Page last updated 17th December 2014

Please click on images below to enlarge
 

Female Civilian Attire


The good thing about female clothing of the Forties is that, unlike WW2 military uniform, it's still fairly plentiful and affordable. It's true that the better and rarer pieces command an increasingly higher price, but generally the market is fairly sensible. For a guide to authentic 1940s clothing, see our page on the interesting subject of
CC41 Utility Wear. At every Forties event that we attend there are always plenty of traders offering a good range of period female fashions for sale.

In common with the healthy number of reproduction military clothing manufacturers and retailers that abound, there is a growing industry of manufacture of reproduction WW2-period civilian clothing .

So newcomers to the Forties re-enacting scene have a good choice of both original vintage clothing and new reproduction. Some of the best places to search for original pieces are the online shopping and auction sites such as ebay and Etsy, especially the latter. Just enter key search words such as 'Forties' or 'Vintage' and watch what happens!

Alternatively, if it's simply the Forties look that you are trying to achieve rather than aiming for pure authenticity, just type "land girl dress" or "lindy bop dress" into your favourite search engine. There are literally dozens of online retailers of inexpensive dresses that cover the 1940 and 1950 periods. You will need to sift through the various styles to find the examples clearly described as 1940s, but you will soon gain a sense of the prevailing styles of the Forties. You certainly shouldn't have to pay any more than 20 - 40 for something suitable. One specific retailer that we can thoroughly recommend is Viva La Rosa who stock a very wide range of 1940s-style clothing including shoes, all at very reasonable prices. They also have their own ebay shop which advertises a wider range than shown on their home page, especially shoes.

 

 Outerwear


Obviously, unlike military uniform where there are definite guidelines to be followed, the choice of civilian clothing is almost infinite and limited only to imagination and availability. A good place to begin for inspiration is Glamour Daze which is an online vintage fashion and beauty archive. This will give you a good feel for the styles of the period.

After doing a bit of initial research, we recommend you then visit websites such as Heyday Vintage Style, Custom Clothes, Revival-Retro and Puttin' On The Ritz. Heyday carry a good selection of unmistakeably Forties-style male and female clothing at very fair prices. Their mail order service is excellent and they are very highly recommended. They often attend the bigger retro events such as Twinwood with a good selection of their products.

Custom Clothes differ from Heyday in that their excellent ranges of period male and female clothing are made-to-measure and made-to-order rather than being off the peg. They also purposely have limited fabric runs so the chances of bumping into another re-enactor wearing exactly the same dress, etc, are fairly remote. The proprietor of Custom Clothes is a very nice lady to deal with, and very accommodating. They are very highly recommended.

Revival-Retro is another supplier of authentic reproductions of 1940s clothing. Their prices are a little on the high side but their products look first class and they have much to offer that isn't available from other suppliers.

Rocket Originals are mainly a Fifties retro specialist, but they do have Forties-inspired items of knitwear, shoes and bags. Definitely worth a look.

Puttin' On The Ritz is a UK retailer specialising in  authentic reproduction 1930/1940s (mainly) women's clothing. Most of the men's-wear advertised on the website, as of December 2013, unfortunately appears to be unavailable due to fabric being out of stock. Their selection of women's-wear is superb and they have styles not seen on any other specialist period clothing website. As you have to provide a full set of measurements when ordering, this is a completely bespoke service. The only thing to bear in mind is that, being a made-to-measure service, there is a six-week lead time on all orders.  However, it is definitely worth the wait. My wife has bought several classic period skirts from POTR, plus a faux fur stole, and is absolutely delighted with them.



 






 Shoes


Second-hand shoes of Forties vintage are reasonably easy to come by, but some people are a bit squeamish about wearing used footwear. One supplier that carries a wide range of new Forties-inspired shoes is Modcloth. They are an American company with a good website and a bewildering choice of relevant styles in all the more common sizes. Be careful of their sizing guide as it isn't entirely accurate in terms of US/UK/European size conversion - if in doubt, email them. They proudly announce on their banner "We ship to the UK!", and so they do, in double-quick time and with no fuss. Just be aware that you will have to allow for customs duty, particularly if you order several pairs at a time.

Both Revival-Retro and Rocket Originals carry a good range of reproduction shoes, but Revival-Retro's stock of the more common sizes seems to be a bit erratic. My wife has been very pleased with shoes she has purchased from Rocket Originals.

My wife is very keen on the Factory Shoe Shop, a UK ebay store-front, from where she's bought several pairs of Forties-inspired shoes (see lower left). They are well-made of real leather, true-to-size, and very comfortable.

A visit to the website of Apple Tree Lane is also recommended as they have a couple of very interesting shoe styles available.


 






 Hat  


No self-respecting woman in the Forties would ever be seen out in public without a hat of some description, be it modest or grand. Consider a hat to be essential part of this period's costume rather than just an optional accessory. The best places my wife has found for hat-hunting are definitely the online auction and shopping sites such as ebay and Etsy. My wife tends to prefer Etsy because you can see at a glance the price of an item without having to potentially spend hours or even days watching and bidding for it at auction. Having said that, many affordable hats on ebay are available with a 'Buy-It-Now' option if you're not keen on auctions.

Another good place to look is Seal Military who, despite being primarily a US WW2 uniform specialist, also have a 'Foxy Forties' section with a small but discerning selection of period hats.
 

