What Influenced Fashion of the 1930’s April 19 2022

Some of the most glamorous vintage fashion of the 1930’s is only left to photographs of actresses from the era.  There’s just something about those women!   The Marlene Dietrich’s, Mae West’s, and Greta Garbo’s of the world just seem so sexy, so chic, so sophisticated, and just so effortless.

I’m not the only one who admires those images, of course—when those pictures were taken, and when those women—and countless others like them—were active and in the spotlight, everyone took stock of what they were wearing and how they looked.  (I guess nothing has changed, right?)  But in a decade shaped by so many momentous and devastating events, who can blame them?

Let’s start at the beginning (of the decade, that is)—in late 1929, the stock market crashes and all of the sudden, the nation is in the midst of a depression (and not just any depression, the Great Depression).  People lose their jobs, people lose their property, people lose everything—it’s just totally devastating.  Fast forward to the end of the decade, and the World War II has begun.  (Lest you start to feel like the 1930s was perhaps the worst decade in history, don’t forget it also brought the Jazz Age, the invention of air conditioning, the end of Prohibition, the completion of the Hoover Dam and the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge—oh, and Pluto was discovered!)

So, with all that in mind—how did the fashion world react?  With balance and elegance.  Gone was the sometimes-shapelessness of the 1920s and the rigidity of the Victorian era before—clothing design in the 1930s was all about enhancing the body’s form without restricting it.  Not only was new technology allowing fabric to become lighter and, in some cases, more appealing (metallic lame—hurray!), but designers were learning to cut on a bias, create femininity through fluttery sleeves and open backs, and draw attention to the natural waistline (forget those drop-waisted gowns of the previous decade).  Women had Coco Chanel and Jean Patou to thank for that, by the way—both designers presented fall collections featuring natural waistlines in 1929, and the trend was quick to catch on.

While the decade was one of struggle, the 1930s was also about escapism—and one way that was achieved was through the movies.  The fashions presented there and worn by actresses in photographs were ones that influenced the clothing of the everyday citizen.  People may have been forced to give up many luxuries (and perhaps just lavish lifestyles in general), but the 1930s was still a time of big bands and nightlife—and there are some gorgeous clothes that were designed.  Obsession with Chanel aside, we’re also fans of Claire McCardell, Elsa Schiaparelli, Vionnet—love love love.

So, lesson learned: for ultimate glamour, shimmy into an open-backed dress, add some diamonds or pearls, a cute little bolero jacket, and paint those lips red.  Channel that inner movie star!

Joan Crawford wearing Adrian

written by Heather Cox for Rice and Beans Vintage