I absolutely love 1930s fashion. At first I thought it would never look good on my short and curvy frame because all the fashion images from the decade feature very tall and narrow silhouettes (the hand-drawn images were not realistically proportionate in the least). After giving a few 30s outfits a try, especially mixing separates, I found a new appreciation for the decade.
It is, however, not the easiest of decades to re-create simply because the day to day styles haven’t come to the mainstream since the 1970s and 80s. In recent years there have been some 70s does 30s dress revivals as well as Old Hollywood glam evening gowns. Crop sweaters and knit tops, wide leg pants and long overcoats are coming back too. These will help you in re-creating 1930s outfits while venturing into the thrift stores or scouring online genuine vintage sales to complete the rest.
The following are some 1930s outfit ideas for winter to summer, focusing on semi-dressy to casual fashions. I will save the evening glam for another article.
1930s Dresses and Accessories
Most women in the 1930s wore dresses, all day, every day. Simple house dresses and aprons at home or dressier going out dresses and suits in the afternoons. What makes 1930s dresses “thirties” in style is the very modest high necklines, a higher waistline (somewhere between the natural middle waist and an empire waist), and a mid calf “midi” length. Small prints in cheerful colors were popular all day long while solid colors in rich hues made for more sophisticated looks.
Accessorizing a plain 1930s style dress is key to creating an authentic 30s style. These are some ideas:
- A belt. Most 1930s dresses were sold with thin matching fabric belts to accent the high waistline. Thin and wide cloth or leather belts with plastic belt buckles were also in vogue when worn over a dress, a jacket, or a cardigan sweater– pretty much everything. White, red, and brown were popular with all outfits. Other colors found in the dress print could also be matched to the belt.
- Collar, dickey, false front. 1930s fashion love fussy ruffles, pleats, lace and collars of all shapes and sizes. The more fluff the better. You can buy or make detachable white collars and dickies or “false blouse fronts” to add over a plain dress or blouse. Consider adding matching cuffs on sleeves too. This is an easy way to add instant 30s charm to a modern dress. Look at 1980s patterns for collars that work very well for 30s outfits.
- Scarf. In spring and fall a decorative neck scarf was a must have accessory worn over a dress or tucked under the lapels of a jacket. Scarves could be worn a number of pretty ways. Learn more about vintage scarf styles here.
- Flowers and brooches. Jewelry is always a nice way to jazz up a vintage dress. Fake flowers pinned on lapels or dresses is one nice and easy accessories. A pretty vintage brooch, especially in bakerite or rhinestone, and in classic shapes (moon, stars) or animals (scotty dogs!) can be pinned on a lapel, collar, blouse or scarf. Read more about jewelry.
- Gloves, hats, and purse are a must have accessories for any outfit. Read more about 1930s gloves , 1930s purses, and 1930s hats styles.
- Stockings in the 1930s came in a full range of neural colors from black to brown, grey to white. White or colored ankle socks were options for sporty looks including dresses. Shop stockings.
- Shoes in the 1930s were mostly walking oxfords- low to moderate heel lace up shoes in white, brown or black. Fancier heels were the T-strap or Mary Jane shoe. Shop 1930s shoes.
Spring Jacket Dresses
Many spring and summer dresses in the 1930s were sold with a matching light jacket. They started out waist-length in the early years but could be hip level or longer later on. If a matching jacket wasn’t available a lady could coordinate her dress with a white jacket in summer or a dark solid color anytime of year. A short cape around the shoulders was a charming alternative to jackets. Shop jackets.
Blazers and Jackets
One of my favorite 1930s looks for cooler weather is the ladies fitted blazer worn over a dress or a skirt and blouse set. 1930s blazers fit snug to the body, pulling in at the waist and skimming over the top of the hips. Unlike a coordinated suit, a blazer could be any color or pattern paired with a contrasting dress or skirt. The mixing possibilities were endless which makes them a great choice for your ’30s wardrobe.
While most blazers were a wool type fabric for winter warmth, there were other short jackets for mild winter days. The belted wool, suede or leather jacket is a classic, while the cropped leather jacket in natural or bright colors gave a nod to the adventurous woman look (aviator, motorcyclist.) Short fur coats were briefly in fashion as well.
I have better luck finding jackets in menswear than women’s clothing. Many men’s “bomber jackets” can work well as casual women’s winter jacket. Shop women’s jackets and coats or learn the history of women’s coats and jackets.
Long winter coats with or without a fur collar were the final peice for a woman’s winter outfit. I am glad to see them back in fashion this year- especially the novelty textures and patterns such as plaid, herringbone, and checks.
Skirts and Tops
Moving away from dresses the 1930s strongly favored the skirt and blouse separates. They were economical and versatile for the many different outfits they could create. A mid length skirt was often paired with a long billowy sleeve blouse or short puff sleeve button down blouse. Blouses were short in length and usually worn untucked, so a belt was often added on top. Many blouses and knit tops had a banded bottom hem that acted like a belt as well. Shop 30s skirts.
