Sew For Victory – finding authentic 40s inspiration

February 8, 2013


(Sears, Roebuck and Co. Spring 1941)

With this sewing challenge there are countless places to pull inspiration from in order to complete your 40’s look. Lately there seems to be a rise in WWII inspired movies and television shows, which I think is awesome (I just started watching Bomb Girls)! Recreating a look from a 40’s themed movie is totally acceptable for this challenge, but if you’re like me, you’re mildly obsessed with recreating authentic 40’s to the best of your ability. One thing I’ve learned from reenacting is the movies don’t always get it right. More importantly I’ve learned researching actual historic records gives you a greater personal connection to vintage sewing. That’s my favorite part!

Of course, not everyone has to take their 40’s sewing to this kind of level, but the history buff in me craves this kind of research! So with that said…

Become friends with your local librarian!
One of the best resources you can reference for authentic 1940’s looks are “real life” items like year books, photographs, department store catalogs, magazines, and newspapers. Most larger/college libraries will have a special section on local history. See if they have any year books from the 40s! Vintage year books will give you a fantastic idea of what kinds of clothing and hairstyles were worn in that day. Check out this photo I found of the University of Vermont’s Women’s Ski Team of 1942!


Use that free trial membership at!
Now, if local archives aren’t available to you, there are plenty of authentic references to be found online. The one that was most recently suggested to me is the Sears and Roebuck catalog archives found on! HUGE thanks to Tasha for recommending this one to me! I’m currently browsing on a free trial membership, but I might just start paying for the service because there are literally THOUSANDS of pages of true authentic 40’s inspiration spanning the entire decade. And look! It’s even useful when cross referencing inspiration! Check out these ski outfits from the Fall catalog of 1940:


And can I just point out some other AMAZING clothing from these Sears catalog archives? I’m especially loving the looks of Spring 1944!


After seeing so many black and white photos from the era, it’s hard to picture colors and prints like these! Talk about dressing to boost morale! spring1944Sears2

It wasn’t all pleats and pretty dresses though, check out these working girl styles! Yep, they had t-shirts too (rayon jersey was in abundance)!


More color in the Spring 1943 catalog:



Check out the Google LIFE archive!
Google Images also has a fantastic archive of photos from the 40’s, especially from LIFE magazine. This is the resource I used to find all my farm fashion inspiration.


Library of Congress on Flickr!
Their color photos of the 30s and 40s is especially neat!


Other Resources:
I also find Glamour Daze to be a great source for WWII related inspiration in regards to how the war impacted fashion in the 40’s.

And, of course, The Bellas Hess catalog that I mentioned last time. The $3.95 it costs to download this reference sounds REALLY appetizing when I saw how much a membership costs at!

In conclusion, the personal connection to vintage sewing is really what interests me in recreating these looks. I love reading about women during the war and how the time period impacted their way of life. When you picture yourself in their shoes, it really makes you take a step back and think about what it means to “Make Do and Mend”. You start to look at your sewing scraps a little differently. You find yourself taking less impulsive trips to the fabric store. You plan your projects better knowing you can’t just buy more supplies when you mess up. Since researching the 40’s, sewing has gotten so much less stressful for me! Just being able to put my serger away and pick up a pair of pinking shears has already made sewing more fun. I’ve learned to appreciate when my garments LOOK handmade on the inside! Imagine how valuable a skill like sewing was back then! That’s a skill I’m proud of today.


 (Sears, Roebuck and Co. Spring 1941)

I’ll be sharing more specific information on fabrics and fiber content next time!

Stay tuned 🙂