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?


25 thoughts on “how to LIVE the 1940s

  1. Dear Eva,

    This is a swell article! I love the list you created. I love that era, too. I often include the 1930s, the beginning of the Code era. My sister, father, mother, and I always dress in a vintage style. It’s fun to find clothes in normal stores that have a vintage style. Of course, a hat adds something to any outfit!

    By the way, I would like to invite you to join “The Second Annual Great Breening Blogathon.” This blogathon, which will be taking place on October 12-17, is a celebration of the Code, its Era, and its enforcer, Joseph I. Breen. We are using this blogathon to honor Joseph Breen on his 130th birthday, which would have been on October 14. However, we are extending the blogathon to October 17 to celebrate the second anniversary of PEPS, which was founded on October 17, 2016. You can participate by breening a film that is not from the Breen Era (1934-1954) or by analyzing a Code films. You can also discuss an aspect of the Code, its influence on Hollywood, or Mr. Breen itself. You can find out more and join here:

    I hope that you’ll be able to join! We could really use your talents.

    Yours Hopefully,

    Tiffany Brannan


    1. I’d love to dress in a vintage style more often! I mean, I always wear skirts and dresses, but they’re not usually vintage-inspired.

      I would like to join your blogathon but I just don’t have the time right now. 😦 Thanks for inviting me, though!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Dear Eva,

        I understand. That’s perfectly fine! I read your recent article, and I agree with you about the Oxford comma. Your analogy about the rhinoceri and the two presidents was very clever.

        By the way, I would like to invite you to join a blogathon which my sister, Rebekah, is hosting in November. On November 9-11, PEPS is hosting the Claude Rains Blogathon in honor of this marvelous actor’s 129th birthday on November 10. You can read the announcements and sign up here: I know that you are probably too busy, but I wanted to invite you anyway.

        Yours Hopefully,

        Tiffany Brannan


      2. Well, it wasn’t my analogy – I just found it online. 🙂

        I did enter the Claude Rains blogathon! I’m really busy but he’s such a great actor that I couldn’t resist.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Emilie Loring was a prolific American author of romance novels from 1922 until her death in 1951. Eleven of her novels were written and published in the ’40s. Her stories began my lifelong fascination for those years, even as a young school girl. Classics? Probably not, but beautifully descriptive, simply put stories – young hero meets a young woman, rescues her from a dastardly evil situation, they fall in love and live happily ever after.


  3. Good 1940s authors of books set in England during WWII (published recently, but as authentic a look as I’ve ever seen at wartime Britain): Lilian Harry, Maureen Lee, and Helen Carey.

    As far as books that were published in the 1940s: I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers, The Razor’s Edge – W. Somerset Maugham, and Cheaper By the Dozen – Frank Gilbreth.

    Personally I find I prefer to read books written about the 1940s instead of those written during the 1940s. After WWII, I think the books developed a harder edge which really doesn’t appeal to me.


  4. 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!


  5. 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.


  6. 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. 🙂


    1. 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.


      1. Oh good! I’m glad to hear you like them! I too haven’t read all of them yet, but I hope I can someday. My favorite (so far) is Cherry Ames: Flight Nurse. 🙂


      2. The ones set during the war make me smile whenever the author puts in a little patriotic, propaganda-ish paragraph, usually along the lines of “As you know, we need lots of young women to become student nurses so that we, the more experienced nurses, can go help Our Brave Boys at the Front.” 🙂


  7. 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.


    1. Ah, I forgot to include watching real footage (and listening to old radio broadcasts) as a way to immerse oneself in the times. So thanks for reminding me!


  8. 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.)


  9. 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.


    1. You know, I believe my mom read The Winged Watchman to my siblings and I a loooong time ago, so I’ll have to re-visit it. Thanks for the recommendation. 🙂


  10. 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

    Liked by 1 person

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