By the 1930s, pants for lounging at home, pants worn for casual beach attire, and sport pants were a regular part of everyday fashion. In the 1920s pants for women were limited to knickers/breeches until the Beach Pajama trend began, and it was the 1930s that carried the long and wide leg slacks fad from the beach to loungewear — not just for the Stars, but for all women. As such, the use of beach pajamas influenced not only women’s sportswear but finally long pants in public.
1930s Beach Pajamas
The new style of sleeping pajama was very similar to the beach pajama. They were called Beach Pyjamas rather than pajamas, although the latter was used more often in American English. Wide legs and a tunic top or button down blouse with a matching belt was the Asian inspired pajama style for most of the early 1930s. Nightgowns were still worn, too, but there was something less personal about pajamas that made them more likely to be worn at home without the need for a robe as a cover up.
Comfortable and glamorous, many women wore pajamas/ beach pajamas all day long to do their chores in, too. These may have been renamed Kitchen Pajamas, Gardening pajamas, or simply overalls (modern name jumpsuit) to differentiate them from sleep pajamas. The reality was they could be the same exact style, regardless of location.
What tended to differentiate sleeping pajamas from beach pajamas was the material and cut. For most, sleeping and lounge pajamas were made of shiny silk, satin, or rayon, and were modest in their coverage. Meanwhile, beach pajamas were made of cotton or linen with exposed backs (more suntan!). Beach pajamas came in big fun patterns of flowers, plaid, Deco prints, and polka dots in obnoxiously bright colors (mine are orange). Sleeping pajamas were usually one or two solid jewel tone colors in comparison.
Light and airy, Beach pajamas were perfect in hot weather (and they’re amazing to dance in too!). They could be just pants, but more often they were overalls (jumpsuits) with an attached top and bottom with a V neck/scoop neck/halter top or simple short sleeve shirt. The top and bottom didn’t need to match, either. Having the look of separates was trendier in the middle years. In many cases they were two-piece garments of matching fabrics. Separate pants could be worn over a swimsuit or in town with a modest blouse.
The 1930s Beach Pajamas get the credit for having the widest legs. They started at a nice roomy fit and went crazy with oversized legs (24 inches? sure!) inspired by men’s Oxfords Bags of the 1920s. “Clown pants” come to my mind when I see these monstrosities. Palazzo pants is the modern name.
1930s culottes were a short pants style with a wide flowing leg. It looked like a cross between a pant and skirt. Today, culottes are also sometimes called gaucho pants and can be mid-calf or knee-length.
By the mid 1930s, culottes were made en masse, ditching the over skirt. White was the best color but tan, blue, brown, red — pretty much any color or pattern — were worn. Linen was the coolest, denim or twill the sturdiest, and rayon was the flowiest. When paired with a matching shirt top, the ensemble looked like a Culotte-jumpsuit or playsuit (with overdress).
To make the legs extra wide, designers placed a flat front with side buttons or a front flap with sailor buttons and A-line cut legs, with an invert pleat from the mid-thigh on down. Pleated waists came a bit later in the decade and were made up in rayon or cotton for maximum swish and sway.
1930s Breeches and Jodhpurs
Other popular sports, hobbies, and lifestyles for women were horseback riding, hiking, hunting, fishing, and many out outdoor activities. Most used the same outfit of breeches or jodhpur pants with a belt, knit top or button down shirt, and boots. Collectively, the outfit was called riding togs.
These comical pants featured a high waist, ballooned hip, and narrow legs with inside suede patches. They had been in style for over a decade. In the 1920s, women wore breeches that cuffed at the knee with tall socks. Some 1930s women continued to wear these breeches with side buttons below the knee.
The latest style was for long pants, AKA jodhpurs, with a stirrup strap worn under the boot’s sole. Calf-high lace-up boots, side lacing pull-on boots, or western style boots were worn over the pants. Short ankle Jodhpur boots or tall pull on riding boots could be worn under the pant legs.
In country towns, it wasn’t uncommon to see women wearing “riding togs” to shop, visit a bank, or work at home in. The Rancher / Western look was a lifestyle for many American women and they dressed accordingly.
1930s Ski Pants
For women, wearing pants was mostly a summertime clothing option. The one exception was the ribbed knit, cuffed wool ski pants with long “bloomer-like” legs. Although intended for ski and snow play, women in very cold climates wore them outside, into town, and for work — anytime dresses would not be warm enough. There were wool overalls, too.
Wool ski pants were paired with warm blouses or knit pullovers, thick roll neck “ski” sweaters, and menswear style flannel shirts (in solid, check, or plaid). A matching wool ski jacket in either the belted Mackinaw or short bomber jacket style were the two best options. A pair of lace up winter snow boots was also critical. Read more about vintage winter boots here.
The wool or flannel winter slacks (not cuffed this time) came about at the very end of the 1930s, giving women year round casual comfort.
- Did Women Wear Pants in the 1920s?
- 1930s Ladies’ Bathing Suits and Swimsuits
- An Introduction to 1930s Women’s Fashion
- 1940s Women’s Pants History
- Women’s Wide Leg Pants Pictures, 1920s-1950s
Buying 1930s Style Pants
To get the 1930s pant style, you can have a pair custom made ($$$), sew a pair, or purchase modern wide leg pants. The current palazzo leg and general wide leg pants (based on the 1970s looks) can work for a 1930s inspired outfit. Certain jumpsuits can work well as Beach Pajamas too. Wool pants will be the hardest to locate in winter.
These are some new or reproduction 1930s style pants, trousers, beach pajamas, culottes, jodhpurs, and jeans to get you started:
Debbie Sessions has been teaching fashion history and helping people dress for vintage themed events since 2009. She has turned a hobby into VintageDancer.com with hundreds of well researched articles and hand picked links to vintage inspired clothing online. She aims to make dressing accurately (or not) an affordable option for all. Oh, and she dances too.