“What did women wear in the 1930s?” The fashion of the thirties is usually overshadowed by the great depression, but the 1930s were full of glamour and style. Here you will learn about all the 1930s clothing and accessories women wore for day and evening events. You will also be able to create a 1930s wardrobe from vintage or new inspired clothes we found online (follow the links.)
Welcome to the glamorous, elegant, well-tailored, world of women’s 1930s fashion!
1930s Fashion Trends
- Midi length bias cut dresses, puff sleeves, belted waists and large yokes or collars
- Old Holywood evening gowns- backless, sleeveless, long bias-cut dresses
- High waisted sailor pants and wide leg beach pajamas
- Casual sports clothes- skirt like shorts, striped knit shirts
- Slouch hats, tilt hats, knit berets
- Fur collar winter coats
- Oxford shoes with perforated details and evening T-strap heels
1930s Fashion History
What was the fashion during the 1930s? The very loose, square, drop-waist, high knee-length hem, and slightly “boyish” look of 1920s fashion for women was completely gone by 1933 and was replaced with a much more modest and form fitted style with an accentuated natural “high waist”, fitted hips, longer mid-calf or floor length hemline, high neckline, and wide shoulders. Trim, tailored, feminine describe women’s 1930s fashion perfectly.
The ideal ’30s woman was tall and slender with a very small waist and narrow hips, but since most women were not blessed with slim hips and narrow waists, shoulders were exaggerated with puff sleeves, shoulder pads, full collars, and “caplet,” “butterfly’ or ruffled cap sleeves, to make waists and hips appear smaller in comparison. 1930s lingerie also helped shape women into slender tubes with a defined bust. Most sale ads and catalogs featured artistically drawn women who were three times as tall and thin as any real woman could be. The ideal silhouette was anything but realistic. See pictures of average to plus size, young to mature women here.
The fashion industry underwent many changes during this decade in response to the severe economic hardships of the time. Factory-made garments (what we now refer to as “ready-to-wear”) became popular because clothing could be mass produced for far less than made-to-order custom garments. The insurgence of ready-to-wear fueled the buy at home catalog market.
During this era, zippers became a staple in finishing a garment – they cost less than buttons! Less expensive fabrics, “rough” or “peasant” fabrics and cotton became more widely used. In fact, nubby, textured, crepe, or crinkled “rough” fabrics became a trend, “the rougher the smarter!” declared one catalog, particularly for day dresses, skirts and coats.
Being on a tight budget was no excuse for sloppy fashion. It was considered a woman’s duty to shop “smart” and look “smart” by wearing the latest 1930s fashions, materials and designs she could afford. The frugal woman who could feed and dress her family on a dime was praised. She was considered a good steward of her husband’s money! Such was the life of a 1930s wife.
Single and working women, too, were expected to look their best– to be appealing to their male employers. Despite the depression, makeup cosmetic sales doubled in the thirties!
1930s House Dresses
The most casual a woman dressed was at home, with just her family and visiting lady neighbors. House dresses, while basic and usually made of practical durable cotton, followed the trends in cut and silhouette, and often displayed a variety of bright bold prints. Most women still preferred to sew their own clothing or upcycle existing dresses into newer frocks. When flour was delivered in pretty fabric bags women used these to make new dresses and aprons. The house dress was the ideal dress to experiment with since no one but family saw her in it.
One unique house dress variation was the reversible house wrap dress, called a “hooverette.” Practical, affordable, washable, cotton percale and true to thirties style, they sported ruffle sleeves, accentuated tied waist, and a slim cut through the hips, the “hooverette” was the perfect daily dress. With two sides, it was two dresses in one! Now that is a smart woman. Read more about 1930s house dresses.
1930s Afternoon Dresses
A woman would not wear her housedress out of the house. To shop, run errands, attend a tea, or see a matinee, she would need a smart afternoon or day dress. Often referred to as “city,” “metropolitan,” or “town tailored”, these dresses were usually silk or rayon crepe, not cotton. They stuck with the standard silhouette and classic ’30s features: puff sleeves, belted waists and large yokes and collars.
These dresses had more embellishment and detail than a house dress: embroidery, covered decorative buttons, shirring and ruching, bows, trapunto, and faux flower trimming were part of the array of details added to make a dress smarter for forays outside the house. They tended to be solid colors or more subdued prints.
1930s Evening Gowns
Silky, clinging fabrics were common in evening gowns, often worn with a fur. Fabrics that were popular included chiffon, silk, crepe-de-chines, and satin, cut on the bias to create elegant, clingy, flowing lines. Metallic lame came into fashion as well. Evening dresses had hems that very nearly touched the floor and often had small trains in the back.
