A feminine, hourglass silhouette — with a nipped-in waist and full hips and bust — characterized 1930s dresses. Hemlines dropped from the knee-length flapper styles of the 1920s to mid-calf or floor-length, and sleeves became longer and more conservative.
The Hollywood effect
Hollywood had a significant influence on fashion in the 1930s, as movies and movie stars started to dominate pop culture. The glamorous and often over-the-top costumes worn by actresses in films were a major source of inspiration for women’s fashion.
The rise of screen goddesses like Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford and Marlene Dietrich was very influential — fashionable women of this era wanted to emulate their stylish and sophisticated on-screen looks.
One of the most notable ways that Hollywood influenced fashion in the 1930s was the innovative bias-cut dress. Made popular by French designer Madeleine Vionnet, this flattering, drape style was favored by many actresses and their costume designers — and for good reason! The bias cut allowed a close-fitting, fluid shape that hugged the body’s natural curves, creating a feminine and alluring silhouette.
Hollywood also played a role in popularizing certain fashion accessories. Jewelry, headbands, and other accessories seen on film actresses quickly became must-haves for fashion-conscious women. Luxurious fabrics like silk and satin were also used frequently in Hollywood-inspired clothing, adding a touch of glamour and opulence to everyday ensembles.
The wartime effect
By the end of the decade, the world was on the brink of war, and fashion took on a more practical, tailored look. Daytime dresses featured square shoulders, and a straighter silhouette with a less accentuated waist, while evening wear remained elegant and sophisticated. The use of luxurious fabrics was still prevalent, and many dresses had a touch of vintage inspiration to them.
Here’s a look at some ready-to-wear 1930s dresses that were available to non-celebrities back in the day!
1931 dresses with 1880 details
As a chic vagary, the French designer of the frock turned the hip frill up instead of down. Narrow twin peplums cross the back and are joined with a bow tie.
The right suit is as simple as ABC — just a bellhop jacket and a gored skirt. But the blouse is another story. Full sleeves and scant peplum are displayed dramatically.
A wise and winning mode (1932)
Wise in its way of doing away with non-essentials! Winning in its way of making the most of essentials!
Waistlines, for instance, are skyrocketing. Skirt sections soar way above their traditional stopping-off place, with the belt, if any, remaining at normal.
Slowly but surely, the waistline is shifting. Before we know it, we’ll be under the sway of the Empire and we’ll like it.
No other detail is quite so capable of giving that long slender look which has been an ideal of beauty since Grecian women affected the tunic to gain the same elongating effect.
The straightened skirt aids and abets the mode in the achievement of its purpose — gentle flares are dropping low in position and pleats are rising high in favor. Shoulders remain high and wide. It is no secret that width above accents slenderness below.
Capelets and epaulets are a factor in this respect. Sleeves resort to all sorts of byplay. There is the sleeve that daringly contrasts (Design No. 6908, page 82). And the sleeve that Lyolene and Vionnet blouse over an elastic. And the sleeve that Augusta bernard puffs in honest-to-goodness leg o’mutton fashion.
Necklines are important and varied, with the scarf responsible for no small part of their dramatic success. Jacket costumes represent a large quota of daytime fashions. Evening gowns copy day modes in raising waistlines and necklines and in carving slim, sleek contours.
All we can do about fabrics and color and the contrast of tooth is to refer you to these pages. A glance too, will reveal the new thin and supple silhouette, the simplicity, the variety, the safe and sane way in which the mode has approached the shaping of 1932 fashions.
A tailored influence is beginning: Womenswear from the 30s
Styles for summer afternoons
Scarves follow devious routes
Modes for all occasions (1932)
1930s dresses with contrasting fabrics
Straighter sailing in skirts
Jackets from 1932 take a short cut
Vintage dresses from 1933
Left image (below): What fun to have the breezes on your back when playing or spectating, and a tailored long-sleeved little jacket over your arm, to slip into and go into town, as demure as you please. Vera Borea developed all this in blue linen.
