Designing The Ultimate 1940s Dress

Designing 40s Dress Banner

At Revival we offer both true vintage and retro reproduction clothing. This includes our Socialite collection which we designed and have made exclusively for us. We have previously designed several different vintage style dresses to help you achieve the vintage look in a modern range of sizes. As our placement student Hattie is currently studying Costume with Textiles at Huddersfield University, we thought she might like the opportunity to design her very own vintage inspired dress. Here's how she got on...

This week as a fun challenge, I was tasked by Helene to design my ultimate 40s dress. I was really excited to work on this and stretch my creative muscles. My personal style tends to lean towards more 50s style dresses with big circle skirts as I feel these are particularly flattering for plus-sized people, such as myself. However, this is a great opportunity to push myself out of my comfort zone and away from silhouettes I would usually gravitate to.

Designing 40s Dress Mood Board

To start the design process, I began by creating a quick mood board of 40s dresses that appealed to me. I also included existing Revival dresses to keep their silhouettes in mind. This helped me to create something with a similar, authentic 40s feel that is different enough to stand out on its own. I also revisited our Top Ten Features Of An Original 1940s Vintage Dress post to refresh myself on the most distinguishing 40s dress features. The images on my mood board are from a variety of sources, including catalog pages, photographs, and sewing pattern envelopes. I particularly like the pointed panels featured on the two images in the bottom right. As well as the asymmetrical, cross over front of the top middle image. I think that the collar and cross over front, combined with the tailored fit of the dress is reminiscent of vintage, 1940s nurse uniforms. And while this dress isn’t intended for that purpose, I think the similarities are very interesting. I also really liked the use of stripes and ruffle trim on the dress in the top right-hand corner. However, I felt that something with so many elements may be seen as frumpy and outdated to a modern wearer, so decided to steer away from this direction.

Outline Dresses

I chose to do three sketches of ideas based on my mood board. The first is probably most recognizably 40s in shape. The most important feature part of this dress is the scalloped skirt panel and matching detail at the neck. However, I think it’s too similar in feel to Revival’s Starlet dress to stand out if they were put next to each other. This is because of the shape of the neckline and similar skirt styles.

The second is probably my favorite. It’s sleek and elegant and could easily be styled for a range of occasions, making it very versatile. However, I feel that it has a more 30s feel because of the flowy nature and lack of structure in the dress. I could see it looking really good in a bias cut silk for example. But because of this, I feel it doesn’t fit the brief very well.

The third sketch utilises the asymmetrical front closure that I really like from my mood board. To make my dress different from the inspiration, I chose to remove the collar entirely, swap the full-length bishop sleeves for short set-in sleeves, and change the button closure placement. I especially like the new button placement as it still resembles an original vintage style while also having the buttons spread out enough to make them a focal point of the dress. I also imagine this dress to be drafted with shoulder pads, adding in another iconic 40s dress feature. Ultimately, I think the third dress is my favorite of the two that fit the brief well. The front closure is unusual which makes the dress unique, as well as having a number of other iconic 40s clothing features, such as shoulder pads with set-in sleeves and of course the length and fullness of the skirt.

Coloured Dress Designs

I went on to create three different colourways of my chosen design to explore multiple options. My preferred colourway is the navy dress with red accents. I think the red piping, belt, and buttons add an extra level of detail conducive with 40s and 50s vintage clothing. It creates a pop of interest and would carry one’s eye through the outfit when styled with other red accessories such as shoes or a hat. The red colourway is also very wearable and would appeal to a modern wearer with its tiny polka dot pattern. It’s slightly on a more rockabilly clothing style because of the pattern but I think that the cut of the dress, particularly the skirt, helps to keep it closer to an authentic 40s style clothing look. Finally, because of the nurses’ uniform feel, I wanted to try the dress in a teal blue similar to the uniforms worn in Ratched (a current TV favourite of mine). However, to keep it wearable I wanted to hint at the nurse uniform inspiration rather than make it overly obvious. Because of this, I chose to block color the dress in two shades of teal with a subtle stripe to add some more visual interest. For a more modern feel, I think it would look amazing in a textured linen fabric for a cottagecore fantasy vibe.

I hope you like my ultimate 40s dress. I’d love to know which design and colourway is your favorite, so please leave a comment down below!

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