What type of clothes did women wear during the 1930s?

The 1930s was the decade of the Great Depression, and this had a sudden and strong influence on fashion, steering it away from the excesses of the Roaring Twenties. Longer hems and a more sober way of dress reflected the austerity of the era, yet films provided fashion escapism with the glamour of idols such as Jean Harlow and Marlene Dietrich. Modern couturiers designed stunning, opulent yet simple evening dresses. Regular women could never afford these creations, but they influenced clothing style for everyone.

Evening wear

Slinky bias-cut, floor-length evening gowns are one of the most enduring images of the 1930s. Fabric cut on the bias is sliced diagonally against the grain and this makes it cling to the contours of the body, while draping in a distinctive manner. Couturiers, such as Elsa Schiaparelli and Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, designed opulent, adorned one-offs for the rich and famous. In contrast to the '20s flapper styles, evening wear was softly fitted and without decoration that might detract from the sleek, minimal outline. Satin and velvet were popular evening gown fabrics, and these were styled with low scoop backs, simple waists and no sleeves.


Daytime silhouettes in the 1930s were loose but not androgynous. Lightly structured wool suits with shoulder pads and fluted knee-length skirts were popular. For daytime, skirts had slightly more constructed waists and often had yokes. Thicker fabrics could then hang in a bias cut under the yoke, in keeping with the fashionable shape of the age.


These days, accessories are seen as extra ways to dress an outfit, but in the 1930s dress was more formal, and ladies would not go out without hats and gloves. Despite depression, the '30s were an exciting time for millinery. Cloche hats, named after the French word for "bell," were popular. Hats were worn on one side and often decorated with feathers. Surrealist-influenced Elsa Schiaparelli specialised in outrageous designs, such as the famous lamb chop hat. Hand-knitted and crocheted hats also became prevalent in the Depression. These were a warm and cheap way to cover up, soon joined by snoods and headscarves. For those who could afford them, fox fur stoles and collars were the fashionable way to keep warm, accentuating the shoulders in the style of the day.


Famous European couturiers of the 1930s still continue to influence modern clothing. The most renowned among them is Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, who is often remembered for her mannish designs of the '20s. In the '30s she produced opulent sportswear-inspired evening wear, only closing her Paris boutique in 1939 at the outbreak of war. Elsa Schiaparelli, famous for her scandalous and flamboyant evening wear, was one of the most distinctive designers of the decade, collaborating with artists such as Dali and Giacometti. Other couturiers of this time include Madeleine Vionnet and Victor Stiebel. In many ways the '30s was a good decade for women's fashion. Women were not forced into painful boned corsets, or styles that only suited a distorted body shape. Schiaparelli and Vionnet pioneered clothing for practicality and convenience. Clothing for women in the 1930s was formal but graceful.

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About the Author

Shefali Choudhury is a qualified make-up artist and nail technician, with more than 12 years experience of professional makeup in beauty, film and theater. She graduated in fine art from Central Saint Martins and has been writing professionally since 2007.