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The History of Fashion: 1930 - 1940

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. The cloche hat was replaced by the beret which was worn at an angle. Pill boxes became popular along with brimmed hats.

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.

Washable, easy-care fabrics were introduced during this decade. 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 DuPont 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 WW II.

As far as men's clothing, it was during this decade that promoting clothing for its 'snob appeal' was begun. Clothing manufacturers have always known that if changes are continuously made to clothing so that it goes out of fashion quickly, more sales will be made as women rush out to refurbish their closets. This has not been applied to men's clothing though. Until the 1930s. During the 1930s men also began to discard their undershirts supposedly because Clark Gable took off his shirt in a movie and only his bare chest was visible. Warm shirts in large plaids, and early in the 30s the single breasted jacket was the male look. Later in the decade, double breasted jackets became popular yet again and the front of the man's jacket was higher.

This decade saw many improvements in mass production techniques, which meant a wider range of women now had access to well-made 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.


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maddyfaye maddyfaye 4 years
I'm doing a social studies project on the evolution of fashion, and all your posts about fashion history have been very helpful to me! Thanks so much!
x_juicyfruit x_juicyfruit 8 years
Hmm. Maybe. :)
tdsollog tdsollog 8 years
Thanks again for another informative post. Maybe, you should have a group for the evolution of fashion, and all the different "influencers".
x_juicyfruit x_juicyfruit 8 years
I think so, Kymme. :) Higher end stuff.
kymmeisme kymmeisme 8 years
"During the later part of the decade, leather became very popular." - and has remained so ever since! Also- I love the description that men's clothing were promoted as having 'snob appeal'...would that kind of be like Polo and Armani nowadays? ;)
Beachwalker Beachwalker 8 years
Sounds like clothing had a lot of detail and tailoring...
leeluvfashion leeluvfashion 8 years
Very interesting! The history behind fashion is so rich; I love reading about the styles and why certain styles took off.
x_juicyfruit x_juicyfruit 8 years
That's exactly who it is. :)
eastcoastgirl eastcoastgirl 8 years
That looks like a young Joan Crawford to me.She was pretty.Thanks for the post!
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