The decade had hardly begun when the United States had to face the hard reality of war. Factories changed their concentration from consumer to military goods, and women were required to fill jobs relinquished by men needed for the service. The line between "women's work" and "men's work" blurred; women assumed a significant and vital role in the workforce.
Function became the focus of fashion. The prevailing silhouette of the '40s, influenced by menswear and military dress, was streamlined, lean, and understated, with broad, padded shoulders and narrow waist and hips. In 1942 the War Production Board issued General Limitation Order L-85, which codified specific regulations for the production of textiles and apparel. The effect of such comprehensive restrictions was dramatic - the spare and tailored silhouette was essentially frozen for the duration of World War II.
Another aspect of the '40s fashion story was the development of practical yet stylish and sophisticated sportswear in the major textile centers of New York and Los Angeles. Slacks, a necessity in factory work, became a component of fashionable dress. In Los Angeles, readily available fabrics such as cotton and rayon were used to manufacture separates or coordinated outfits to accomodate the various activities of working women in a year-round indoor/outdoor lifestyle. "Playclothes" from the California sportswear designers became extremely popular and were marketed on a national scale.
By 1947 Paris had regained its prewar prominence as a fashion center, and Christian Dior had introduced the New Look, with unpadded shoulders, corseted "wasp" waists, and long, full skirts- paving the way for the hourglass silhouette of the following decade.