Swing Clothes of the 1940s

The music and dance of swing inspired swing clothing styles.
The music and dance of swing inspired swing clothing styles. (Image: Ryan McVay/Lifesize/Getty Images)

The swing style swept the nation in the 1930s. Both music and dance styles related to swing varied by region throughout the United States, but its playful fashions were much the same everywhere. The 1940s brought with it restrictions on clothing during World War II, and swing styles adapted to meet the new rules.


On top, swing style dresses remained much the same from the late 1930s into the '40s. They often had short sleeves or three-quarter length sleeves to the elbow. Many styles had shoulder pads to create a broad-shouldered silhouette and make a woman's waist look smaller. Bodices on swing dresses often buttoned in the back or the front, and were belted at the waist. Skirts on swing dresses were shortened to the knee and were less full with fewer pleats, due to war restrictions limiting material. Designers used cotton to make dresses throughout the decade but replaced expensive silks with rayon. Bold colors and patriotic patterns such as red and white stripes were trendy.

Skirts and Blouses

Women true to the swing style of the day found ways to keep volume to their more narrowly cut wartime skirts by wearing petticoats to puff them out. Women also wore more fitted skirts that came past the knee. These chic skirts were not as easy to dance in, but they hugged a woman's curves and looked lovely paired with a jacket and blouse. Women wore blouses with short or long sleeves in soft colors or patterns such as polka dots or stripes. Women could wear more blouses with a few skirts and expand their wartime wardrobes.

Men's Styles

For many, the zoot suit epitomizes the look for men in the swing era. They became trendy in the 1930s and men wore them to the swing dance clubs. Zoot suits were oversized and had jackets with broad shoulder pads that came all the way to the knee in some styles. The pants were baggy and pleated. The suits were often made of rayon or wool and came in bright colors or patterns such as checks or pinstripes. During the war, designers cut men's suits with much less material. Baggy styles returned after the war, but not quite as baggy as the zoot suit style. Swing style ties were short, wide and were often brightly colored or had bold patterns.

Shoes and Accessories

Women's swing style shoes were basic pumps or ankle straps with square heels of about 2 inches. Women wore gloves quite often in public in the '40s and always wore them to dance. Short, cotton gloves that stopped at the wrist were in style with the swing look. Men wore wing tip shoes that were all dark or two-toned white and black or white and tan. They also wore pocket watches on chains, which was a swing fashion trend for men. Both men and women wore hats in the '40s; women often wore berets or pillbox hats and men wore fedoras.

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