Fashion of the 1930s was directly influenced by the great Wall Street Crash of October 24, 1929 and subsequent Depression. The Autumn, 1930 Sears Catalogue admonished, “Thrift is the spirit of the day. Reckless spending is a thing of the past.” The beginning of the decade saw women sewing more. Clothing was mended and patched before being replaced. Less ready-to-wear garments were purchased, even though styles were dramatically changing.
A softer, more feminine style replaced the boyish, flapper look of the twenties. At the beginning of the decade, hemlines dropped dramatically to the ankle and remained there until the end of the thirties. Necklines were lowered while torsos were sensuously molded beneath squared shoulders. Darts were replaced by soft gathers. Dress waists returned to the natural waistline. Moderately full skirts accentuated a small waist and minimized the hips. Dress bodices were designed with inset pieces and yokes. Necklines received dramatic attention, often with wide scallop-edged or ruffled collars.
Skirts were also designed with great detail. Upper skirt yokes appeared for the first time, designed in a v-shape and extending from one hip to the center of the yoke and continuing to the opposite hip. Layered and ruffled looks debuted on skirts, sometimes in tiers. The skirt bottom was often full with pleats or gathers.
The entertainment industry continued to exert a strong influence over fashion. Movies were one of the few escapes from the harsh reality of the Depression. Movie star endorsements of styles and accessories became common, especially with evening wear. A popular formal look was the empire-waisted gown, with ties at the back. The dress might boast butterfly or large, puffy sleeves. Hemlines fell at the ankle and trains added a further formal touch. Fabric flowers might be placed at the neckline, on one shoulder, or at the center waist or center neckline. Bows were another popular accent. The peplum made its debut in the late thirties evening wear.
Fur of all kinds was worn extensively during this era, both during the day and at night. Fur capes, coats, stoles wraps, accessories and trimmings adorned women’s dresses. Pelts in demand were sable, mink, chinchilla, Persian lamb and silver fox.
Women’s sportswear was influenced by a more masculine style. Sport suits, leather jackets and middy slacks became popular.
Hats were worn at an angle. The cloche hat was replaced by the beret. Pill boxes became popular along with brimmed hats. Towards the end of the decade, turbans emerged.
A variety of shoe styles was available during this era. Rounded toes were seen with wide, thick heels. Pumps and flat shoes were available, and ankle strap styles with moderate heels also appeared. Slip-on styles, lace-up shoes and buckle shoes were all worn. Spectator or two-tone shoes appeared in the early thirties. Rubber companies were actually endorsed for their shoe soles in the Sears Catalog.
Handbags of the early thirties looked like those of the twenties. Beaded bags were abundant, as well as enameled mesh bags. During the later part of the decade, leather became very popular. Three-pocket leather clutches with a generous flap over the front and the owner’s initials were especially popular.
Underpinnings of the early thirties continued to show the influence of the corset, although most of the corsets sold boasted “no boning”; boning was available for women who felt it was necessary. The one-piece garments known as corsets consisted of a brassiere and girdle with garters. By the late thirties, the separate bra and girdle had become acceptable, but one piece corsets continued to be widely available.
Washable, easy-care fabrics were introduced during this decade. An advertisement in the Sears Catalog reads: “USE LUX: We advise gentle Lux for best results in washing the dresses shown on these pages. With Lux there is no rubbing to injure threads. And no harmful alkali. Safe in water, safe in Lux!” The first openly synthetic fibers were developed in the 1930s. Prior to this, manufactured fibers had been developed to emulate natural fibers. In 1935 the Du Pont de Nemours Company successfully synthesized nylon. Nylon was introduced in stockings during 1939 but its use in fashion was interrupted by World War II. Widespread use of this synthetic fiber didn’t occur until after World War II.
The zipper’s popularity continued during the 1930s. It was first commonly known as a “slide fastener”. B. F. Goodrich coined the name “zipper” and used it as a fastener in an overshoe. The predominance of zippers in manufactured clothing increased toward the end of the decade, primarily as a side closing fastener.
This decade saw many improvements in mass production techniques, which meant a wider range of women now had access to well-made and well-cut clothes. The advent of War in 1939, however, stopped civilian access to clothing manufacturers for several years while the country focused on the war effort.
On September 3, 1939, England and France declared war on Germany for invading Poland, and refusing to withdraw troops. This single event changed the world of fashion forever.
Horsham, Michael. 20s & 30s Style. London: Quintet Publishing Limited,
Burns, Leslie Davis, Nancy C. Bryant. The Business of Fashion. New York: Fairchild Publications, 1997.
Peacock, John. Fashion Sourcebooks The 1930s. London, Thanes & Hudson, Ltd., 1997.
Blum, Stella ed. Everyday Fashions of the Thirties. New York, Dover Publications, Inc., 1986.
Ultan, Lloyd. The Bronx in History. Online. Internet. 15 November 1998. Available. http://www.bronx.com
Questions regarding men’s clothing may be directed to Carol Nolan at:
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Copyright © 1999-2004 Carol Nolan
Copyright © 1999-2004 Carol Nolan