The 1930s

History of Fashion – The 1930s


The depression: colours were dark, hats, hair styles and necklines downwards.

Revivals and interest in earlier periods continue throughout the history of fashion. During the 20th century, perhaps because of the bewildering changes, nostalgia in everyday life and the insecurities caused by World Wars and political changes, nostalgia for the recent past of twenty to forty years before has been a recurring theme. From the late 1950s onwards, nostalgia for the 1930s has been particularly strong and enduring. This prospect would have been very surprising to people during the thirties or for the first fifteen or so years after the end of the decade because in many ways it was a troubled and serious period that started with an economic depression in the USA and the UK and ended with another World War. The fascination for the decade may lie in it’s split character. Many of the political and economic problems are still unresolved and therefore easily identified with by later generations. But the other side of the thirties character with it’s light-hearted escapism and stylish elegant way of life ended with the Second World War and seems to have been permanently lost in the social changes of recent decades.

For the women who could afford them, the fashions of the early thirties were certainly stylish and elegant. The longer more flowing lines that had been featured in the Paris collections in the autumn of 1929 were strongly reconfirmed by the fashion world in 1930, but it took a year or two for some women to take up the new styles. The worsening economic situation meant many women simply could not afford new clothes.

Within a couple of seasons the new fashions were firmly established and definite style characteristics had emerged. All the fashion lines, as if reflecting the slump, drooped downwards. Longer hair was waved lower onto the nape of the neck. Hats were either skull caps with draped folds at the sides and back, or modified cloches with brims that dipped down over one eye.


Necklines were cut to fall into rather monastic-looking cowls, and shoulders looked very sloping with soft capes effects. Sleeves had low fullness from the elbows top the wrists where they were loosely draped into cuffs or floppily tied. skirts were long and lean looking, gradually flaring into low unpressed pleats or godets which were triangular pieces of material stitched into the skirt seams so that they flopped rather limply when a woman walked. Day length skirts fell to the bottom of the calf.




Backless bodices and floor length back sweeping skirts were a feature of evening dresses during the early thirties.

Colours and fabrics also reflected the subdued mood of the early thirties. Black, navy and grey were basic everyday town colours. Browns and greens were popular for autumn and winter country clothes. Afternoon and evening dresses were usually in black or powdery pastel shades which ranged from pinky beiges and peach to eau-de-Nil greens, grey and soft blues. To suit the new cut in clothes, silk chiffon, crepe de chine and soft shiny satin for evening dresses.

One of the new fashion ideas of the early thirties was that there could be a distinctively different length for day and evening clothes. With the more realistic mood caused by the depression, day clothes had to remain a fairly practical length even with the adoption  of the elongated silhouette, but for the evening there was no reason why they couldn’t be long and flowing. Floor-length evening dresses were worn again fo the first time since the early 1910s. This compromise suited the escapist side of the thirties character. Women were able to change from their neat day clothes into gorgeously impractical evening dresses. Evening-dress styles quickly developed along rather theatrical lines.

Backless evening dresses were a daring innovation. in the early thirties. The back was cut almost to the waistline. The material for the front part of the bodice was taken from the side seams near the waist and crossed or draped up over the breasts and was held or fastened round the neck like a halter. The skirts of these dresses were usually cut on the cross (bias cut) of the material, clinging to the hips and flaring out to touch or trail on the ground like a softer modified version of the skirts worn during the 1900s.