Clothing for children in the 1940s evolved from traditional styles to simpler, more pragmatic garb, although many kids still wore conservative clothing that reflected the way their parents dressed. The true break with old-fashioned children's wear didn't come until the 1950s. Cultural and international events influenced clothing styles in the 1940s, particularly the Second World War, which led to a need for cheap, utilitarian clothes.
The clothes children wore in the 1940s were shaped primarily by the advent of the Second World War, which lasted from 1939 to 1945. The conflict shifted government spending to producing arms and equipment for war, and commandeered factory production of textiles and clothing in support of the war effort. Consumer goods were in short supply, the fashion sector was low priority and few civilians could spend much on clothing, even after the conflict ended. The outbreak of war led to rationing in many countries, further restricting the availability of stylish fashions and resulting in more utilitarian -- and longer lasting -- clothing for children.
T-Shirts and Jeans
The 1940s heralded an increased popularity of items that many people still wear today, including denim jeans and T-shirts, both of which began appearing during that era. In general, casual clothes gradually replaced more elaborate and formal styles; short trousers gave way to more fashionable longer trousers. Jeans replaced knickers — a style of corduroy or worsted shorts that reached the knee or just below it, often worn with white socks — though some kids still wore knickers throughout the decade. Double-breasted coats and sailor suits reflected a military or naval interest and were popular for boys.
Frills and Trousers
Everyday wear for young girls emphasized the utilitarian over the fashionable. Many girls still wore dresses -- often made of cotton with pleated collars -- to school or parties. Sailor dresses, with big collars, piping, and anchor or star appliques, were also very popular. Woolen coats, some with cotton velveteen collars, protected girls from the cold. Girls began to dress just as casually as boys for playtime. Dresses were often abandoned in favor of shorts, or even long trousers and cotton or knit shirts.
Saddle Shoes and Mary Janes
One particular footwear fashion that was popular in the 1940s was the saddle shoe, worn predominately by girls, but also by boys. These casual shoes were typically made of leather, featured a plain white toe and heel, and were named after the brown or black saddle-shaped panel covering the middle of the shoe. Saddle shoes doubled as sport shoes and smarter wear, and were available both with a heel and in a flatter variety for males. Typically, these shoes were worn with white socks. Little boys gave up Mary Janes, the round-toed shoe with a single strap worn by both boys and girls in the early part of the century. But Mary Janes, in plain or patent leather, were still a school and dressy shoe for girls.
- Historical Boys’ Clothing: Boys Clothing During the 1940s
- Historical Boys’ Clothing: Comments on 1940s Styles
- Girls' Historical Clothing: Chronological Listings — the 1940s
- Historical Boys’ Clothing: Saddle Shoes: Chronology
- Wisconsin Historical Society: Girls' Outerwear of the 1940s
- Wayne State University: From Playground to Fetish: The Identity of (the) Mary Jane
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