In the 1930s there was a return to a more genteel, ladylike
appearance. Budding rounded busts and waistline curves were seen and hair became
softer and prettier as hair perms improved. Foreheads which had been hidden by cloche
hats were revealed and adorned with small plate shaped hats. Clothes were feminine, sweet and tidy by day with a return to real
glamour at night. Right - Fashionable sleek day dress of 1936.
Until the 1930s
wealthy women had not really needed to wear practical day clothes. Although
styles had been designated day styles if they were impractical it had not really
mattered as long as maids took care of chores. Now women had more productive and
busier lives and simpler pared down clothes gave a freedom of movement women
relished in daily life. More luxurious gowns were kept for evening. New fabrics
like metallic lame were very popular at night and were made to shimmer even more
richly by adding plastic sequins and glass beads.
The French designer
Madeleine Vionnet opened her own fashion house in 1912. She devised methods of
bias cross cutting during the 1920s using a miniature model. She made popular
the halter neck and the cowl neck.
The bias method has
often been used to add a flirtatious and elegant quality to clothes. To make a
piece of fabric hang and drape in sinuous folds and stretch over the round
contours of the body, fabric pattern pieces can be cut not on the straight
grain, but at an angle of 45 degrees.
It is sometimes said
that Vionnet invented bias cutting, but historical evidence suggests that close
fitting gowns and veils of the medieval period were made with cross cut fabrics.
The Edwardians also made skirts that swayed to the back by joining a bias edge
to a straight grain edge and the result was a pull to the back that formed the
trained skirt. She did really popularise it and the resulting clothes are styles
we forever associate with movie goddesses and dancers like Ginger Rogers.
Using her technique designers were able to produce magnificent
gowns in satins, crepe-de-chines, silks, crepes and chiffons by cross cutting
the fabric, creating a flare and fluidity of drapery that other methods could
not achieve. Many of the gowns could be slipped over the head and came alive
when put on the human form. Some evening garments made women look like Grecian
goddesses whilst others made them look like half naked sexy vamps. Certain of
her gowns still look quite contemporary.
There was a passion for sunbathing. Women tried to get tans and then show them off under
full length backless
evening dresses cut on the true cross or bias and which moulded to the body. To show off the styles a slim figure
was essential and that was getting easier for women who were educated and aware as many now used contraception and did not
have to bear baby after
baby unless desired.
Right - Sketch of backless 1930's halter neck evening gown.
Similar images are available on site via these links.
The new improved
fabrics like rayon had several finishes and gave various effects exploited by
designers eager to work with new materials. Cotton was also used by Chanel and
suddenly it was considered more than a cheap fabric for work clothes. But nothing
cut and looked like pure silk and it was still the best fabric to capture the
folds and drapes of thirties couture. Fine wool crepes also moulded to the body
and fell into beautiful godets and pleats.
Left - 1930s Fashion. Sketch of a crepe day dress of 1938.
Rayon dyed well and
looked similar to and felt like silk. Often it was used to make lingerie for the
cheaper end of the market.
In 1927 Dr. Wallace Carothers
began to research new polymers and eventually discovered polyamide. By 1938 the
Du Pont company was producing commercial nylon and by 1939 making knitted
hosiery. Later it was given the commercial name Nylon. Nylons were
eventually available in 15 denier and these were very sought after particularly
in the 2nd World War.
Nylon hosiery transformed women lives. No more bagging and
sagging of stockings and a sheer allure which enhanced their legs. The women of
the era must have felt much the same as women of the sixties did later when
tights gave a new freedom.
The Italian Elsa Schiaparelli 1890-1973 had a love of rich
fabrics and feminine fantasy clothes that frequently had a surreal twist. She
mixed with the now famous cubist and surrealist artists Man Ray, Salvador Dali,
Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia. Fabric and accessories were often designed
for her by Dali, Jean Cocteau and Christian Berard. She began her early career
with Trompe l'Oeil effects and a famous navy sweater with a contrast cream
neckline and cream bow knitted into the design.
Despite the fact that Schiaparelli had a witty side she was
just the fashion inspiration that women who preferred classic styles needed.
Those that loathed the swathes of pastel chiffon produced by Vionnet were easily
compensated by 'Scap's' couture short fitted suits or jackets teamed with black
dresses. She used colours like turquoise or shocking pink or hyacinth blue.
