Ladies' fashion in the 1930s

Updated November 21, 2016

The stock market crash of October 1929 set a practical tone for the oncoming 1930s and for many it was a sobering end to the Roaring '20s. Ladies' fashions returned to a softer and more romantic look, which was a departure from the bold, edgy lines of flapper styles. Designs based on the romance of Hollywood blended with the frugality of the Great Depression to form the fashions of the '30s.

Feminine Styles

The cut and silhouette of ladies' dresses made a return to femininity and soft curves in the 1930s. The '20s flapper styles had seen a trend toward shapeless dresses with low, dropped waists around the hips. Skinny, boyish figures that were all the rage in the 1920s gave over to a sexy, curvy look that was ushered in with the '30s. Daytime dresses were more fitted in the 1930s, with the waistline back at the waist and even belted to appear narrow. Evening dresses had daring low-cut necklines and backs.

Longer Skirts

Skirt lengths returned to a longer hemline in the 1930s, with the knee-length or above-the-knee styles of flapper dresses going out of style. Daytime dress was a bit more conservative and skirts came below the knee or even to the middle of the calf. Another trend in ladies' skirts in the '30s was the kick pleat, a style that saw the back hem of skirts longer than the front by 3 or 4 inches. Skirts were commonly worn with sweaters or blouses and a waist-length jacket, as ladies' suits came into vogue.

Slacks and Sportswear

The chord of independence struck by women in the 1920s had a permanent effect on fashions in certain regards. Women began wearing slacks in the 1920s and their comfort and practicality stuck with many women. They continued to wear them on into the 1930s and beyond. Hollywood actresses like Katherine Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich wore trousers regularly. Middle-class women rarely wore slacks in daily life, but some wore tuxedo trousers to social events and other women wore wide-legged slacks for sports such as golf.

Money-Saving Materials

Many ladies' styles still had their roots in Hollywood glamour, despite the financial depression going on in the country. Corners were cut, however, in many of the materials used to make ladies' clothes. Dresses before the Depression were often made of fine silks and satins. Following the 1929 crash, materials like rayon were often used. Nylon began being used in the 1930s for hose, as opposed to silk. The zipper was also used commonly in skirts and dresses for the first time in the '30s. This helped to save money as one zipper could replace many buttons.

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