Fashion for men in the forties was somewhat less of an issue as they spent most, if not all of the decade in uniform. Down time for troops rarely included them in casual wear and those not conscripted - especially those not from an affluent background wore hand made, plain creations.
That’s not to say that civilian clothes did not exist, but there was much less diversification in style than in later years. Your typical forties man would have a white shirt worn with cufflinks if lucky, a rayon tie, woollen pullover, slim leg front pleat trousers and a pair of brogue shoes. Socks were navy, black, grey or brown and everyone owned a hat.
Like the clothing of the day, men’s hats were not especially diverse and the trilby or fedora reigned strong. Bowlers were more a middle/upper class choice of headwear whilst the flat cap was considered more working class or worn as part of the wealthy mans gun sports attire.
Slim fitting single breasted suits were created using the least material. Worn as formal wear, they were considered more patriotic and conservative than the zoot suit (double breasted, loose fit from the USA) which became the outfit of choice for gangsters. Undershirts or vests were a luxury but if available came from manufactures like Henleys.
The later part of the decade gave rise to a more American influenced style of clothing for men with the big screen showing Hollywood dreamboats like James Cagney and Bing Crosby. Colour was in. It took a while for British men to accept that the ladies heads were turned by this as it was thought to call into question a man’s masculinity – however the rise of a brighter looking man began!
The traditional tweeds typified by the gentry stood firm, as did the likes of casual and formal wear by Burberry, Simpson’s and Austin Reed. Hawaiian shirts and sportswear were worn as daywear as were more elaborate silk, hand painted ties. The cardigan was a staple throughout the forties too, available in a vast selection of knitwear patterns and a firm favourite as a gift on birthdays and Christmases.
If you are interested in vintage military attire, there are a host of international suppliers. Check out Camden Market or Portobello Road in London or specialists online like Hogspear (www.hospear.com).
Remember that beyond the highest ranks of solider – uniforms were largely made by regular women who were enlisted to stitch together basic patterns for the men. It’s a grim thought but things became so bad that clothes and shoes from soldiers killed in battle were regularly retrieved and recycled.
It’s ironic that a charity shop – now seen as a viable source for fashion items – was then regarded as a means of obtaining clothing for the desperate and impoverished at the end of the war. Many women had lost sons, husbands, brothers and uncles and those with no use for men’s clothes in the household were encouraged donate so men who had returned home, wounded and unable to work were able to afford clothes at a reduced cost.
Finally, lets take a look at men’s hair. The clean shaven look was most popular and became habit as soldiers were expected to keep head and facial hair to a minimum to prevent ticks, fleas and nits. Moustaches were in and came in many styles.
The short back and sides was by far the hairstyle of choice for men and a regular visit to the barbers was a must. A comb could be found in the inner jacket pocket of any self respecting gentleman and Brylcreem tamed hair into a neat and wearable style – usually side parted or with a small front quiff.
Written by Hannah Wing from www.bellusfemina.co.uk