WWII 1940’s Working Women, Rosie’s, and Nurses

The Fashion of WWII 1940’s Working Women, Rosie’s, and Nurses

The 1940s weren’t all play. A lot of the men in the U.S. were drafted for the war. While they were off at training and fighting overseas, women were encouraged to leave their homes and work in all sorts of jobs – from office work to factories, most notably in munitions factories contributing to the war effort. Women were also recruited for direct service in the war, in non-combat positions and as nurses.

1940's rosie worker

1942 Rosie Drilling on a Liberator Bomber

In an office setting, women would wear their normal clothes – suits or rayon dresses. However, skirts were not practical for the factory work that women began to do, and they had to dress differently. They would wear either denim or cotton twill pants with a tucked in, short-sleeved button down blouse. Often, especially for munitions work, they would wear the now-famous ‘Rosie the Riveter’ coveralls. These were usually made of blue denim or heavyweight cotton canvas in brown, tan or blue. The coveralls buttoned down the front middle to get in and out and were loose-fitting throughout, although they were sometimes fitted in the waist. They were often long-sleeved to offer protection, although some had short shirt-sleeves, and were fit tightly around the wrists and ankles to avoid loose ends getting caught in machines. They often had breast pockets to keep pens and small tools in. Coveralls were often worn with a cotton blouse underneath. Factory workers also had to tie up their hair so that it wouldn’t get caught in machinery. They used either a turban or tied their hair back with a scarf or bandana.


Wearing Knit Snoods

Women didn’t fight in the war, but they did join the army and navy as clerical workers. Uniforms were made stylish so as to attract women to service, and they looked somewhat similar to the suits that women were already wearing. The WAVES, Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service, were part of the navy. Their uniform consisted of a white blouse with a small navy scarf underneath a navy jacket. The jacket was shaped similarly to a suit jacket of the time, but slightly looser-fitting and with more severe shoulder pads. It had gold buttons down the front with two breast pockets with gold buttons. The jacket sometimes had two gold, silver or bronze embroidered stripes and a star at the wrists, depending on the rank of the woman wearing it. This topped off an a-line navy skirt that came to the knee. A navy cap with a small brim, sometimes white with navy brim, was also worn. The WAC, Women’s Army Corps, wore a very similar uniform. Instead of white and navy, the WAC uniform was all tan-colored, including the blouse. A tan tie went with the shirt, and a tan cap with a small brim was worn. The jacket had gold buttons as well.

ww2 women military uniforms

All four women's branches of the armed services in uniform

Women also volunteered as nurses with the Red Cross during the war, many of them serving overseas. The uniform for nurses was a standard shape, but came in several colors depending on the duties the nurse performed. It was a basic shirtwaist dress with a pointed collar and buttons all the way down the front. The skirt was a-line. Nurses’ dresses were a little bit longer than a regular skirt, reaching a couple of inches below the knee. They came in both short-sleeves and long, the long sleeves coming to a cuff at the wrist. They had a self-fabric belt worn at the waist and were made of cotton. They were either grey, medium to light blue or white with white buttons. The grey and blue dresses had a white collar and cuffs. The dresses had an embroidered red cross symbol on the left side of the chest. The dresses were worn with a small, round white cap with a red cross symbol on the front. A white cotton apron was worn over the dress when working. It tied at the waist and was slightly shorter than the dress. The front was square at the neckline and it had a large red cross symbol in the center.

Red Cross Nurses

Red Cross Nurses


You have just read a section from the 1940’s Style Guide: The Complete Illustrated Guide to 1940’s Fashion for Women. To read more pick up a copy of the book today!

1940's dress

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