The 1930s were an era of great upheaval. They opened with a depression following the Wall Street crash in 1929, and closed with the start of another World War. Despite the tough times, fashion was still an important part of many people’s lives, and the 30s remain one of our favourite decades in design.
The lavish outfits of Hollywood stars provided inspiration for everyday style, and the sweeping full length dresses that were the signature look of the decade made for spectacular dancewear. Designers such as Elsa Schiaparelli and Madeleine Vionnet were taking fashion to new and exciting places, and innovations like Vionnet’s new bias cut were gradually revolutionising the way the women dressed.
1930s/40s Vintage Dress in Pale Aquamarine Water Silk (here)
By the 30s, the shorter-skirted and cheekier ‘flapper girl’ look had fallen out of favour, and been replaced with longer, more sophisticated designs directly influenced by stars of the silver screen such as Greta Garbo and Ginger Rogers (who often designed her own gowns). This water silk dress in pale aquamarine exhibits some classic features of the period; wide shoulders with puffed sleeves, gathered detail at the waist, and a long draping skirt which sweeps the floor.
1930s Vintage Dress in White Silk Satin with Bias Cut (here)
The elegant bias cut was developed by Madeleine Vionnet in the late 20s, and this white silk satin dress is a perfect example of it. The fabric was cut across the grain instead of with it, allowing materials to cling artfully to the body in certain places (such as the bust and hips), but also to flare out into sweeping skirts. Like many bias cut dresses, which can stretch due to the nature of their design, this one has no openings or fastenings of any kind, and slips on over the head.
1920s/30s Vintage Dress in Peach Velvet with Appliqué Velvet Flowers and Ribbon Detail
1930s designs were usually kept simple and flowing, with little to break up the line of a piece of clothing. However, details like flowers and bows were also added to some 30s dresses, harking back to some of the more embellished styles of the 20s. This early 30s dress keeps some design elements of the previous decade, with its appliqué flowers and ribbons and, interestingly, fastens with a zip. Although the zip was invented in 1893, they weren’t really used for clothing until Schiaparelli began to promote them in the early 30s – we think this particular zip may have been added to the dress in a later decade.
1930s Vintage Dress in Lemon Tulle with Pleats and Bow Detail (here)
Dancing remained ever popular during the Great Depression, particularly because Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire were dazzling cinema audiences with their show-stopping routines. The long flowing skirts of 30s bias cut designs lent themselves to this incredibly well, showcasing rippling expanses of fabric. The skirt of this lemon tulle dress is accentuated with ruffles and bows, making it perfect for swishing and twirling.
Near the end of the decade, when much of the world was gearing up for war, clothing styles started to become more reserved, reflecting the seriousness of the times. Eveningwear remained as glamorous as ever, but during the next few years designers would have to adapt their clothing to rigorous rationing and controlled commodity laws. Fashion wouldn’t begin to be truly luxurious again until the latter half of the 40s, when Christian Dior released his ‘New Look’ – wide shoulders, wasp waists and full midi skirts.
1930s fashion remains a huge influence on today’s clothing, and it’s not hard to see why. The revolutionary bias cut is a staple of glamorous eveningwear and bridal gowns, and original 30s pieces are becoming more and more sought after.
This article was written by Harriet Matthews from Mela Mela Vintage. Mela Mela Vintage is a vintage boutique in Greater London.