1930s- Overshadowed by Great Depression but full of glamour and style

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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.

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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 appearsmaller 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.

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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 trend, “the rougher the smarter!” declared one catalog, particularly for day dresses, skirts and coats.

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1930s House Dresses

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.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.

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1930s Afternoon Dresses

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. 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.

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1930s Evening Gowns

Silky, clinging fabrics were common in evening gowns,often worn with a fur. Fabrics that were popular included chiffon, silk, crepe-de-chines, and satin, cut on the bias to create elegant, clingy, flowing lines.Evening dresses were also very fitted in the waist, slim and fitted through the hips, easing out mid-thigh or just above the knees, where they flared elegantly to the floor. There were gowns with puffs and ruffle sleeves, and later in the decade high necks and halter styles with plunging backs were in fashion. The backless gown is a signature of 1930s evening wear.

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1930s Women’s Pants

While rebellious women began wearing pants in earlier decades, in the 1930s there were several social situations that were acceptable to wear pants in public. Beach pajamas — one-piece jumpers with very wide leg pants, belted or fitted high waists and slightly more blousey than most 1930s fashion tops — became popular for a day at the beach or a “restful day at home.” Sportswear for tennis, hiking, picnics, skiing, or even just watching sports featured pants and even shorts! The sailor inspired two piece “sailor middy” was a common sportswear outfit.

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Pants generally were wide legged trousers with a front crease or very wide flowing culottes that looked like a skirt when not moving, with a high fitted waist.

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Swimsuits and Beach Clothes

In addition to beach pajamas, women’s swimwear consisted of fitted wool one pieces with cotton jersey lining, a mini skit over boy shorts, and frequently little belts accentuating the waist. Usually they had simple tank straps and often low or even plunging backs. Sunbathing became a trend in the 1920s and continued in the ’30s as Coco Chanel and Hollywood stars encouraged the tan look. A tan beganto mean one had time for leisure, not that one had to work in the sun.

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Wool Swimsuit and Floppy Sun Hat

Some concern for too much sun started in the ’30s. Hollywood stars quickly adopted large sun hats and sunglasses into their beach side wardrobe. Open toe sandals, too, were becoming more common for beach side strolls. Even if a woman lived hundreds of miles from the ocean, she still dressed liked she was on vacation in Florida.

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1930s Coats

Following dress style, women’s winter coats were long with a nipped high waist, full shoulders, wide lapels or oversized collars and made entirely of wool. Many, such as the green coat on the left, had large detachable fur collars. Most coats buttoned up the front to off center and some also had matching belts. Colors were rich but cheerful green, medium blue, wine, brown and cream.

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In spring, women’s coats were often sold as a set with two-piece suits. They were a few inches shorter than the dress, made of lighter wool, and worn open with no buttons. They still had wide lapels and large fur collars.

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