When it comes to describing any particular aspect of the 1930s, what you have to say will depend quite a bit on the exact year or years you’ll be focusing on, as certainly if there was ever an abundance of social and fashion change within a decade, these and more occurred during the 1930s. The 30s began entrenched in the Great Depression, yet these same years followed, as escorted in by the fabulously hedonistic 20s and all of the party atmosphere. So here come the 1930s, ushering in a new low for human existence in the American populace, with nothing to compare it to but a stunningly frivolous time immediately preceding. Still, even with the great burgeoning of impoverished Americans, there remained a period fashion that we can now look back and identify it with the times. You might say that clinging to some of life’s elements, like doing the most with however little we had remained as something to cling to, giving hope to many a downtrodden family deeply in the throes of abject poverty.
A Radical Fashion Shift
The start of the 1930s decade saw nothing outside of a profoundly altered life for just about everyone. Suddenly gone now: the sequins, feather boas, garters and the “Charleston–” a signature 20’s dance form. With that raw vivaciousness now vacated, the times called for a much subdued and highly conservative approach to all aspects of life. Still, all the while, women were held to the long-suffering standard of always looking their best–in dress, makeup, hair and shoes–while accessorizing where possible. Thanks to the women’s movement, women tend to designate their own fashion, on their own terms, whereas back then, even women’s fashion–or at least the acceptability of it–was designated by the men in their lives. It became acceptable and even fashionable in certain cases for women to be sporting loosely gathered trousers, or pants, Modeled beautifully by Greta Garbo and Katharine Hepburn, who could always pull off the androgynously dressed look, with superior elegance.
Skirts were mostly worn midi length or longer, and sometimes featured hemline like pleats and more effects to create motion and volume. Everything was best when it all matched, from tops and bottoms to accessories. 30s dresses began to reveal more of the feminine form, with shapely lines and emphasis on the shoulder area, with butterfly sleeves, puffed sleeves and more angular lines at the shoulders. Toward the decade’s end, eveningwear got fancy, with skin-baring open backs and metallic lame fabrics that introduced a grand measure of elegance and opulence. The 30s were when the bias cut became a method of producing effects that were highly flattering to the feminine form. Sandals were introduced into the footwear industry at this time, and at then, only as a form of eveningwear. Pumps, slingbacks and peep-toed shoes were the thing. Heels remained low.
The Finishing Touches
Nylons became the “It” legwear near the end of the era. These featured a long seam where they were joined, and this ran up the back of the leg. They were held on by garters and garter belts. The well-dressed woman was never ever seen without her gloves, both during the day and in the evening. Day gloves were short, and evening gloves hit above the elbow.