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Fashion in the 1930s

Priyanka Athavale Mar 22, 2020
The 1930s was a decade that brought with it some of the most major developments in the fashion industry, those that we use to this day. Have a look at the fashion in the '30s.

Did You Know?

Sam Goldwyn of the prestigious Hollywood media company Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, paid Coco Chanel a million dollars (about 80 million today) in the year 1931, to create some outfits, both on an off-screen, for some of the company's top actresses.
To protect her position in the industry against new, upcoming designers, she accepted the offer. However, the attempt sadly backfired, and the public did not warm up to Chanel's designs. The dresses were labeled too conservative and boring for Hollywood!
The 1930s was an important decade in the history of fashion, albeit not as talked about as the sensational twenties. This was the time when everyone was reeling from the after-effects of the Wall Street crash, when the Great Depression hit.
Fashion became affordable, conservative, and mature as compared to the flamboyant flapper dresses and short hairstyles of the '20s. Different fabrics were introduced as replacements for expensive materials; fashion designers like Coco Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli, and Madeleine Vionnet introduced fashionably smart and new trends that caught up very fast.
Most of the fashion that we see today began in this significant decade, including ready-to-wear dresses and zippers! Let's now get into the details of the fashion industry's development in the 1930s.

Women's Fashion

At the advent of the '30s, the flapper dresses of the previous decade began to be replaced by longer hemlines, darker and subdued colors, and mature cuts. Hollywood icons played a major influence on the 1930s' style clothing, and the dresses worn by celebrities like Greta Garbo, Jean Harlow, and Joan Crawford began to be seen everywhere.


Dresses and skirts began to end below the knee, mid-calf. The waistline was more defined. Broad shoulders became very popular, making shoulder pads a rage. Pads as high as three inches were seen on coats, blouses, and even evening dresses!
The entire look was a slim, broad-shouldered, and slender silhouette, like a V-shape. Working women wore suits with tight-fitting jackets and feminine skirts.
Puff sleeves, many times adorned with ruffles and other designs were very common, popularized by Joan Crawford. Necklines were moderately low, and were either V or crossed, many times with accents such as laces, buttons, and ruffles.
Evening wear evolved to silks and such other slinky fabric. It was commonly high-necked and low-to-no-backed. The dresses were floor-length, with different types of sleeve designs and necklines. Bows, buttons, lace, and ruffles were popular adornments.
The empire waist was widely used, wherein the waist of the dress ends a little further down the bust, and the skirt falls in a billowy manner, with the dress tied at the back. The cross cut bias style was also widely used in all kinds of dresses. The back was cut at an angle of 45° from the base line on both sides, giving it a cross-over look.
Skirts in the 1930s were longer. There were fuller designs that fluffed at the hips; ankle-length skirts were also fitting, accentuating the woman's waist and form. Wrap skirts, pleated skirts, and straight-cut skirt patterns were noticed.
Ruffles, bows, and laces provided a more feminine look. Blouses were simple, button-down patterns, mostly with V necks. Coats and cardigans were also commonly used.


Hats were a rage in the '30s, with many different styles coming up. There were ones with wide rims, small rims, and various patterns.
Styles such as the beret, the pillbox hat, the turban, and the toque hat were very popular. Snoods made of crochet, which held the back hair in place, were also widely noticed.
Gloves with matching bags, large, chunky jewelry, watches, scarves, and fur, were very popular accessories.
Shoes like wedges, with thick heels, became a common sight; typically in rounded-toe styles.
Ankle straps, spectator shoes in dual tones, buckled shoes, flats, sandals, pumps, and even shoes with zippers, were widely seen.

Hair and makeup

Hair was worn longer in the '30s than in the '20s, and was normally side-parted. Curls and waves were the rage, with most of the women, including movie stars sporting this style.
Suntanning had not caught up much in the '30s, and pale skin was still fashionable. Rogue was an extremely popular makeup item, along with lipsticks and nail polish. Pencil-thin eyebrows were very in, and many women would actually tweeze out their eyebrows completely to draw them on with pencil for getting the desired shape and look!

Other Developments

Swimwear evolved to become a little more revealing in the '30s as compared to the past years. The styles became slightly shorter and more feminine. Two-piece swimsuits were also introduced, but they were not as common. Sportswear too became more fitting, shorter, and more appropriate for sports.
Inner wear changed to a great extent. Materials like satin began to be used. Hemlines of garments were removed, to prevent it from being visible through fitting fabric. Corsets came in newer designs. This was the decade when cup sizes were introduced for the very first time, making shopping convenient for women.
The zipper was first used in women's clothing by Madeleine Vionnet, and it soon became extremely popular. Ready-made clothing began to sell in the '30s, around the second world war, as people were looking for convenient dress options. The Depression brought fabrics that were cheaper than silk and rayon; substitutes like nylon and cotton were used.

Men's Fashion

For men, double-breasted suits in dark colors, hats, and ties were the norm. Young boys wore shorts with long socks. Three-piece suits were worn for formal occasions. These suits had broad shoulders, and the trousers would be high at the waist and pleated. Informal occasions could call for an attire of a sweater vest and trousers.
Among men, there was a fashion of wearing the hat over the face; among women, the hat would be worn over one eye. During the '30s, men's clothing was very easy to shop for, as it came in an entire package, right from the tie to the shoes! Ties were introduced in wool, and satin was slowly being replaced as the popular choice for clothing.

Hats and other accompaniments

The fedora was greatly popularized during the '30s as the hat of choice. It was seen almost everywhere, with movie stars flaunting it too. Panama hats were quite popular. Cufflinks and signet rings were essential accessories.
Hairstyles were natural. Setting gels and various styling methods were unpopular, and short, side-parted, natural-looking hair was in. Elder gentlemen maintained mustaches, while it was not as common among the younger men.
The '30s was an era of change and evolving trends in fashion. Clothing moved from being mere fashion to something more practical and convenient. Iconic designers changed the course of this industry to what it is today. Without them, it may not have been possible.