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Teenage Girls in the 1940s – Lifestyle Photos of a Bygone Era

Marea Harris
Photo by Getty Images

Teenage girls living in the 1940s enjoyed an independence that would make many modern teen envious.

They had been raised by parents and teachers who encouraged them to dress prettily so they could find a young man to marry, and to work a part-time job so they could buy expensive wedding china.

But by the time they were old enough to work part-time jobs, the young men were away at war and mom and dad were both working away from the home. With no young boys to impress and no parents to please, teenage girls, were left with an unexpected level of independence, and a lot of disposable income.

Ballet girls posing in their dressing room at the Cremorne Theatre, Brisbane, 1940.

Ballet girls posing in their dressing room at the Cremorne Theatre, Brisbane, 1940.

 

Teenage girls gather around wearing their ice skates, c. 1944. Photo by Kirn Vintage Stock/Corbis via Getty Images

Teenage girls gather around wearing their ice skates, c. 1944. Photo by Kirn Vintage Stock/Corbis via Getty Images

 

Smiling teen girl cheerleader wearing varsity letter sweater, Los Angeles, California, 1949. Photo by Camerique/Getty Images

Smiling teen girl cheerleader wearing varsity letter sweater, Los Angeles, California, 1949. Photo by Camerique/Getty Images

 

Waving girls, 1940.

Waving girls, 1940.

 

At the Vermont state fair, Rutland.

At the Vermont state fair, Rutland.

 

Backstage at the girlie show at the Vermont state fair, Rutland.

Backstage at the girlie show at the Vermont state fair, Rutland.

 

Young fashionable women. Photo by FORTEPAN CC BY-SA 3.0

Young fashionable women. Photo by FORTEPAN CC BY-SA 3.0

In school, they were expected to follow a strict dress code, which mandated everything from the type of blouse, skirt, socks, shoes and even type of jewelry and hairstyles they should wear.

But outside of the school, they had more choices about how to spend spare time and money. They bought the clothes they wanted to wear: knit sweaters, plaid skirts, bobby socks, loafers, and nail-polish-painted eye-glasses.

Related video: Great 1940s teenage slang:

https://youtu.be/TDn8zkochFc

Clothing designers were puzzled to find that these teenage girls picked different clothes than the conventional styles preferred by their mothers. Some of them picked more “masculine” styles, donning pantsuits, slacks, denim jeans, and even overalls.

When they weren’t working or at school, they hung out at movie theaters and soda fountains listening to Frank Sinatra, swing dancing and enjoying a carefree and independent life far from the troubles of war.

Students at Washington High School in class, training for specific contributions to the war effort, Los Angeles, California. Ralph Angar, instructor, explains propeller characteristics to students in the aeronautics class (LOC).

Students at Washington High School in class, training for specific contributions to the war effort, Los Angeles, California. Ralph Angar, instructor, explains propeller characteristics to students in the aeronautics class (LOC).

 

In bathing suits, North Africa, 1944.

In bathing suits, North Africa, 1944.

 

Jazz singer June Christy, 1947.

Jazz singer June Christy, 1947.

 

Photo by Erik Holmén CC BY 4.0

Photo by Erik Holmén CC BY 4.0

 

Young woman in Budapest, 1939.

Young woman in Budapest, 1939.

 

Three French chic young ladies.

Three French chic young ladies.

 

On vacation at Lake Balaton in Hungary, 1939. Photo by FORTEPAN CC BY-SA 3.0

On vacation at Lake Balaton in Hungary, 1939. Photo by FORTEPAN CC BY-SA 3.0

The teenage girls of the 1940s lived in an exciting and drastically changing world. By the time the war was over, and society started to get back to “normal,” these girls had already enjoyed a taste of independence that they weren’t ready to let go of.

Read another story from us: Vintage Fashion – 1950s Teenage Girls with their Doo Wop Dresses

Many of them would grow up to be part of the 1960s women’s rights movement, bringing a new level of independence to American women, for decades to come.

Marea Harris

Marea Harris is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News