'Pearl Harbor' spurs '40s look

Dainty dresses, long hemlines expected to get boost from film

— Enjoy those skimpy T-shirts, low-slung jeans and pointy-toed stilettos. Come fall, they may be thrown overboard for frilly blouses, cinched-waist dresses and thick-heeled, ankle-strap shoes.

The 1940s are back once again, thanks in part to the buzz over daintier dresses and longer hemlines seen in the big-budget movie "Pearl Harbor."

Merle Ginsberg, entertainment editor at Women's Wear Daily and W, said '40s styles may be a welcome throwback for shoppers bombarded with very expensive, very trendy and very bare garments the past few years.

"The 1940s and '50s is viewed as a simpler, kinder time with quality clothes," she said.

Michael Kaplan, costume designer for "Pearl Harbor," knows a thing or two about creating a fashion phenomena on film: He worked on 1983's "Flashdance," which had girls across the country cutting the collars off their sweat shirts.

In the 1940s look, he said, "there was a sweetness ... a modesty."

One of Kaplan's favorite costumes in the movie is a velvet and chiffon dress in a mustard-pinkish color worn by actress James King in a supper-club scene. It's seductive because of what it doesn't show.

Women in the 1940s wore fitted garments that showed their shape but not a lot of skin, observed Evan Hughes, buying manager for The Wasteland, a Los Angeles vintage clothing store. The rayon dresses were clingy, but had some swing to the skirt that kept them fun and innocent.

Some 1940s accessories like clutch handbags, fur collars and initial jewelry � like the "E" pin that Kate Beckinsale's character wears in "Pearl Harbor" � already have reappeared.

This isn't the first time the '40s are back as a fashion force. The peace-loving 1970s embraced wrap dresses, shoulder pads and fitted suits that were inspired by World War II-era styles.

Authentic clothes from that era also were popular about five years ago, said Hughes, and he is seeing a resurgence now.

The latest fashion time warp started last fall with Miuccia Prada's shoes with cone-shaped heels, Ginsberg said.

It continued at the February previews of the fall 2001 women's collections, which offered both the super-feminine styles of ruffled blouses paired with flowing skirts, and also officer-inspired military jackets.

Designer Nicole Miller said her upcoming line, filled with full skirts, fur trims and romantic prints, was inspired by late-night viewings of "The Big Sleep" (1946) and "To Have and Have Not" (1944).

Clothes of the 1940s are wearable by most women, said Miller, because "they don't need a washboard stomach, an enhanced chest and legs for days" to look great.

Besides, she thinks, people like pretty. "Everyone now looks a little harsh and hard-edge because it's 'in fashion,' but if I make a pretty dress, it sells better."

For men, the trend is more in separate items such as army jackets or aviator sunglasses.

"If 'Pearl Harbor' connects with people, the emotional ties to the movie will fuel the fashion trends," Ginsberg said. "Period movies remind us about styles of the past � sometimes that's good, sometimes that's bad."

While the early 1940s are associated with delicate women's styles, those looks were actually 1930s styles on the way out.

aris designers were already showing more dramatic and more masculine styles, Kaplan said, but the average American woman still had floral or polka-dot dresses with puffy sleeves. It wasn't until the postwar era that women in the United States began to wear the shorter skirts and shoulder pads that truly define 1940s fashion.


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