I thrifted these outfits layering a skirt, blouse, belt and hat:
Sweaters and Skirts
Knit tops, both short and long sleeve, as well as pullover and cardigan sweaters could also be worn with skirts on their own or over a thin blouse. Layering knitwear over a dress was an equally common outfit for cooler days. Shop sweaters and short sleeve knitwear.
By now you can see some color trends happening. Red, navy blue, emerald green, grey and a medium brown were some of the most popular colors in the 1930s. In spring and summer peachy-pink, white, baby-blue and golden yellow lightened up wardrobes. There were few rules regarding color pairings so be free to experiment. The best ’30s outfits are usually non-matchy matchy sets. Learn more about 1930s colors and fabrics.
The latest craze for women to wear pants was mostly a summertime only outfit. The one exception was the cuffed wool ski pant with matching ski jacket. Although intended for ski and snow play I have no doubt women in very cold climates wore them throughout winter at home or running into town. The wool or flannel winter slacks (not cuffed) came about at the very end of the 1930s giving women year round casual comfort.
Wool ski pants were paired with warm blouses or knit pullovers, thick roll neck “ski” sweaters, or menswear style flannel shirts (solid, check or plaid.) A matching wool ski jacket in the belted Mackinaw style or short bomber jacket style were the two best options. Cute knit winter hats, scarves and mittens are naturally required accessories. A pair of lace up winter snow boots was also critical. Read more about vintage winter boots here.
In the late 1920s, women took their house pajamas and turned them into “Beach Pajamas” and wore them all summer, beach in sight or not! These oversized, wide leg, flowing pants with attached or separate sleeveless top are so much fun to wear. A modern pair of palazzo pants has the same effect as the 1930s beach pajamas. Be sure to buy a few pairs while they are still in fashion. Learn more about beach pajamas and other wide leg pants here.
The beach pajamas gave way to women wearing men’s style slacks for informal occasions. The wide leg sailor pants in white or blue with contrasting buttons, was the best 1930s style pant. Light denim pants could also be worn but these were not “jeans” as we know them. Most 30s pants were paired with equally casual striped knit T-shirts or polo shirts.
Women could also wear shorts in the summer, if they were playing a sport or at the beach. Many gym or workout clothes involved shorts or playsuits as part of the uniform. Casually, women wore high waist, wide leg, mid thigh shorts with casual knit shirts, polo shirts and short sleeve blouses. Add a pair of sandals or sporty flat canvas sneakers (Keds), sunglasses, a headscarf or big sun hat and you will have several fun 1930s summer outfits.
1930s Pantsuit Outfit- Marlene Dietrich
A 1930s Marlene Dietrich menswear suit was one outfit a woman could somewhat-comfortably cross-dress in. Marlene usually bought men’s suits and had them tailored to her body. Most women at the time who adopted menswear clothing did this as well.
For accuracy, purchasing a 1930s reproduction suit, sewing a suit, or buying a vintage men’s suit and tailoring them is the best option. For the rest of us on a budget, you can adapt a thrifted women’s suit to the look easily — that is, IF you can find a suit to begin with. I found this grey check suit, but it was the only option that didn’t look totally out of place/ the wrong decade in the several stores I shopped. I searched online, too, but most modern suits have skinny pants (not wide leg) and plain blazers that resemble ’60s fashions, not 1930s. Finding a menswear 1930s outfit was a lot harder than I expected.
Removing the jacket and wearing the pants with a white button-down collared shirt, dark necktie, and vest creates the same masculine ’30s outfit but without the difficulty of finding a matching suit set. Wearing a fedora hat instead of cloche transforms it into a gangster moll costume (wives of gangsters / female gangsters).
1930s Outfit: Bonnie Parker
Speaking of 1930s female gangsters, the most notorious of them all is Bonnie Parker, partner to Clyde Barrow. She did not wear men’s clothes, or at least she was never photographed in them. She always had a ’30s dress or skirt and top separates with a pair of heels and freshly styled hair. Very ladylike!
For my Bonnie Parker outfit, I found a tea length gored skirt and paired it with a chevron knit sweater, T-strap shoes, and ’30s wig. I am pretty proud of this one. It is simple yet accurate, and very wearable today, albeit perhaps without the wig.
More 1930s outfits:
Film Noir- 1930s-1950s outfits inspired the Film Noir genre.
1940s Casual Outfits – Many of these can work for the late 1930s.
1930s Summer outfits– A few of my 30s outfits worn to a Great Gatsby beach party
1930s Plus size/Mature Women’s fashion– What did the wise and curvy woman wear in the 1930s?
1930s Makeup – A bit of history and basic application guide
1930s Shoes – History of 1930s shoe styles
What other 1930s outfits would you like to see?