Key looks of the 1940’s for Toronto’s “Swing out to Victory” (or any social dance)

Oct 15th, 2014 UPDATE-Swing Out To Victory this year is back at the Hamilton Warplane Museum (Nov 8th) and tickets are currently up for grabs. Get yours today!

Also check out my newest post (oct 17th) on actual vintage dresses for sale (right now) for that special 40s dance.


Hi everyone! For my first official blog entry I thought I would start with a favourite event of the Lindy Hop season in Toronto called “Swing out to Victory“. This dance is usually held at a Warplane museum in hamilton but plans have slightly changed this year and it’s now in Toronto on November 10th. Now for those who have attended in the past, you know that dressing up is pretty much a must. You can dress modern or you can venture down the Vintage/Reproduction clothing road (I personally prefer the latter), but for those interested in Vintage I thought I would supply some clothing inspiration/ideas for the lovely ladies prior to the big dance. And since the dance is more focused towards 1940s clothing, I thought I would focus on 1940s style for this blog (however there is nothing wrong with breaking out 1920s-50s style as well).

II faut ‘skimp’ pour être chic’, you must skimp to be chic – Vogue Oct 1941-

The war was on and rationing of materials was in full effect. Gone were the days of silk and wool, women were left with materials like rayon, synthetic Jersey, and gingham to create their clothes. Elaboration was out and a pared-down elegance was becoming the norm. The main look of the decade: Was broad shoulders and a streamlined, slim look.

Women’s “Utility Suit” or “Victory Suit” or “Clothing by law” was fashioned to resemble the military style of WWII. The suits had a boxy, broad-shouldered (aka shoulder pads) jacket. Peplum at the bottom of the jacket was also used to give the illusion of volume (see pic below). Blouses were normally solid coloured with details around the neck. Skirts were shorter (knee-length) and either straight or A-lined and had a front and back pleat.

Other Skirt Options:

  • Trumpet
  • And swing skirt (for the dance floor)

1940's women's suits

















How to wear this look: Accessories even during the war were still very important to a 1940’s women. Pair the suit with an asymmetrical or angled shaped hat with unusual trimmings (whatever could be substituted or used during the war. Ex: materials from older hats).  Add Stockings with the seam or you could do what many women had to do when stockings became rationed which was to paint some light colour to your legs and draw the seam up the back. Shoes: Peep Toe and T-straps (1” in height) were fashionable (and saved on leather) as were Cork platforms. Don’t forget a basic purse. Lastly add your red lipstick and curl your hair with a pin curl set.

1940s Women's blouse

Women’s Blouses AND great hair examples



















1940s Vintage hats

1940s vintage women's peplum dress

Pants/Slacks were also becoming part of women’s every day wear as they had to wear them to the factories. These slacks were often high cut or at the waist and would have a single pleat down the front of the pant, and wide legged. Jeans and overalls were also being worn much like our favourite “Bomb Girls” did.

How to wear this look: Top the pants with a form fitting blouse or sweater tucked in, add a “mans cut” jacket or Bolero. Add the “Rosie the Riveter” scarf to your hair if you want or a snood with victory rolls and don’t forget the red lips. Shoes were sturdy and practical, often flat or you could pair them with a wedge shoe.

1940's women in pants

1940s vintage image of women in slacks

1940’s Dresses

Shirtwaist dresses: This style of dress you can easily find today (Trashy Diva has a few they make). The simple dress features a button down style top often seen with a flared or A-line skirt. Just like everything else during this time it was considered useful for most daily activities.

How to wear this look: Pair it with a pair of saddle shoes (and bobby socks-they appeared in the 40’s first) or wedge or peep toe shoes. Hair in victory rolls or try a pin curl set. Add a ribbon, Flower or a snood to the hair. Once again…put on those red lips.

1940s Shirtwaist dress



















Rayon Dresses were very popular during the 40’s as it was the dress”that never creased and had silk-like quality to it” and made going from day to evening very easy. Many of the dresses would be in colourful prints, knee-length and very simple cuts. Bolero and fitted jackets were added to the dress to create more outfits.  This style was very popular for swing dancers.

How to wear this look: Same styling as image below.

1940s rayon dresses




1940’s dress features:

  • Cap sleeves (sometimes with a small slit on the side for ease of movement)
  • Puffed up sleeves with gathers at the top
  • Dress necklines: Cut-outs (got to loves cut-outs!), Square, keyhole, V etc.
  • Sequins & beads: Not rationed by the war, sequins were sewn on dresses, jackets and shawls to add drama to day wear and evening wear.
  • Evening Dresses “Long”: Were Strapless (elegant and saved on material!), spaghetti strapped or halter topped, draping from the waist was seen as well.
  • Evening Dresses “Short”: Women would wear cocktail dresses (Little Black dress made its way to the scene) or Suits. This look was very popular during the height of the war.


1940's evening gown

1940s eveningwear short and long dresses


Now for something a little different….