Evening dresses were also very fitted in the waist, slim and fitted through the hips, easing out mid-thigh or just above the knees, where they flared elegantly to the floor. There were gowns with puffs and ruffle sleeves, and later in the decade high necks and halter styles with plunging backs were in fashion. The backless gown is a signature of 1930s evening wear.
Nearly all modern formal gowns have their stylish roots back to the 1930s. Old Hollywood stars of the Golden Years remain icons for glamour on the runway. This year many current Hollywood stars chose to wear 1930s inspired gowns on the red carpet. It is a style that is a classic favorite in any decade.
Afternoon and evening dress fashions were turned into 1930s wedding dresses. Informal light floral tea dresses with excessive ruffles and butterfly sleeves started off the 1930s. Next came bias cut dress with a modest high neck, long sleeve and floor length gown with a fishtail train made of silk or shiny satin. They paired with very long, lace trim veils cascading down the back to church aisle. In the last few years took inspiration from the turn of the century with large mutton sleeves and a full skirt. Shop 1930s style wedding dresses.
1930s Fabric and Colors
What fabric was used in the 1930s? Cotton broadcloth for day dresses. Silk or rayon crepe for afternoon frocks. Sheer rayons for blouses and summer party dresses. Linen for summer suits and dresses. Wool for winter suits and outerwear. Rayon tweed or corduroy for fall/winter dresses. Silky satin, lace, velvet, and taffeta for evening gowns.
1930s fashion colors were lovely pastels in spring and summer and rich earth tones in fall-winter. Peach and aqua were new favorite warm season colors not seen in the 20s. In fall Burgandy/maroon made a reappearance. The 1930s were a colorful time, there is almost no color left out. Read more about 1930s fashions colors and fabrics
1930s Women’s Pants
While rebellious women began wearing pants in earlier decades, in the 1930s there were several social situations that were acceptable to wear pants in public. Beach pajamas— one-piece jumpers with very wide leg pants, belted or fitted high waists and slightly more blousey than most 1930s fashion tops– became popular for a day at the beach or a “restful day at home.” Sportswear for tennis, hiking, picnics, skiing, or even just watching sports featured pants, overalls and even shorts! The sailor inspired two-piece “sailor middy” was a common sportswear outfit.
Pants generally were wide legged trousers with a front crease or very wide flowing culottes that looked like a skirt when not moving, with a high fitted waist. The double button “sailor” front was common, as was a side zipper or button closure. They were usually made of a durable cotton fabric like twill or wool for winter. Winter snow pants were wide but fitted at the ankle to prevent snow going into one’s boots. In summer beach pajamas which look like palazzo pants with an attached sleeveless top graced the beaches, seasides, and pools of 1930s Hollywood. They were made to comical extreme widths and in bold geometric patterns but were and still areextremelyy comfortable to wear.
A more common option for separates was the tailored skirt. At first, the ankle length hanky hem skirt set a softer tone to the start of the 30s. Ruffled skirts were replaced by the long column skirt in the mid-30s that gradually shortened up into the flared skirt just below the knee in the late 30s. Skirts had a very high waist, slim but not tight fit and a bit of a flare at the hem. Gores gave some skirts a wider fit as well as narrow pleats.
Paired with pants and skirts was an array of blouses and sweaters. The floral print cotton button down blouse was an all-time favorite for its simplicity and comfort. The knit short sleeve top was another style that was fashionable and easy to make at home. When times improved the crepe blouse with buffed sleeves and a tailored waist proved the most flattering with slim fitting tea length skirts. Wrap tops and dolman sleeve blouses also fit well with the new tailored yet feminine look. Shop 30s style tops and blouses.
For casual affairs, the knit top, especially with nautical themes, looked best with wide leg pants and flared shorts. Many knit tops had collars while other had modest neckline with a fitted waist. Cardigan sweaters also fit slim, accentuating the narrow waist and flat hips. In the early 30s wide belts were worn over blouse and sweaters to draw attention to the high waistline even more. Shop 30s style vintage sweaters.
- For more 1930s outfit ideas read this article.
- Or this one for menswear/sporty 30s styles.
- Ready made 1930s costumes will also give you ideas such as Betty Boop, Bride of Frankenstein, Olive Oyl, and Bonnie Parker (gangster mol)
Swimsuits and Beach Clothes
In addition to beach pajamas, women’s swimwear consisted of fitted wool one pieces with cotton jersey lining, a mini skit over boy shorts, and frequently little belts accentuating the waist. Usually, they had simple tank straps and often low or even plunging backs. Sunbathing became a trend in the 1920s and continued in the ’30s as Coco Chanel and Hollywood stars encouraged the tan look. A tan began to mean one had time for leisure, not that one had to work in the sun.
