Evening Dresses in the 1930s

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Evening Dresses in the 1930s
1930s evening dresses epitomised the glamour of the decade. (George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images)

1930s evening dresses are remembered for elegance and opulence, with many designers of that era still influencing couture today. The '30s saw the popularity of brand new cuts and styles in women's fashions. In marked contrast to the short, boyish flapper styles of the previous decade, elegant '30s evening gowns swept the floor and clung to the body.

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Style

The bias cut is the most notable style element of classic '30s evening dresses. This involves cutting the fabric diagonally against the grain and affects the way clothing hangs. Pioneered by Madeleine Vionnet, bias-cut dresses clung to the contours of the body and draped beautifully to create the slinky line we associate with 1930s glamour.

Hems were floor-skimming and the long line was accentuated with no sleeves, a bare plunge back and low neck line. Another popular style was the deep cowl neck. The pastel shades of the '20s were swapped for richer and brighter colours. Dresses were embellished with sequins, embroidery or patterns, but never fussy designs that would compromise the long, minimal shape of the gowns.

Couturiers

Most women of the period could not afford couture, but famous '30s designers and styles influenced regular clothing. Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel created lavish eveningwear for modern women, often with a sporty feel.

Elsa Schiaparelli's designs were known for their scandalous flamboyance. Madame Vionnet's cuts flattered the natural female form, and have influenced modern designers such as Issey Miyake. The '30s was the decade when famous women couturiers designed for other women.

Glamour

By the 1930s, glamorous Hollywood stars such as Katherine Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich and Jean Harlow were influencing style. Couture evening dresses were made from expensive and luxurious fabric, such as silk and velvet, and were worn with rich fur stoles to accentuate the shoulders.

Accessorising evening dresses with matching sequin-studded capes and bolero jackets was also popular.

Late 1930s

As the '30s progressed, so did fashions. By the time Chanel closed her Paris boutique in 1939, the classic '30s silhouette was becoming more structured and less grand. Shoulders, always a feature of '30s fashions, were more tailored and moulded. Dresses often had opulent embroidery around the neckline and shoulders to accentuate this.

Constructed waists were also becoming popular, giving a nipped-in appearance in contrast to the soft, slinky line of the bias cut.

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