Fashion History: 1930s

I thought today I would take a closer look as fashion from the 1930s. As I mentioned in my post on my book Vintage Fashion, the 30s was the era of Hollywood glamour. Gowns were elegant and draped and with an elongated silhouette. Women had been liberated from corsets in the 1920s meaning the evening-wear was freer and was cut on the bias to show the natural curves of the body. In terms of undergarments, they favoured separates with few seams so they wouldn’t show through the outerwear. Madeleine Vionnet was the first designed to use the bias to make these kinds of gown.

Madeleine Vionnet gown(image source)

In terms of daywear, the suit was still king. After the waist had completely disappeared in the 1920s, it came back in the 30s. After the Great Depression in 1929, people didn’t have so much money (obvs!) so fashion had to last longer – they mended things rather than buying again. Costume jewellery overtook real jewellery and it and accessories became the way to update a look where they couldn’t afford a new suit. Daywear became more and more practical, too, as women led busier lives.

1930s Suits(image source)

It was lucky timing that synthetic fabrics, like synthetic silk, were being developed during the 30s as it meant clothes were cheaper, so people could actually afford them. Don’t the women above look thrilled to be in their suits! As you can see, berets were a big trend, worn on a jaunty angle.

1935 Sears Fashions(image source)

After the boyish styles of the previous decade, the 30s returned to a feminine, hourglass silhouette. Although the suits weren’t super feminine, there was a big fashion for pussy bows and feminine necklines. Also frills and flounces on the blouses.

Meadowbrook Illustrations 1930s(image source)

Following Chanel’s lead, a  lot of daywear styles were more sporty than they had been before. In 1930 Prunella Stack started the Women’s League of Health and Beauty in Britain.  Their motto was ‘Movement is Life’ – and they acknowledged the importance of a healthy mind and a healthy body.

1930s Fashion Illustration(image source)

And of course fur is always elegant! Though these days I would go to faux rather than the real thing….

1930s Furs(image source)

I thought I’d share a couple of Elsa Schiaparelli’s designs, after discovering her in the Vintage Fashion book. Her label was first popular because of her trompe l’oeil knitwear designs, like these two (the bottom one was on the cover of a book about the history of knitting):


Schiaparelli jumper(image source)

She had no formal pattern-making training, so like her mentor, Paul Poiret, she draped her clothes directly on the body/ dress form. I love, love, love, this coat – I can’t believe she draped it! Want!

Schiaparelli faces gown(image source)

Designers like Schiaparelli and Chanel were, as now, the domain of the wealthy – especially in the shadow of the Depression – so people started to make knock-offs and ready-to-wear versions for the less wealthy to buy. Still the majority of women made their own copies of the latest designed based on what they saw in magazines and in movies. This means there are lots of great sewing patterns from the 30s!

Vogue 1934 Sewing Pattern(image source)

Simplicity Sewing Pattern 2110 1930s(image source)

McCalls Sewing Pattern 8690 1930s(image source)

New York Pattern 137 1930s(image source)

Simplicity Pattern 1860 1930s(image source)

I couldn’t really do a post on the decade of Hollywood glamour without mentioning some of the era’s film stars!

Katharine Hepburn was a champion of the menswear trend. She made the wide-legged trousers and shirt look popular and it’s still a fashionable look now. And she knits!

Katharine Hepburn knitting(image source)

Katharine Hepburn beret(image source)

Katharine Hepburn(image source)

Bette Davis said “Hollywood wanted me to be pretty, but I fought for realism.” ‘Nuf said! Although, if you haven’t seen All About Eve, you have to, she’s amazing!

Bette Davis(image source)

Jean Harlow died very young but did manage to become a film star in her short life. She also wore some amazing gowns!

Jean Harlow gown(image source)

Jean Harlow gown 2(image source)

Jean Harlow red gown(image source)

Marlene Dietrich said “I dress for myself. Not for the image, not for the public, not for fashion, not for men.” She was the first major female star to wear a tuxedo. She definitely rocked the masculine look!

(image source)

Marlene Dietrich suit(image source)

Marlene Dietrich suit 2(image source)

The last woman I’ll mention, though not a film star, was one of the most influential woman of the 30s style-wise. She was famously photographed by Cecil Beaton in a Schiaparelli dress, designed with Salvador Dali, with a giant lobster on the skirt – it was quite a scandalous dress at the time!

Wallis Simpson by Cecil Beaton in Schiaparelli(image source)

Here’s a better, colour, picture:

Schiaparelli lobster dress(image source)

In writing this post I’ve definitely reignited my love of 30s fashion! Who is your favourite screen icon of the decade?

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