Friday, June 3, 2011

Sailor Style Evolution Part 4: Wartime Patriotism

If you missed them, catch up on Part 1: Nautical Fashion is Born, Part 2: The Rise of the Middy and Part 3: Nautical Sails Again.

Life magazine, May 1940

The 1940s and World War II brought military influences once more to the fashion fore. "Give a fashionable salute to the navy in [a] sailor dress," advised the Ellensburg Daily Record in August 1940. Designs for nautical daywear proliferated, though there was a return to the traditional blue, white and red - never again would sailor style be the rainbow-hued fashion staple that it was during the 1930s.

Ellensburg Daily Record, 1940

1940 seized upon the look with great gusto, taking a more holistic approach to sailor style than ever before, with nautical motifs in accessories as well as clothing. In October of that year Life magazine ran a full feature on patriotic nautical fashions (do click for full size versions - the clothes and accessories are just fabulous!), which goes to demonstrate how popular the look was.

Life magazine, October 1940

Hollywood Patterns 692, Betty Grable sailor dress, c1940


Patriotic fashions in Life magazine, July 1941

In 1941 the Montreal Gazette announced that the "sailor theme is popular" in resort wear. "Sometimes it is just a sailor collar, with stars or anchors at the corners to carry out the nautical look, while again it might be an entire sailor dress, which is an outstanding favorite. At any rate the resort togs have joined the navy, and that's a preview of the regular run of styles for spring.

The sailor theme is strong in hats too, for new sailors keyed to the Gibson Girl period have as their main point that they are flat and worn posed straight on the head on top of the pompadour."

Nautical style certainly was stronger than ever, as the profusion of patterns and readymades - from princess dresses and shirtwaists to playsuits and separates - attests. The traditional sailor dress was most popular, but playful variations on the theme were also available, including the princess seamed number below left, which features "gay contrast in the jaunty sailor collar, and godet inserts in the breezy skirt". The dress is made in "Celanese Rayon Crepe Romaine with tiny white stars applied on dark, and color scheme reversed on collar and godets" and available in Navy, Kelly Green and Scarlet Red, with white. Although it was a juniors dress it was available up to size 19 (which I think would have been a 37 bust?).

Sears & Roebuck, Spring 1941

Sears & Roebuck, Spring 1941

Sears & Roebuck, Spring 1941

Simplicity 3910, 1941

Sears & Roebuck, Fall 1941

Sears & Roebuck, Fall 1941

Companion-Butterick 1402 nautical shirtwaist, c1941

Simplicity 3669, nautical two-piece, 1941

Accessories available which carried the nautical theme included shoes and - yes - even socks.

"Yeomanette" shoes, Sears & Roebuck, 1941

The "Yeomanette" appears again in Sears & Roebuck, 1942

Military-motif socks, Sears & Roebuck, 1943

Naval style trims also continued to be popular for those making or customising their own garments.

Military-style trims, Sears & Roebuck, Spring 1942

Military trims, Sears & Roebuck, Fall 1942

1940s nautical playsuit pattern by Wearing History

Sears & Roebuck, Spring 1942

Sears & Roebuck, Spring 1942

However, after this burst of popularity in the early years of the decade, from about 1943 sailor styles start to disappear from the fashion record. Perhaps the restrictions of fabric rationing that limited skirt lengths and proscribed cuffs and trouser turn-ups also spelled the end for the 'wasteful' sailor collar? Although "middy braid" and soutache braid was still offered in 1944, it was illustrated on a regular collar.

Simplicity 4761, 1943

Butterick 2478, 1943

Simplicity 4902, 1944 (available on etsy here and here)

Braid trims, Sears & Roebuck, 1944

Children's sailor suits remained popular, but the nautical look wasn't to return to adult fashion in any major way until the 1950s.

Continue reading Part 5: Nautical Novelties - 1950s and Beyond.


  1. Oh how badly do I want the middle handbag from the 'accessories' picture and the blue star Oxford shoes.

  2. and how badly do i want some of those patterns.! oh my as Dorothy would say. The only thing i don't like about nautical is how popular it is right now... does that make sense? But i adore and always have. x

  3. I need need need that "My Country 'Tis of Thee" embroidered swimsuit (and cape!). Awesomeness!

  4. Oh, how I love the 40s! The images/patterns you've shared are to die for!!!


I'd love to hear your thoughts!


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