1930s & 1940s Dress Fabric Prints

1930s & 1940s Dress Fabric Prints

Ian gives us a little lesson in what to expect from textile prints on day dresses between the 1930s and 40s. What are some of the signature details and how can we date them accurately? 

All the dresses featured are available in our rentals collection- they are not for sale.  


In 1940s fashion, prints were usually reserved for casual dresses or daywear.

Florals: 1940s prints often had small flower patterns. However, while small flowers are the most iconic of that decade, medium and large flowers were also present. Generally, floral prints started out small and grew bigger as the decade progressed (leading into large florals in the 1950s). The difference between ’40s flowers and ’30s flowers can be in the colours; 1940s florals were often much more vibrant while 30s could be quite subtle.

Abstract: The abstract art movement was making its way into fashion by the late 1940s. Squiggly lines, interpretations of nature scenes, multi colour stripes, and even paisley made an appearance. These are the designs that make up the bulk of 1950s prints as well.

Other prints that were common in the 40s included polka dots, gingham/check, stripes and plaids.

Dresses on mannequins: 

1930s rayon dresses. Rayon was a great lightweight, cool, drapey and adaptable fabric which, as we know, produced some incredible dresses during this period. 

floral 1930s rayon dress

Patterns: Floral (above) and geometric shadow dot (below).

1930s geometric print dress

Details: Raw edge details on collars, ruching, matching belts in the same fabric (sometimes covering the metal buckle with the fabric too), natural waistlines.


  • Dress one: Early 40s cotton with graphic and floral hybrid print (a combo you wouldn’t have seen in the 30s).

1940s floral graphic print day dress

  • Dress Two: Cool rayon novelty print (abstract brushstroke background with repeated stage scenes in foreground). Peplum waist detail (very 40s). This is a later 40s dress as evidenced by the lower mid-calf hem length, which would only have been allowed after fabric restrictions were lifted in America. Restrictions didn’t fully lift until 1949 in the UK.  

1940s novelty print day dress

Hanging dresses:


  • Spring floral print rayon from the early 30s with inset mesh bands in the sleeves- adorable!

1930s floral print Dress

  • 1930s silk novelty vegetable print, which could be mistaken for a floral from afar. 

1930s vegetables print dress

  • Cotton 1930s summer dress with chevron stripe print and large button details, again with a matching fabric belt. 

1930s chevron stripe dress


  • Brown rayon dress with novelty print of a telephone which could be mistaken for hearts and vines from afar. Drop-waist yoke with fine pleating details. Novelty prints were popular during the war as people needed cheering up. 

    • Green rayon mid 40s dress with floral print rendered in ‘paint brushed” designs rather than realistic. Rayon was cheap to manufacture and designers loved it because it draped so beautifully. Another peplum waist as well as shoulder padding and a shorter skirt- all details which help to date it. 

1940s green floral print dress


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