The culture of a decade can sometimes be a reaction to the tastes and manners of the preceding one. The world of fashion is no exception, and the 1930s turned the page on the Roaring Twenties.
24/7 Tempo has gathered 60 photos of models, ordinary people, and celebrities of various kinds from Getty Images, the Library of Congress, and PICRYL to prove that the 1930s were an amazing era for fashion. We also drew on observations from fashion sources such as Fashion History and Rebels Market to find the trends that made the 1930s such a noteworthy decade. (To see evidence of another era that had great fashion, see these 60 photos that prove the ‘70s had the best style.)
Even though the Great Depression of the 1930s was one of the darkest periods in American history, it was a golden age for fashion in the U.S. In its own way, glamor in films and elsewhere was a form of escapism from the reality of economic hardship.
The decade’s clothing trends were heavily influenced by Hollywood and silver-screen sirens such as Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Jean Harlow, and Marlene Dietrich. Such was their influence of Hollywood on fashion that a translucent white organdie gown worn by Joan Crawford in the film “Letty Lynton” prompted the production of thousands of copies at various price points across the country. A few years later, after Clark Gable’s character in “It Happened One Night” revealed that he did not wear undershirts, sales of the garment plunged.
By the 1930s, the boyish fashion looks of women in the 1920s were gone, replaced by an overall slender appearance represented by clothes with descending hemlines and waistlines returned to their natural place. Evening dresses from designers such as Madeleine Vionnet had low backs and more closely hugged the female form. Day dresses could be found in plaid, floral, or abstract prints.
Designer Elsa Schiaparelli, who first gained fame in the 1920s, collaborated with surrealist artists Salvador Dalí and Jean Cocteau to create garments influenced by their style. High-end fashion inspired by Parisian designers using cheaper materials such as toile made tony garments more accessible to American women. (These are some iconic fashion brands that no longer exist.)
By the end of the decade, the styles with broad, padded shoulders, nipped in waists and shorter A-line skirts that would prevail in the 1940s had emerged.
Katherine Hepburn became a fashion icon as a woman who donned menswear. She wore trousers or wide-leg pants in many of her films as well as off-screen. Because of her lasting influence on fashion, in 1986 she was awarded with a lifetime-achievement award by the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
Click here to see 60 photos proving that the 1930s had the best fashion
As for men, until the 1930s, fashion had been dictated by the social elite. Beginning in the 1930s, fashion took its cues from other parts of society. Gangster films were popular in the 1930s and the mob lifestyle was reflected in men’s tailored suits and snappy fedora-like hats called trilbies.
Casual apparel such as knitted sweaters and soft-collared shirts grew in popularity. Other style trends in men’s fashion were blazers and sports jackets with flannel trousers and open-necked shirts worn by those in engaged sporting pursuits. For those less financially fortunate, the ageless image of the working man wearing boots, a flat cap, and an oversized coat remains.