The musicals “You`ll Never Get Rich” (1941) and “You Were Never Lovelier” (1942), both with Fred Astaire, “My Gal Sal” (1942), with Victor Mature, and “Cover Girl” (1944), with Gene Kelly, made her a musical star and a favourite pinup girl of American servicemen during WWII (Stach, 1987).

Science & technology

The development of science and technology enable fashion design develops from hand-made family workshop to the machinery production. The importance of customer design began to be recognised. As the improvement of manufacture technology, the ready-to-wear clothes were considered to be the major issue during this period. The science of human body stimulates the establishment of comprehensive size system for clothes. The technology also made the manufacturing of clothes divided into three categories: Haute Couture clothes, senior ready-to-wear clothes and ordinary ready-to-wear clothes. Meanwhile, the expansion of materials scope provided sufficient basis for designers to express their unique style in their masterpieces. Although the battle broke out over the world, new products came out at the same time. Nylons were sold to the public in 1940 when the battle of Britain started. In the next year, Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour, and the jeep was invented in the same year. In 1942, when the battle of Midway and the battle of Stalingrad broke out, T-shirt was introduced to the public.
Moreover, the advancement of social science also played great role in the fashion design within the period. People established positive attitudes towards beauty as well as fashion design and were tolerance on prevailed trends, which enabled some subculture trend become popular in the mainstream of the society.


1940-1950 was an important period in fashion design due to the influence of World War II. Affected by the war, many fashion corporations closed such as Maision Vionnet and Maison Chanel, while others relocated in New York (Turner, 1958). Paris’s leading place was still continued although Germany was taking half of French manufacturing and was considering relocate the original French haute couture to Berlin. The faith of fashion design was established and developed quickly (Peacock, 1998). Its enomous change was driven by several factors include arts, political events, hair & beauty, science & technology, etc. Conduct research on this specific decade is not simply dating back to the history, it is also provides sufficient information for the development of fashion design in the new century.



  • Baudot, F. (1999) A Century of Fashion. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd.
  • Boucher, F. (1987) A History of Costume in West , London: Thames & Hudson Ltd.
  • Buxhaum, G. (1999) Icons of Fashion, the 20th century. NY: Verleg.
  • Helen, B. (1965). The Theory of Fashion Design, New York: John Wiley and Sons.
  • Janet, A. (1977). Patterns of Fashion 2: Englishwomen’s Dresses and Their Construction c. 1860-1940, Wace 1966, Macmillan 1972. Revised metric edition, Drama Books.
  • James, L. (1979). The Concise History of Costume and Fashion, Abrams.
  • Marsha, H. (1993). The Way We Wore: Styles of the 1930s and 40s and Our World Since Then, Fallbrook Pub. Ltd.
  • Peacock, J. (1998) Fashion Sourcebooks, the 1940s. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd.
  • Stach, L. (1987). Hollywood and Seventh Avenue: The Impact of Historical Films on Fashion, in Hollywood and History: Costume Design in Film, Los Angeles County
  • Turner, W. (1958). The Mode in Fashion, 1942; 2nd expanded edition New York: Scribners.



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