Beyond the little black dress which she frequently designed,
she would accessorise with humour and designed funky hats made to appear as
mutton chops or ice cream cones. Her eccentricity was much loved and her clothes
were revolutionary at the time.
designed a wide shouldered masculine suit that Marlene Dietrich wore and which was
copied throughout Hollywood. She launched shoulder pads in man tailored severe
suits long before power dressing of the 80s. It was her late 1930s
tailored suit designs which were thought the most suitable clothing to embrace
in the war years rather than the wasp waist bouffant dresses that were shown
just before the war started.
Schiaparelli and Chanel were great rivals who both vied
for top designer fame and competed hotly against each other over their perfumes.
Schiaparelli's Shocking perfume in an hour glass bottle designed on Mae West's
figure was fiercely competitive against Chanel's perfume Chanel No 5.
Schiaparelli liked new
things as well as new ideas. In 1933 she promoted the fastener we
call the zip or zipper. The metal zip had been invented in 1893 and by 1917 it
was somewhat timidly used for shoes, tobacco pouches and U.S. Navy windcheater
jackets. Her use of the new plastic coloured zip in fashion clothes was both
decorative, functional and highly novel. They soon became universally used and
are now a very reliable form of fastening.
In 1936 Edward VIII
abdicated his right to the throne to marry Mrs. Wallis Simpson. On marriage she
became the Duchess of Windsor, but was never ever granted the title H. R. H. However they self styled themselves as Royal Highnesses and the Duke bought her
vast quantities of jewellery.
The wedding day of the Duke and Duchess of
Her dress was designed by Mainbocher as was the rest of her trousseau.
At the jewellery auction after
her death, the pieces were evidence of great style. She continued to wear designer garments by Mainbocher and other famous
She was thought an icon of style in her younger days. She is also famed for saying 'a woman can never be
too rich or too thin'.
Unusual Male Fashion of the 1930s
Edward VIII was also a fashion leader in his own right.
Right and left - Plus Fours of the 1930s
Here we have a photo of Edward VIII wearing plus
fours.... And another of Evan my relative
following a very similar fashion.
Health and fitness was
an important aspect of thirties lifestyle. As sun worshipping became a common
leisure pursuit fashion answered the needs of sun seekers by making chic outfits
for the beach and its surrounds. Beach wraps, hold alls, soft hats and knitted
bathing suits were all given the designer touch.
Swimwear was getting briefer
and the back was scooped out so that women could develop tanned backs to show
off at night in the backless and low backed dresses. The colours of the beach
holiday were navy, white, cream, grey, black and buff with touches of
In 1930 Prunella Stack
started the Women's League Of Health
And Beauty in Britain. The motto was 'Movement Is Life' and the League promoted the idea of
a healthy mind and a healthy body. The League had thousands of members who put on huge
displays in parks and other venues.
Physical fitness was seen as important in the stylish thirties and
in various forms was popular across Europe especially in Germany and Austria.
This resulted in some Tyrolean styles creeping into sportswear fashion which
began to be more practical and actually allowed for movement. Skating skirts
became shorter than ever before and in 1933 the Tennis star Alice Marble wore
shorts at the Wimbledon season.
The era had begun with
an economic depression which had lifted by1936 for many. At the same time the
rumble of warmongering in Europe became more evident. Designers began to adjust
the mood of their collections to more military inspired square shouldered
clothing teamed with low heels as if sensing a need for more functional wear. By
the time war arrived in 1939 European designers had shown simple clothes,
trousers and sweaters and classic shirt waisters designed to stay in fashion.
One interesting facet
to fashion was the brief emergence of a wasp waist in the 1939 Paris
collections. Both Chanel and Mainbocher played with a full skirt and a waist,
but the escapist fashion was not to be. It would be 1947 before Dior introduced
his wasp waist Corolle collection that got dubbed the
Fashion-Era.com looks at women's costume and fashion history and analyses the mood of an era. Changes in technology, leisure, work, cultural and moral values. Homelife and politics also
contribute to lifestyle trends, which in turn influence the clothes we wear. These are the changes that make any era of society special in relation to the study of the costume of a period.
Fashion-Era.com can take no responsibility for any information on the site which may cause you error, loss or costs incurred from use of the information and links either directly or
indirectly. This site is owned, designed, written and developed by author: Pauline Thomas and Guy Thomas. This site is designed to be viewed in 1024 X 768 or higher.
Before you write to me for costume/fashion help or information please, please consult the extensive sitemap which lists all our pages. If you still cannot find the answer after searching the site, then before you email me, please consider if you are prepared to make a donation to the website.
Donations Reader's donations help this site flourish, in particular donations encourage me to write more articles on fashion history as well as current trends. PayPal
allows anyone with a credit card to donate easily and securely. You may donate any sum you feel appropriate.