Sportswear & Ready to Wear (Originated from New York Fashion Industry)

Highlights (but not limited too):

  • Shirtwaist dress (mentioned above)
  • Pinafore Dress-often seen in Gingham
  • Sundresses in cotton
  • Plaids, checks and stripes were often seen in Ready to wear outfits
  • Designers: Claire McCardell and Clare Potter
  • Beachwear or Swimsuits (Maybe you would like to go as Pinup Betty Grable)
    • One piece suits were form fitted, Halter or V neck with bottoms that were like shorts (but went to the top of the thigh) or skirt shaped.
    • 2 pieces swimsuits were not like what we know today. They were high-waisted, and the top was the same as above. Note: The Bikini was invented in 1946.
    • Playsuits: Very short dresses that wrapped around a swimsuit. Also playsuits with long skirts and front buttons with a snug leg under panties and bra-like top.
1940s pinafore dress

Pinafore Dresses

1940s vintage sundress

1940s sundress

1940's playsuit

1940s Playsuit

1940s playsuit



1940s vintage swimsuit images


How to wear these looks: If you are going for the “Sportswear” look think of a “younger look”. Simple pageboy hair style, no hat, saddle shoes, peep toe shoes or wedges. Ribbon in the hair if you like. Cute and simple. Red lips!

For Swimwear: Look to the Pinups of the time for style inspiration. Betty Grable, Ava Gardner, Jane Russel. 1940’s hair style and 40’s shoes and your good to go. Oh! and a flower in the hair always helps (As everyone knows or now knows 🙂 I’m a big hair flower fan)

Hawaiian themed & Mexican Influences

  • Sarong Dresses and Hawaiian prints – MY personal favorite
  • Peasant tops-off shoulder blouses with drawstring and puffed up sleeves and a full peasant skirt. Think Carmen Miranda

How to wear this look: With the styles above, 1940’s hair and makeup is a must. Add flowers…lots of flowers to one’s hair. Pile on the Bakelite bracelets for extra effect.

1940s vintage hawaiian dress

1940s vintage summer outfits for women

Peasant tops and playsuits again

1940s sarong dress

Sarong Dresses-MY FAV!


Christian Dior’s “New Look”-1947

With the war over, materials available and France open for business again a brand new look was created for women called “New Look” by Christian Dior. The idea was to let the curves of the women’s body be molded by the clothes. Highlights:

  • Small nipped in waist
  • Full skirt falling below mid-calf
  • Soft shoulders, NO MORE SHOULDER PADS!
  • Loads and loads of fabric

1940s playsuit mexican look





















How to wear this look: Kitten heels or pumps, dramatic hat, gloves, red lips, black eyeliner and impressively styled hair.


Where to buy 1940’s clothes:

For places in Toronto: Visit Gadabout in Leslieville or Cabaret Queen St. West. Kensington market might have some 1940’s clothes or “Like” clothes (Flashback, Exile, Ego). Meaning you might find a 1980’s dress influenced by the 40’s and since you have a bunch of new info on the “look” of that time period you could easily pull it off. For new vintage style dresses check out: Rosie the Rebel on bloor st west, Damzels on queen st east and on roncesvalles and now Tatyana on Queen St.West.

In Elora there is a very amazing dress shop called “Sweet Trash” which will be able to help you with your 1940’s dresses/suit hunt.

Online: Etsy is always a good place to shop, as is Ebay.

Trashy Diva and Stop Staring , Vivian of Holloway (have beautiful sarongs) have some good 1940’s influenced outfits as well (I own two “shirtdresses” from Trashy Diva).

So my ladies, there you have it A high-level overview of what you could wear to Swing Out to Victory..or really any swing dance/event you wish to attend. I hope this has helped you get your brain going and I look forward to seeing all the pics of your beautiful outfits (since I sadly have to miss this year )


7 thoughts on “Key looks of the 1940’s for Toronto’s “Swing out to Victory” (or any social dance)

  1. Any tips for the older woman (I’m 47) who wants to dress vintage. I have no desire to dress like a younger 40’s woman. I am more looking for Mayberry’s Aunt Bea. Ideas?

    • My advice would be to look on Etsy (ebay as well) and search for 1940’s house dresses or 1940’s dresses (try 1940’s suits, 1950’s suits as well) to start, you will be surprised on what pops up in the search. You could also look at purchasing a 1940’s/50’s dress pattern that suits your style and commission someone to make it for you as well. This is sometimes the best way to go to get the look that you desire. For my wedding my mother purchased a 1950’s vogue pattern (Google “Vogue Patterns” and then go to the “vintage Vogue” section) and had a seamstress do the rest. Dress came out perfect! Or you can find people on Etsy who already have the pattern you want and can sew it for you. I had a 1940’s two piece made by the shop “Time Machine Vintage” and they did a marvelous job!

      If I see something in my online travels I will be sure to pass it your way.

      I hope this helped a little bit and good luck 🙂


  2. Pingback: What to wear Lindy Hopping -1930s/1940s Real-Life Vintage Images | The Vintage Inn

  3. Pingback: 1940s Women’s Fashion Ideas For Your Next Vintage Dance | The Vintage Inn

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