“I think that the suit, for a long time, was trying to emulate a menswear staple when women were wearing it to work. It was about hiding your femininity. With so many strong women today embracing a more tailored, feminine pantsuit silhouette, I think it has emerged as a symbol of female empowerment and strength. In our case, the tailoring is always about celebrating femininity and a woman’s strength.”- designer Joseph Altuzarra.
One of the fashion innovations of the 1930s was women’s use of the pants suit, also known as the slacks suit. Like many of the popular fashions of the 1930s, the pants suit was associated with a Hollywood starlet.
Actress Marlene Dietrich (c. 1901–1992) wore men’s clothes in many of her movies, but she was especially known for wearing masculine suits in her public appearances. Women’s pants suits generally had flared or bell-bottomed trousers, and the jackets were tailored in slightly softer versions of men’s styles. Pants suits were considered a little outrageous during the 1930s and 1940s, for people were still adjusting to the idea of women wearing pants.
The most iconic look of war-time was the two-piece women’s 1940s suit. In the United States, it was patriotically called the victory suit. In Britain it was the utility suit. The suit was practical and versatile, worn as often as dresses. The jacket and skirt could be mixed with other pieces, and a different blouse underneath could change up the look. The overall style did not change throughout the war so that women wouldn’t have to keep up the expense of wearing the latest fashions.
The 1940s suit was popular for day-wear and office work-wear, and could even be dressed up with hats and jewelry for dinner or the theater. The suit was often a woman’s nicest clothing item. Many women wore a suit as their wedding attire instead of an expensive dress. The look itself was carried over from women’s suits that popped up in the ’30s, but with some major differences to accommodate clothing restrictions.
The most commonly used fabric for women’s 1940s suits were wool-weight rayon, were in practical colors like black, grey, navy blue, green, brown and red. Plaids and checks were also very popular, as were pinstripes on black, navy or grey. Most suits came in a matching set although mixing solid and print jackets and skirts was common practice.
WOMEN’S 1940S SUIT JACKETS
Jackets were worn buttoned up all the way, with either a collared blouse or nothing at all underneath. Lapels and collars gave them a masculine or tailored look. Some suit jackets were collarless but were worn with a collared blouse underneath with the collar and lapels worn over the jacket neckline.
Another popular option for the suit jacket was the bolero. It would be made from the same material as the skirt, just like the other jacket. However, the shape was somewhat different. The bolero jacket was waist-length or even a little bit shorter with long straight sleeves.
A third jacket alternative was the peplum jacket, which usually matched the skirt. It was fitted in the bodice and flared out from the waist and was wider at the bottom of the jacket. The peplum could be anywhere from a few inches long to finishing at the hip. It usually had long sleeves and buttoned down the front. A blouse was worn underneath this jacket as well.
Some lighter weight jackets came with a matching self fabric belt in the mid to late ’40s. The belt cinched in the waist slightly giving the look a softer drape. At this point, the suit was merging back into the two piece tunic dress style of the 1930s.
WOMEN’S 1940S SUIT SKIRTS
Skirts were more restricted by L-85 than jackets. They could have no more than a 78 inch sweep (although for suit skirts it was generally much less than that), could not be lined, could not have belts or belt loops, and could not have pleats, tucks, shirring or gathers at the waist. This made for a straight, fitted skirt (but not tight by today’s standards – it would be more of an a-line shape, not a pencil skirt).
A woman’s suits were her uniform during the 1940s. Even after the war ended, the suit remained the most practical and durable piece of clothing a woman owned. Its versatility to mix and match with blouses and skirts rendered it a necessity for all women. It was both her everyday look and her ‘nice’ clothing when mixed with a fancy hat, gloves and heels. The suit was to continue into the 1950s and beyond, as the preferred work or business look. We have the dutiful women of the 1940s to thank for its beginnings.
With “women power” in the air, it was no surprise that power dressing and chic workwear were key trends on the Milan and Paris Fall 2019 runway. While many of the designers who embraced this trend were women, there were a few ‘woke’ men that embraced the movement as well. Namely…Karl Lagerfeld. Although Milan kicked off with the tragic news that Karl Lagerfeld has passed away on February 19th, his legacy lived on in his last collection for Fendi. And you just got the sense that, as always, Karl got the memo – Women Rule.
Runway Inspiration of Victory Suits