Fashion in 1930s

Was highly influenced by stars of the silver screen. The most characteristic North American fashion trend from the 1930s to the end of World War II was attention at the shoulder, with butterfly sleeves and banjo sleeves, and exaggerated shoulder pads for both men and women by the 1940s. The period also saw the first widespread use of man-made fibers, especially rayon for dresses and viscose for linings and lingerie, and synthetic nylon stockings. The zipper became widely used. These essentially U.S. developments were echoed, in varying degrees, in Britain and Europe. Thick, clinging fabrics are enormously popular. The gradual broadening of the shoulders lead to three-inch shoulder pads; found even in night gowns. Makeup emphasizes angularity. In 1930, most every woman owns a close-up mirror to pencil in well-plucked eyebrows and to apply black mascara and eye shadow. The curling iron was another fashion necessity.

Western wear. Denim jeans, plaid shirts, cowboy boots and hats. The look hasn’t changed much in the last 100 years but there was a time in the mid century where practical western wear met mainstream fashion and created new styles. It is a part of fashion history that seems to get ignored, yet how could we? Flipping through my 1950s catalogs almost every men’s and women’s shirt, and jeans had details clearly taken from  working class/ ranch-hand/ western United States traditional clothing.  Why was it so  popular? When did these new style begin? Why were the 1950s the hey day for vintage western clothing? Let’s take a look and see.

The 1930s to 1950s is known as the heyday of western style clothing. The huge  migration out west and the discovery of rich farming and cattle land in California was mostly complete by the 1930s. Hollywood establish itself not in the hustle and bustle of  big city life but in the quiet desert of Southern California surrounded by rolling hills and cattle farms. Despite whatever actors and actresses portrayed on TV at home they often found peace in a California ranch home. It didn’t matter if they raised horses or cattle, they lived in homes and dressed as casual as this working class farmers.

After 1935, zippers were employed as a more efficient alternative to labor-intensive hook-and-eye closures. Indeed, in the hands of prestigious houses such as Schiaparelli they became design elements. Costume jewelry, popularized by Chanel’s signature faux pearl strands, became an accessory staple. By 1938, small shoulder pads had become fashionable, heralding the shoulder emphasis of the 1940s. This, in spite of the Depression, was another grand era for Haute Couture.

The movies influenced how women dressed and what they thought about fashion.

It was not uncommon for designers such as Gilbert Adrian and Irene to make their names in Hollywood’s film industry. Women clamoured to look like their screen idols. This desire prompted many Hollywood couturiers to produce clothing for the mass market via department stores or their own collections. The Hollywood phenomenon also spread to Europe. Exemplified by the white satin bias cut dresses as worn by Jean Harlow, the Hollywood look featured dramatic lines that played best to camera. The full length garden party dress with picture hat, the striking wool suit with portrait fur collar, the grand negligee – these were all part of the Hollywood in the 1930s look as well.

In Britain, clothing was strictly rationed, with a system of “points”, and the Board of Trade issued regulations for “Utility Clothes” in 1941. In America the War Production Board issued its Regulation L85 on March 8, 1942, specifying restrictions for every item of women’s clothing. Because the military used so much green and brown dye, manufacturers used more red dye in clothing.\ Easily laddered stockings were a particular concern in Britain; women were forced to either paint them on (including the back seam) or to join the WRNS, who continued to issue them, in a cunning aid to recruitment. Later in the war, American soldiers became a source of the new nylon stockings.


Most women wore skirts at or near knee-length, with simply-cut blouses or shirts and square-shouldered jackets. Popular magazines and pattern companies advised women on how to remake men’s suits into smart outfits, since the men were in uniform and the cloth would otherwise sit unused. Eisenhower jackets became popular in this period. Influenced by the military, these jackets were bloused at the chest and fitted at the waist with a belt. The combination of neat blouses and sensibly tailored suits became the distinctive attire of the working woman, college girl, and young society matron.

The shirtwaist dress, an all-purpose garment, also emerged during the 1930s. The shirtwaist dress was worn for all occasions, besides those that were extremely formal, and were modest in design. The dress could either have long or short sleeves, a modest neckline and skirt that fell below the knee. The bust was rounded but not particularly emphasized and the waistline was often belted in its normal position. Pockets were both functional and used for decoration and were accompanied by buttons down the front, around the sides or up the back of the dress. These dresses often were accompanied by coordination coats, which were made out of contrasting fabric but lined with the dress fabric. The jacket was often constructed in a boxy fashion and had wide lapels, wide shoulders and numerous pockets. The dress and coat combination created an overall effect of sensibility, modesty and girl next door lifestyle that contrasted the very popular, second-skin like style of the bias-cut evening gown.

An important style that became popular due to the war was the two-piece swimsuit which later led to the Bikini. In 1942 the War Production Board passed a law called the L-85 which put restrictions on clothing production. For swimwear companies the L-85 meant they had to use 10 percent less fabric in all their designs, as a result swimsuits became smaller. Swimsuits had been becoming more minimal for a while but in 1944 Tina Leser debuted one of the first two-piece swimsuits. Even though the bottoms were high waisted, cut low on the legs, and paired with a modest bandeau. Lesers’ two piece was still considered a daring style for the era. According to Sarah Kennedy, author of The Swimsuit: A History of Twentieth-Century Fashion, unlike the bikini the two-piece was created out of necessity and was not meant to be shocking. Apparently there was an unspoken rule that bellybuttons must never show which accounts for the high waisted bottoms. Despite it being scandalous to some, the two-piece was eventually accepted because there really wasn’t another option. The L-85 did not only make swimsuits smaller, but it also pushed designers to become more creative with their designs, this led to suits that accentuated and drew attention to women’s bodies. This was done by putting boning in the swimwear. Two years after Leser debuted one of the first two-pieces, the bikini was invented in 1946 by a French engineer named Louis Réard. It was apparently named after the Bikini Atoll, which was the site of a nuclear bomb test in 1946; because Réard hoped its impact would be explosive in the fashion world.