Some concern for too much sun started in the ’30s. Hollywood stars quickly adopted large sun hats and sunglasses into their beachside wardrobe. Open toe sandals, too, were becoming more common for beach side strolls. Even if a woman lived hundreds of miles from the ocean, she still dressed liked she was on vacation in California.
Following dress style, women’s winter coats were long with a nipped high waist, full shoulders, wide lapels or oversized collars and made entirely of wool. Many, such as the green coat on the left, had large detachable fur collars. Most coats buttoned up the front to off center and some also had matching belts. Colors were rich but cheerful green, medium blue, wine, brown and cream.
In spring, women’s coats were often sold as a set with two-piece suits. They were a few inches shorter than the dress, made of lighter wool, and worn open with no buttons. They still had wide lapels and large fur collars.
Raincoats mimicked the shape of fashion coats. The trench coat was especially popular. While wool did a good job of repelling water naturally, raincoats were lined in a type of rubber or made entirely of rubber. Clear raincoats were a new trend that women appreciated since it did not cover up the beautiful clothes underneath. Learn more about vintage raincoats form the 1920s to 1950s.
Shop for 1930s style women’s coats.
1930s Fashion Accessories
Accessories were very important to the cash-strapped 1930s woman. Accessories could transform a simple dress into something very smart. As the decade progressed, and the worst of the depression passed, matching belt, glove, and bags sets, as well as belts dyed to match a dress exactly, became popular.
Hats became a primary method to glam up an ensemble. A wide variety of hats were worn in the ’30s. The ’20s cloche and the beret lingered on from the previous decade. he cloche evolved into the “slouch” hat, still worn low on the face but with much more of a brim, sometimes worn turned up. Small hats worn at a tilt often with a single feather as an accent dominated the decade. Small white straw hats were worn in the summer, as well as wide-brimmed cartwheel hats. Menswear style fedora hats dominated the late 30s. Learn about 1930s hats.
Bags tended to be small flat clutches or “pochettes”, and evening bags often had jeweled clasps. Bags got a little larger with handles as the decade wore on. Read more about 1930s purses.
Gloves were worn with both day dresses and evening gowns. Daytime gloves were mid arm length, gauntlet styles in fabric, crochet lace or soft leather. Gauntlet style gloves had flaring cuffs attached at the wrist or embroidered turn-over cuffs. Elbow length gloves were still worn for some evening gowns, but bare arms were preferred. There was a strict etiquette for what type of gloves to wear when and with what dress. Learn more about gloves here or shop vintage style gloves here.
Jewelry was very important in the 1930s. Budgets were small, however, so many women had to make their own accessories. A small cluster of flowers was a perfect brooch for a ladies suit. Colored glass beads mimicked pearls but cost significantly less. Rhinestones were cheap and sparkly so naturally, they were made into dress clips, pins, earrings, bracelets and evening necklaces. Read more about the variety of 1930s jewelry and shop 1930s Art Deco inspired jewelry and accessories.
Shoes: Women’s shoes in the 1930s came in a wide variety of styles, but walking Oxfords were extremely popular. Shoes with cutouts such as pumps, T-straps, ankle straps, low heel flats, and sandals were everywhere. Cutouts are the one symbol of a 1930s shoe. Pumps had square heels, in patent leather or suede with a variety of decorative details like lacing, removable tongues or bows, and top stitching. Toward the end of the decade, wedges began to appear. The T-strap shoe that began in the ’20s exploded in the 1930s.
Common shoe colors were brown or black for winter and white for summer. Two-tone pumps were also on trend as well two-tone sports shoes like the saddle oxford. For evenings, the dancing sandal was a strappy high heeled pump in silver or gold. In winter women wore fur-lined boots and rain galoshes.
Beauty in the 1930s
In the 1930s, women attempted to cheer themselves up with pampering in the form of beauty products and hairstyling. Weekly visits to the salon were in order to set hair in the latest fingers waves and tight rolls. Short hair was in style (although long hair was acceptable) and it needed expert attention to cut and curl hair. At night women would wash (about once a week) and set their own hair in rag curlers or use a marcel iron to create deep waves. For bad hair days wearing a pretty scarf tied over the head and under the chin like a kerchief was a charming way to keep fashionable.
Makeup was booming during this time. The new face was no longer full and doll-like but thin and streamlined. Eyebrows were arched high and thin. Lips were painted with soft pinks tones to match the light peachy-blush on the cheeks. Eyes were exaggerated with long dark lashes and shimmering jewel tone shadows. Learn more about 1930s makeup.
Hollywood 1930s Fashion
What else did women wear in the 1930s? For some, it was all about high fashion. Take a look at this 10 minute video about 1930s couture and Hollywood fashion history. The men’s video is also excellent.