Teen Clothing Styles in the 1940s

Cardigans with school letters or emblems rose to popularity in the 1940s.
Cardigans with school letters or emblems rose to popularity in the 1940s. (Image: George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images)

Teens have always had their own place in fashion, even though some would argue they wouldn't develop an identity as a group until the era of rock 'n' roll in the 1950s. Another important influence on the fashion of the times, and one that teens felt too, was wartime conditions. Because less fabric was available, skirts got shorter, and the large, fabric-heavy eveningwear of the 1930s evolved into a dressed-down, simplistic elegance, including a move toward classic sportswear.

Blue Jeans

Though blue jeans are most often associated with teens in the post-war, rock 'n' roll era, teens were already wearing them as a form of casual dress in the 1940s. Girls would wear baggy jeans and roll them up to just below the knee. They would also decorate their jeans by painting flowers, horses or other images of self-expression onto them. Boys often wore jeans as well, in a similar, baggy style and rolled up some to show off their shoes. They rarely tucked in their shirts to their blue jeans, unless they intended to look dressier.


Sportswear became central to American fashion, for adults and teens alike, in the 1940s. European clothing designers, especially those in Paris, were responsible for directing much of the American manufacturing of clothing. Because of World War II, most of these designers were either unreachable or preoccupied. American clothes manufacturers switched gears to producing fashionable sportswear. This suited teens' casual sensibilities very well, and tennis, golf and polo shirts were mass-marketed for teens by labels like Lacoste, which still produces the classic designs bearing its crocodile logo today.

Sweaters and Cardigans

Sweaters and cardigans became popular for teens in the 1940s in both formal and casual contexts. Sweaters could be perceived as formal but required much less fabric than traditional formalwear for men or women. In addition to formalwear, boys and girls had to be true to their school by wearing cardigans in school colors with letter patches sewn on. They could wear these with slacks or skirts in formal situations or with blue jeans on a day-to-day basis. "Sloppy Joe" sweaters -- long, loose-fitting pullovers -- were an important casual look for girls.


The wartime conditions and mentality were also reflected in the shoes that teens wore. Boys would often wear Army boots -- purchased from a surplus store -- similar to the ones their older brothers or fathers were wearing while fighting overseas, with blue jeans rolled up to show off the shoes. Girls who a decade before may have opted for the glamor of high heels, now in trying times preferred a more relaxed, boyish style of footwear, often wearing simple loafers with short cotton socks. This did change once the war ended, however, with the rise in popularity of western-style cowboy boots and height-enhancing platform shoes.

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