The 1940s was marked by one defining event: World War II. From 1939 to 1945, the entire globe was on high alert. There was social, political, and economic unrest. Men were being shipped off to the front lines, trade was at a standstill, and industries began to suffer. As a result, fabric was rationed, silhouettes became more streamlined (read: masculine), and American fashion began to grow legs. With France being occupied by Germany, the major couture houses shuttered, allowing designers like Claire McCardell and Bonnie Cashin to make names for themselves.
Of course, European names like Elsa Schiaparelli and Jeanne Lanvin were still around, but their fanciful aesthetic seemed out of place during wartime. Thus, the concept of American sportswear (no-fuss separates meant for active lifestyles) was born, and so was the bikini. There to promote the trends were screen sirens, including Ingrid Bergman, Rita Hayworth, and Lena Horne. Indeed, the ’40s may not have been the dreamiest decade in the annals of fashion, but it was pivotal in forming what the industry is today.
This article first appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR US
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