As you know Kittens I am in love with the fashion of the 1930s. I have been since I was a child.

In this post I will go into a bit of history and discuss the fashion designers I feel made the most important advances.
To buy any of the fashion illustrations as postcards just click on the images.

It should be noted here that most of this is from a Brittish POV, as I am. The decade saw the depression and the dust bowl in America which had an impact on everyday fashions. But the shapes and styles of the clothing are essentially the same.
The 1930’s have been called the forgotten decade, stuck as they are between the depression (which lasted until 1933)and the second world war. You can view them now as an uneasy intermission between great tragedies. But in Britain there was some level of stability, at least politically, and new industries for new materials like plastics gave hope to the suffering job market. The national grid was completed and for the first time women had the vote equally to men and moved from work in domestic service to the office. The disposable income from this shift turned women into the advertisers best friend and the consumer age was born.

The change in look from the 20s to the 30s was, as always, a result of social change and industrial advances. It was not until the 30s, for example, that fashionable women had any need for practical day wear. Their lives were for the first time much more full and active thanks to women’s rights reforms, the after effects of the first world war, and a new trend for physical fitness.

Art and design changed dramatically too. The old fussy styles of the past had been roundly rejected, and replaced with the greatest design style ever devised by mortal man; ‘Art Deco’.
Art Deco, which dates from the mid 1920s to the 30s, was the first style to insist on everything in your life being designed down to the last detail, and is characterized by clean lines and luxuriant materials or reflective surfaces. Immediately following Art Deco proper was a style called streamline modern. Most people lump the two styles together and see them as the same. Though the latter is cleaner and stronger, less ornamented than the former. They are natural bedfellows though and in Decopunk both styles are included.

1930s fashion designers responded to these changes with clothing of simpler construction, that allowed more freedom of movement for daywear and eveningwear of sheer glamour never before imagined.
With luxurious looking gowns made from the fashionable man-made fabrics of the new industrial age, like metallic lame -for its fluidity- and accented with glass beads and plastic sequins for extra sparkle.
Do not however confuse this version of elegance with the flamboyance of decades past though, no. The fashions of the 1930s were of a more refined, simple and ‘modest’ personality. The reason for this has to be the depression…so its goodbye to long ear-rings, hello studs…goodbye to dripping with diamonds, hello simple string of pearls/glass beads… goodbye yards of fringe, hello sleek clean lines …and so on. “Conspicuous display” was a 1930s fashion no-no.

This is an early 30’s tea dress circa 1930/31. You can still see the shaped lines of Art Deco, but now created with clever seams rather than beading and sequins, and a more modest hem length.

MADELINE VIONNET- 1876 – 1975 French.

Hollywood became hugely influential in 1930s fashion. This special relationship between film and fashion is something we now take for granted, but it is said that it began here. The story goes along the lines that a Hollywood, now in its first full bloom, got cold feet over the frequent nudity in films of the 1920s. So to cover themselves so to speak, they embraced the bias cut satin gown….a dress that is actually more naked than naked!.

Whatever the reason though the bias cut dress is the icon of 1930s fashion.
Bias cut, also called cross cut, gives clothes a flirtatious feel through the way the fabric drapes and clings to the curves of the body, shifting provocatively with every move.
The effect is achieved by cutting the fabric on a 45 degree angle rather than on the straight grain, which makes it stretch.
The method was made famous by, the already well established, French fashion designer Madeleine Vionnet. Legendary designer Issey Miyake said “it was the bias cut, discovered by Vionnet, that made freedom of expression in clothing possible”.

Vionnet is often credited with inventing the method, but this is unlikely as it is probable that it has been used since medieval times, however she certainly made it a fashion phenomenon. She also popularized other 1930s fashion staples like; the halterneck and the asymmetric and handkerchief hemline, some of my personal favorites, and all styles that still look fresh even today.
The best fabrics for this look are satin, crepe, silk, chiffon, tulle and lame. They hang well and reflect the light, essential for that ‘serpentine’ effect. You might find that these dresses look like nothing much on the hanger but when you slip them over your curves, they come alive like nothing else!.

Other key evening styles of Vionnet’s 30s fashion were Greek goddess inspired lines, spaghetti thin straps and very low open backs.
This was both to soften the severity of the close fitting gowns and because of the fashion for sunbathing, women wanted to show off their toned bronzed skin as much as possible.

This is a mid 1930s evening gown. The fitted bodice and dropped waist are not always the most flattering for the average woman. But still it is a beautiful style.

The firm and toned athletic body was desirable in the 30s, following the streamline forms of art deco, and also because the bias cut fashions were unforgiving of lumps and bumps!, Which came first? I don’t know.
so fitness routines were essential. This was made easier for women to achieve and maintain however because of social acceptance of contraception, so they didn’t have to bear child after child as their mothers had.

ELSA SCHIAPARELLI – 1890 to 1973 – Italian.

Other than Vionnet there was another designer to create an iconic look. The Italian designer Elsa Schiaparelli was very much connected to the surrealist and cubist art movements, often collaborating with the likes of Dali and Man Ray. She was somewhat the opposite of the style of Vionnet, using more clean strong lines and bright colours, a very ‘couture’ look . Think Marlene Dietrich and you have the look, its powerful but feminine…. though not always. Her work was not always for style or elegance but to attract attention. So it was often provocative and ironic. This was in direct contrast to her biggest ‘rival’ Coco Chanel, who described her as “The Italian artist who makes clothes” meow.
Something we take for granted today is the zip. But it was actually Schiaparelli who introduced plastic zips to popular fashions. Metal zips already existed but were not really used in fashion much, Schiaparelli made the coloured plastic zip…even non-functional zips, a decorative feature, one which has never left us, and the punk movement owes a lot to!.
She also used “illusion” prints in her fabrics – prints made to look like something else. Instead of flowers or polka dots, it may look like the fabric has been torn and is hanging in shreds.

For me these women are the most important 1930s fashion designers…Vionnet’s daring near nudity in the bias cut satin dress and Schiaparelli’s daring use of form, print and modern materials to make a statement were key in the birth of what we know as fashion today.

This is a typical 1930s ladies day suit. A simple long ‘sweater jacket’ belted with a narrow belt and a calf length skirt, fitted at the hips and flare as it goes down. Simple, elegant, shows off the figure just enough with just enough movement too.

In 1939 war came to Europe and fashion designs had to accommodate both rationing and an even greater need for practicality, while still helping to keep public morale up…no mean feat. It was at this point in history that fashion proved its self as being more than just a vain frivolity, the contribution of fashion designers to the ‘war effort’ is sadly underestimated. I will go into this in greater detail in a 1940s fashion post later.

Fact: Dior’s so called ‘new look’ actually first appeared in the late 30s but war put an end to it until afterwards, in 1947, it was finally resurrected for a new age of optimism.

Have a glamorous day Kittens xxx

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