how to LIVE the 1940s

{This post was written for Rose’s 1940’s Week over at An Old Fashioned Girl.}

The 1940s is the one decade I’d love to live in.  Not just visit, but really live in.  The 21st century is awesome and I have to admit that, in some ways, I’m glad I was born in this time and not the 40s, but my heart still does occasionally yearn for those long-gone days.  Almost everything about the 40s thrills me to my fingertips (which is why I love writing stories set in that era) – the clothes, the music, the films, the books, the general feel of those ten years.  Of course, it wasn’t all perfect since WWII raged for the first five years of the decade, but there’s obviously enough good – even in those five years – to make me want to time travel back.  And since I can’t do that, I’ve come up with some tips to help myself and anyone else who’s interested to experience a bit of life in the 1940s.

Atlanta Teenagers. October 1947 Photographer: Edward Clark. LIFE Hosted by Google:

~Talk the talk.  I suggest checking out this list of 1940s slang words – not only is it interesting in its own right, but a few choice phrases thrown into conversations here and there will do wonders for helping you into the 40s’ mindset. (If you’re a lady, I would caution against using too much slang as it could come across as undignified, but getting a ‘swell’ in there every now and then wouldn’t hurt.)

1940s fashion:

~The proper clothes.  A bit tougher, this one.  Not everyone has 1940s-era attire hanging in their closet or tucked away in their drawers, but there are some things you can do to circumvent that. (I happen to be lucky enough to have a darling black dress that is perfectly 40s + a string of pearls that makes me feel lovely and vintage whenever I wear them.)  I think aiming for a ’40s-inspired’ look would be the way to go if you don’t own anything that immediately brings the era to mind: full skirts, high heels, hats, dresses that come just below the knee, a little purse, etc.

Photograph by Victor Keppler for a lipstick advertisement, c. 1943.:

~Bright red lipstick.  Part of the last point, but important + iconic enough to go on the list by itself.  A bit of this now and then will make you feel marvelous (think: Peggy Carter) and just a wee bit daring.

~Watch the movies.  Basically, watch any movie that was popular during the 1940s – it’ll feel like a time capsule, especially if the movie is actually set in ‘modern times’ and isn’t a period piece.  You can see the latest fashions, latest innovations in film technology, what manners and customs were the norm…it’s great!  I recommend: The Best Years of Our Lives, It’s A Wonderful Life, Laura, Casablanca, The Grapes of Wrath, State Fair, Notorious, Gentleman’s Agreement, Rebecca, and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. (Just to name a few.)

~Read the books.  A lot of good novels were published in the 40s, though I think I’ve only read a few (working on that).  I believe that, in some cases, they offer a richer portrait of the American mindset during this era. (But maybe that’s just because I’ll always prefer books to movies.)  Does anyone have recommendations for books from this time period that you think I would enjoy?  Because at the moment, the only book published in the 40s that I can think of that I’ve read is Shane. (Which is awesome.)

~Listen to the music.  My favorite part.  Glenn Miller!  The Andrews Sisters!  Vera Lynn!  Just go to Youtube, do a quick search, and you’ll be serenaded by authentic 1940s’ music in no time.  Glenn Miller is always great for motivating me to clean my room or work on a blog post I don’t feel like writing.  I haven’t heard much from the Andrews Sisters, but I do want to.  And Vera Lynn’s voice is gorgeousness.  I could listen to it all day. (And sometimes, I do.)

That’s about it, folks – I hope you enjoyed reading this post. (I know I had fun writing it.)  Do you have any tips or ideas to add?



17 thoughts on “how to LIVE the 1940s

  1. Hot dog! This post was SWELL, Eva. 🙂 I try to be happy with the era was born in, but I agree, sometimes I wish I could dive into that FEEL of the forties. (I sooo understand what you mean with that ‘feel.’ :-D)

    I love that page of 40’s slang you linked too! (So good for research if you’re writing something from the era, too. I’m bookmarking it. :-))

    Same! I haven’t read many books written in the 40’s either! I’ve read books that were popular then, though (GWTW :-D) but you’re right – I can’t think of many popular books from the 40’s either! Wait, let me do a google search… 😀 …. Nope. My goodness, I had no idea there were so many popular books from that era that I’ve never even heard of. I’ll have to look into that. 🙂

    YESSSS. THE MUSIC. Ahhh. ❤

    I was thinking the other day that I should rewatch State Fair again. 😀 (If we ever meet up, that's a movie we MUST watch together. Like, seriously.)

    ~ Naomi


  2. I think 40s clothes are lovely–especially the shirt dresses or whatever you call ’em 🙂 They’re cute and comfortable-looking. I’m glad I don’t have to follow 40s hairstyles, though–they’d look horrid on me. Like, no kidding.

    Hmmmmmmmmm. 1940s books . . . Have you ever tried any of Hilda van Stockum’s work? She wrote a lot of historical-type fiction for kids and teenagers; most of her stuff was published in the 30s, 40s, and 50s, I think. “The Winged Watchman” is especially good–I HIGHLY recommend it. It’s set in WW2 Holland and it is Just. So. Powerful. I’ve also heard that “The Borrowed House” (set in Nazi Germany and Holland) is a great book, too, but I’ve never personally tried it.


  3. Looks like there are a lot of great books that came out in the 40’s – 1984, For Whom the Bell Tolls (on my TBR SOON list), The Little Prince, Animal Farm, The Robe, and The Great Divorce. (They’re all on my TBR list, actually, except The Rober, which I thought was boring, but the movie was okay.)


  4. This post speaks to me on so many levels!!
    I would love to live in the 40’s too but as time travelling is impossible as of yet, I’m also trying to incorporate the style into my life. This far I’m doing the clothes, the lipstick and the music. I’ve never thought about the books, maybe that will be something I look into.
    I don’t know if it counts as a tip, but I also enjoy watching documentaries about the time.


  5. This was a great post! And I adore the pictures. 🙂
    I’ve read a few books written in the 1940’s that I really like-the Cherry Ames nurse stories are the first thing to come to mind. “Patty Dale on the Airways” by Ruby Lorraine Redford is another. The Vicki Barr flight stewardess series is also cute.
    This book wasn’t written in the 40’s, but I LOVE “Catrin in Wales” by Mabel Esther Allan. It’s an old book written in the early ’60’s and I highly recommend it. 🙂


    • Thanks! I always have lots of fun picking out pictures to go with each post.

      The Cherry Ames series is GREAT. I haven’t read even half the books in the series, but I love the ones I have been able to find.


  6. Books from the 1940s! Random Harvest by James Hilton was published in 1941. Most of Raymond Chandler’s novels were written and published in the 1940s (can be a little strong with the violence, language, and hints of sexual situations, but not terrible). Ernie Pyle’s books about the war are wonderful. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith is excellent.


  7. If you are interested in authentic 1940s, I recommend watching Since You Went Away. I’d buy the DVD, because you will watch it 100 times. Filmed in 1943 and is about the Homefront during WWll. It’s the best!


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