1930s Fashion for Women Quick Guide.
“What did women wear in the 1930s?” The fashion of the thirties is usually overshadowed by the great depression, but the 1930s were full of glamour and style. Here you will learn about all the clothing and accessories women wore for day and evening, specific occasions, and activities. Welcome to the glamorous, elegant, well-tailored, world of women’s 1930s fashion !
1930s Fashion History
What did the ’30s woman look like? The very loose, square, drop-waist, high knee-length hem, and slightly “boyish” look of 1920s fashion for women was completely gone by 1933 and was replaced with a much more modest and form fitted style with an accentuated natural “high waist”, fitted hips, longer mid-calf or floor length hemline, high neckline, and wide shoulders. The ideal ’30s woman was tall and slender with a very small waist and narrow hips, but since most women were not blessed with slim hips and narrow waists, shoulders were exaggerated with puff sleeves, shoulder pads, full collars, and “caplet,” “butterfly’ or ruffled cap sleeves, to make waists and hips appear smaller in comparison. Most sale ads and catalogs featured artistically drawn women who were three times as tall and thin as any real woman could be. The ideal silhouette was anything but realistic.
The fashion industry underwent many changes during this decade in response to the severe economic hardships of the time. Factory-made garments (what we now refer to as “ready-to-wear”) became popular, because clothing could be mass produced for far less than made-to-order custom garments. The insurgence of ready-to-wear fueled the buy at home catalog market.
During this era, zippers became a staple in finishing a garment – they cost less than buttons! Less expensive fabrics, “rough” or “peasant” fabrics and cotton became more widely used. In fact nubby, textured, crepe, or crinkled “rough” fabrics became a trend, “the rougher the smarter!” declared one catalog, particularly for day dresses, skirts and coats.
Being on a tight budget was no excuse for sloppy fashion. It was considered a woman’s duty to shop “smart” and look “smart” by wearing the latest 1930s fashions, materials and designs she could afford. The frugal woman who could feed and dress her family on a dime was praised. She was considered a good steward of her husband’s money! Such was the life of a 1930s wife.
Single and working women, too, were expected to look their best– to be appealing to their male employers. Despite the depression, cosmetic sales doubled in the thirties!
1930s House Dresses
The most casual a woman dressed was at home, with just her family and visiting lady neighbors. House dresses, while basic and usually made of practical durable cotton, followed the trends in cut and silhouette, and often displayed a variety of bright bold prints. Most women still preferred to sew their own clothing or upcycle existing dresses into newer frocks. The house dress was the ideal dress to experiment with since no one but family saw her in it.
One unique house dress variation was the reversible house wrap dress, called a “hooverette.” Practical, affordable, washable, cotton percale and true to thirties style, they sported ruffle sleeves, accentuated tied waste, and a slim cut through the hips, the “hooverette” was the perfect daily dress. With two sides, it was two dresses in one! Now that is a smart woman.
1930s Afternoon Dresses
A woman would not wear her house dress out of the house. To shop, run errands, attend a tea, or see a matinee, she would need a smart afternoon or day dress. Often referred to as “city,” “metropolitan,” or “town tailored”, these dresses were usually silk or rayon crepe, not cotton. They stuck with the standard silhouette and classic ’30s features: puff sleeves, belted waists and large yokes and collars.
These dresses had more embellishment and detail than a house dress: embroidery, covered decorative buttons, shirring and ruching, bows, trapunto, and faux flower trimming were part of the array of details added to make a dress smarter for forays outside the house. They tended to be solid colors or more subdued prints.