We suggest white accessories. Isn’t it a good idea, this year, to have every costume in your wardrobe doing double duty?
ALSO SEE: 1930s shoes for women: 100 vintage styles
Center image (below): Here’s a dress to play in, to wash without ironing, because it is completely crinkled, and to tub without danger of its hitch-hiking upward, because the fabric has been Sanforized, which means permanently shrunk.
It’s the shirtwaist type that we’ll just about live in this summer. Aren’t these little cap sleeves more becoming than no sleeves?
Right image (below): A lady dressed for town or country club, cucumber-cool in her green-and-white print, whose stripes go in several directions for variety.
Both dress and jacket have long sleeves—a good idea for going places. Say farewell to arms—bare arms—if you want to look well-dressed in the city, or at daytime luncheons and larger gatherings.
Left image (below): Unless you’ve been snooping around Chicago, you’d hardly know that the design of this print was inspired by one of the buildings of the exposition. The mousseline de soie bow is as fluttery as a breeze from Lake Michigan.
In such a dress you’d be just ready to run into an old beau and have tea? Remember, rose shades are romantic and flattering.
Center image (below): Come on — go girlish! Relax your tailored severity of all spring into a perfectly frivolous plaid bow of mousseline de soie. Perch another bow of it on your hat.
Then be as navy blue and simple in flat crepe as you please, and still no one can forget that there’s gayety in your life, you’ll keep gloriously cool, too, in those loose cape sleeves.
Right image (below): She’s pensive, but this inky-blue silk organdie was made for glamour and illusion, if you’re going to be a tomboy, be it in pique.
Note the two lighter hues of blues fluffing out the cape shoulders, the rush of fullness to the back of new evening skirts, shoulders discreetly covered, necks often high in front, though backs go low.
AND FOR THE GUYS: Vintage 1930s suits: See 60+ old-fashioned menswear styles
Thirties fashions for women: The most stylish dresses of the decade
It’s smart to wear velveteen with tweed
Winged frocks for evening (1935)
BUTTERFLY BODICE and butterfly neckline, invented by Nina Ricci. The wings are buttoned once at the back of the neck. A marvelous dress for the stiff- ness of taffeta, the lusciousness of velvet. No. 8437.
TAFFETA AND SATIN. are the fabrics for this dress, The sleeves fly out like wings when one dances. If the round neck is too simple, or if you wish to change it occasionally, pin flowers there. No. 8421.
Shorter, wider and smarter styles
Wild reds of every shade are coming over from Paris… Velvet for tailored dresses… Pleats turning inward are the special thing about the green dress
1935 dress styles: Important to youth
High spots in fashions
A High Spot In Suit Fashions: The princess silhouette. The newest of the new for suits that have longish jackets.
A High Spot In Shirtwaist Fashions: A shirtwaist frock in velvet. This is a Mainbocher idea, and a grand one.
A High Spot In Tailored Frocks: Off-the-shoulder yokes. and they are simply reeking with feminine charm.
A High Spot In Skirts: Fan-shaped gores. But any skirt flared at front is a high spot in this Autumn’s mode.
A High Spot In Sleeves: Butterfly puffs, to which the young will flock like homing pigeons.
A High Spot In Color Contrast: Wine with pale yellow, wine with dark green.
A High Spot In Wool Dresses: Velvet touches. Velvet on the dress somewhere.
A High Spot In Dark Dresses: Satin areas up around the shoulders. Also black satin, and printed satin dresses.
A High Spot In Hats: Turbans. And berets, which are starting all over again. Marian Corey.
FALL SUITS have longer jackets. Even short-jacketed ones are a fraction longer, while their skirts are several fractions shorter. The tweed one here has a belt only across the back.
PRINCESS LINES distinguish the coat of the copper brown suit at the right. It, too, is belted at back. Its wide tailored collar is something new to find combined with revers.