 Handbag   


Again, the best places to find the right bag are ebay and Etsy. My wife picked up this lovely original blue leather and tortoiseshell bag at a very reasonable price from a shop on Etsy called Fishbone Vintage which she enthusiastically recommends.

The only source we currently know of for reproduction period handbags is Revival-Retro. Their prices are on a par with good brand-name modern bags, but the quality is excellent.

 


 Hosiery  


Seamed nylons are a must for that authentic period look. My wife assures me that seamed hold-ups are the way to go for a modern girl, but that they can cost anything up to 20 per pair. However, she has discovered a brand called 'New Vintage Glamour Cuban Stiletto Heel Seamed 15 Denier Hosiery Sheer Hold Ups' from a company in Hampshire called So Diva. These are very inexpensive at around 4 per pair. At most Forties events we have attended there has been at least one trader selling seamed stockings, hold-ups and tights at reasonable prices.

If you really want to create the right appearance, there are still original unworn pairs of silk, rayon and lisle stockings to be had on ebay and Etsy at fairly reasonable prices. These will usually come marked with the CC41 Utility Clothing symbol which will clearly indicate they were manufactured between 1941 and 1949 (see left).



 



 Jewellery   


An often-overlooked aspect of any female re-enactor's costume is that of period jewellery. Throughout the 20th century, each decade's jewellery has its own distinctive look. Whilst more mature ladies in the 1940s may well have still been wearing ornate Edwardian or even late Victorian jewellery, the younger woman would have been seen with jewellery made from that new-fangled material, plastic! The newly-founded plastics industry gave rise to much experimentation by jewellery designers with Celluloid, Lucite (a form of Perspex) and Bakelite. Objects from the natural world such as animals, insects or plants were popular choices of decorative subject matter, and they all lent themselves to being sculpted, cast or moulded from these exciting new materials. The carved plastic sea-shell necklace at top left and the cast-plastic green gazelle at bottom left are very good examples of this. Another commonly employed technique with 1940s costume jewellery was delicately-enamelled metal, as seen with the butterfly hairclip at centre left.

One of my wife's favourite online period jewellery specialists is Vintage Kitty. They stock a variety of pieces from most decades of the 20th century advertised at sensible prices, and are highly recommended. Another good source is Etsy where literally hundreds of nice pieces of 1930s/1940s vintage jewellery can be found at generally reasonable prices. A particularly good Etsy shop that we can thoroughly recommend is Our Boudoir which has an amazing selection of original 1930/1940 costume jewellery at very reasonable prices, and the owner is a lovely person to deal with. One last source worth mentioning is Revival-Retro who have quite a good reproduction vintage costume jewellery section on their website.

 







 

 Umbrella


Yet another potentially overlooked item of a lady's 1940-period costume is her umbrella. I made the point elsewhere on this website that our English weather is nothing if not unpredictable, and that the vast majority of 1940s events are outdoor affairs. It therefore makes sense to go properly equipped if the weather forecast predicts rain. But most modern umbrellas, especially the popular folding types, loudly proclaim their era and simply don't fit with the 1940s look.

There are several good sources online for vintage umbrellas, including Etsy and ebay.

 



 

 Gas Mask  


Watch any old newsreel film of the early Forties in Britain and you will soon notice that everyone was carrying a little rectangular box slung over their shoulder. This was their personal gas mask.  It was compulsory throughout the war to carry your gas mask with you at all times in case of a poison gas attack, but the regulation was gradually relaxed as the war progressed and the risk of gas attack diminished. A whole range of accessory bags and holders sprang up to allow men and women to personalise their gas mask cases. Eventually the gas mask cases and their various accessory covers became useful receptacles for cosmetics, gloves and even sandwiches! If you really want to go all out for that totally authentic Forties look then a gas mask case is an absolute must. Reproductions are available on ebay and Amazon for just a couple of pounds or so, or you can make your own at home! Here's a handy link to a gas mask case DIY project. Alternatively, original British civilian gas masks in acceptable condition regularly turn up on ebay and generally sell for around 10. Do try and find one with a decent quality carrying case - these were normally made of a waterproof material such as canvas or leatherette (see left)
 




 Accessories  


The devil is in the detail, as they say! Why not add this detail, in the form of replica ID cards and other ephemera, to your carefully recreated period ensemble? Soldier Of Fortune carry a small range of such paraphernalia.



 

 Hair Styling  


Another area that is often overlooked by female re-enactors is their hair. Modern hairstyles simply don't work with Forties outfits. Wartime hairstyles are very distinctive, and can often go further in setting the period mood of your appearance than the clothing itself. The basic rule is that female hair was always wavy and never straight. There are numerous 'how-to' Forties hairstyling tutorials on YouTube (simply search for '1940 hairstyle').

Another very simple and effective way of evoking that Forties mood with your hairstyle is to wear a snood. This is a glorified crocheted hairnet available in many colours that simply contains the hair at the back of the head but immediately sets the period style. One of the best UK-based sources we've found is an Etsy shop with the unlikely name of Gin Poodle. They not only have a very good range of authentic snoods made from original 1940s crochet patterns but also offer three different sizes to accommodate different hair lengths. Round this off with so-called Victory Rolls (large curls) at the front of your hair and you're all set! One easy way to achieve the Victory Rolls is with nifty little styling devices called Hair Rats. These are similar to hair bun rings, colour-matched to your hair and pinned into place to retain the curls. They are available from in various sizes on Amazon.