Never has the fashion industry been so directly influenced by the economy than during the 1930s. With the great Wall Street crash and subsequent Depression, fashion took a major turn. As a 1930s Sears catalogue put it, “Thrift is the spirit of the day. Reckless spending is a thing of the past.”
The beginning of the 1930s revealed a soft, feminine and conservative style that included dropped hemlines, lowered necklines, broad shoulders, pleats and moderately full skirts that accentuated small, natural waists and minimized hips. The need for wealthy women to wear practical day clothes was suddenly apparent as women took on busier and more productive lives. Simple clothing gave them the freedom of movement to complete chores and, of course, visit the racetrack.
The house dress was wildly popular for women’s fashion during the time. While the name sounds simple, the house dress contained wide scallop-edged necklines, ruffled collars, and feminine details like lace, bows and decorative buttons. The well-tailored dress gave women a sweet, ladylike appearance with rounded busts and curvy waistlines. Additionally, because of the new rayon and nylon materials, the house dress often came in what were considered loud colors and prints. Rayon was perfect for allowing women to experiment with dyes and prints due to its low price and artificial fibers.
Because of the necessity for simple and tidy outfits, menswear also began to influence women’s fashion in the 1930s. Two piece suits became a practical alternative for women, and aligned with the broad shoulders and minimized hips that were in style. To make them more feminine and soft, suits were altered with bright colored lining and figure flattering shapes.
While cloche hats were popular during the 1920s and into the early 1930s, they quickly fell out of fashion as perms improved and hair became softer, prettier and shorter. Foreheads that had previously been hidden by cloches were suddenly revealed under small, snug and plate-shaped hats that followed the slimmer and more natural silhouette of the decade. Berets were the popular style along with pill boxes and brimmed hats that were frequently worn at an angle.
Along with hats, gloves became an almost necessary accessory. Day outfits were worn with short gloves made of fabric or leather, and evening gowns were accompanied by elbow-length gloves. Stores also introduced coordinating outfits that involved a mixture of hats, gloves, shoes, scarves and bags in bright colors.
While women’s fashion took a major hit with the Wall Street crash and Depression, women of the 1930s never looked anything but put together and fashionable.