As for women, clothing was rationed. In the first
half of the 20th century, clothes were made to last.
wore suits of plain dark colours, maybe with a stripe. The material was
so much thicker than suits made today. Suits also tended to be handed
down from father to son, and style changed very little.
breasted suits had appeared in the mid-1930s, wartime rationing
dictated that these used too much material in their manufacture, so only
more traditional single breasted jackets were allowed to be made during
the war years. Those who had double breasted jackets had purchased them
before wartime rationing started.
When going out anywhere in public, for example, on
a train or even just shopping, men would wear their suit or best
In the late 1930s, men generally wore three-piece suits for work or
formal occasions only. Two-piece suits (without a waistcoat) and casual
day wear were becoming increasingly common, including knitted cardigans,
tank-tops, and soft collared or open necked shirts. For the first time
it was not obligatory to wear a tie.
Trousers were very wide, with
turned up hems and sharp creases down the leg (although the hems would
disappear once rationing was introduced). Trousers were belted high at
the abdomen if braces were not being worn.
Another point to remember is that until the late 1920s men’s braces were rarely seen on middle/upper class gentlemen
except in their own house as they were classed as "underwear" – this is
why waistcoats and sleeveless pullovers had been invented! Working class
men, however, were less concerned with social etiquette and did wear
them without waistcoats – usually if they were particularly busy doing
manual work in warm weather. It was the war itself, and everyone just
getting on with the job that resulted in what many regarded as a “slip
in standards” being becoming acceptable.
point: clip-on braces did not appear in Britain until
the eraly 1950s – so you can only use those which buttoned to your trousers.
There is nothing more annoying at re-enactment events seeing the effort
people have gone to in order to get clothing that looks like 1940s,
only to go and ruin the effect with "modern" clip-ons!
Find out more about braces and
why you shouldn't wear clip-ons at 1940s re-enactment events in the UK.
Shirts with fixed collars had appeared in the
previous decade – particularly for use on less formal occasions, so you
don’t always have to wear shirts without collars. Plain colours,
Ties were made of silk in either sombre colours,
or occasionally bright and brash if imported from America - but
definitely no cartoon characters and pictures!
As with women, when going outside of the home, a
hat was regarded as a mark of status - particularly for men. Working
class men invariably wore cloth caps, whilst the middle classes wore trilbys or fedoras. Businessmen wore bowlers.
Younger men were usually clean-shaven, rebelling against
the traditional beards grown by men in the previous century to show age,
experience and authority.
Don't forget small things like shirt sleeve
holders, and pocket watches. Wristwatches never contained batteries, nor
had digital number faces!
Mark Anthony Craig in an
original 1940s/50s dark pin stripe suit
Martin Littlejohn showing
detail of the Trilby, and the fact he is not wearing a digital watch!
Although most male civilian
re-enactors dress to impress (when taking rides on the trains or visiting
the town), some re-enactors dress for work, including as farm workers.