Velveteen, shirtwaisters & black satin
ALSO SEE: 25 vintage dresses from the Roaring 20s that would fit right into the Great Gatsby
Vintage 30s dresses & fashion tips for the “business girl” (1938)
For daytime, it is smart for all the world to wear suits and tailored dresses, so we show you suits and tailored dresses for the job.
For social afternoons, it is smart to dress up, so we suggest soft frocks for those all too few free afternoons that can be wrangled out of the boss.
For evening, it is smart to look pretty and feminine and glamorous. We show you clothes like that, and that is the way you look in them.
So, having made all clear, let us now look at the clothes illustrated here. They are the nucleus of a good wardrobe for the Daily Grind.
A coat is a problem. We want one coat that will act like two. This one, No. 9927, will, if it is made of black boucle. With a sports hat, it looks like a utility coat, and like a dressy coat when you put on one of those astonishing little afternoon hats, and add a muff or a fur scarf. And it is roomy enough to be worn over a suit.
ALSO SEE: The perfect body, ’30s-style: Measurements women wanted in the thirties
Which brings us to this suit. Do acquire the suit-for-the-office habit. Nothing looks smarter at a desk. If wearing a jacket all day cramps your style, then sit at your typewriter in the skirt and bright blouse.
We see such smart-looking secretaries dressed that way, their jackets draped over the back of the extra chair by their desks. When the buzzers buzz, they arise, dust of their nose, put on their jackets, pick up their pads and pencils, and are on their way.
The boss is wearing a nicely tailored suit, but he has nothing on his secretary. She is just as nicely tailored. We especially like this mannish suit, No. 9903. Since the coat is black, the suit could be grey, or stone blue, or teal, or wine, or plum. The sports hat could be black, or match the suit.
The third item in this Daily Grind wardrobe is the dress you wear to the office on those days when something interesting is afoot after five o’clock. Two things are required of such a dress. It must look all right in the office, and it must look special enough for the after-five engagement.
Well, that is easy because the smartest dressy dresses are simple ones whose mission in life is to be just good backgrounds for accessories.
This matelasse dress, No. 3004, is perfectly simple. That makes it all right for office hours. But when the office force has cleared out at five, then you start changing this dress into something more glamorous.
After doing the necessary with comb, cream, powder, rouge and lipstick, you take out of your bag two huge jeweled clips, a bracelet and earrings, and put them on.
Then out of a little hat box which you brought to work with you that morning, you lift a tiny fuchtta-colored velvet hat. Perhaps it has a veil on it. Perhaps a bird is sitting on top. At any rate, it has no go-to-business air about it whatsoever.
Next from the hat box comes a short fuchsia-and-silver lame scarf, just a bit of which will show above your coat collar. And last out of the box you lift a fuchsia velvet muff, all shirred!
Now give yourself one last long lingering look in the mirror and decide that all’s right with the world after all.
We hope you like this wardrobe. We hope you don’t say it’s too plain. All smart clothes are plain. You dress them up with interesting accessories — clips, necklaces, bracelets, scarves, fancy hats, furs and whatnot. But the dress is plain.
One final word. The up-to-date business girl like everyone else, has put her hair up. Please don’t tell us that the up-swept hair-do makes you look older. It is smart now not to look like a little girl! It is smart to look like a charming young lady.
We don’t, however, think the well-groomed business girl ought to wear a bird’s nest of untidy curls on the crest of her up-hair. Get the hair up, swirl it or twist it so that it stays, have a few curls on the top, and plain combs.
They stepped out from old portraits (1938)
The Gibson Girl gown at the left is the sensation of Paris! Long sleeves for evening are a surprise, but they are definitely in character, and just part of this new mode for things old.
Victorian ideas have been working on the pink and purple frock. There are huge sleeves, for instance, all stiffened to make them stand up and away. And there is the wid, wide skirt which measures almost eight yards around. And there is the heartbreaking, heart-shaped decolletage of the Victorian era.
NOW SEE THIS: Vintage 1920s dresses & flapper clothes: Fashionable fabrics, lengths, necklines & more