The 1930s was marked by the Wall Street Crash of 1929, which led to the Great Depression. The lack of money showed up in everyday fashion which can be seen in films such as It Happened One Night and Bonnie and Clyde. While it was grit over glitz in the life of average 1930s Americans, Hollywood and the rich and famous were living it up.
Hollywood and Broadway shied away from the grittiness of real life and opted for the glitz. The golden era of theatre and Hollywood musicals offered escapism from real-life woes, a voyeuristic experience of theatricalised glamour that the average person could only dream of, or see on a movie screen.
The opulent dresses of the 1920s with their art deco patterns and ornate beading evolved into even more splendid gowns. Stars like Ginger Rogers sashayed across the screen in sparkling dresses with flowing feathered skirts, Jean Harlow smoldered in figure-hugging fine silk dresses and Carole Lombard was OTT in big chiffon frills.
The 1920s drop waists and boyish straight up straight down style of dress disappeared favouring a more streamlined look that emphasized the waist and hips. The popular bias cut (fabric cut and sewn on the diagonal) had a delicate, graceful flow that clung to a woman’s curves naturally and made her look feminine and sexy. Eveningwear was mostly bias cut dresses in fine silks and satins, often in halter necks and backless. The more OTT dresses would have frilled shoulders, long flared sleeves, sequins, feathers and new fabrics like metallic lame became very popular for making a lady shine on the dance floor.
Accessories became even more popular in the 1930s; costume jewellery was bigger, shinier and more affordable. Those with money wore luxurious furs and evening shoes became more decadent. Ladies with less money had to wear more practical daywear than they would have in the 1920s, so glamming up a day suit or day dress with accessorizes became very popular.Hats became more widely available with bigger brims and ladies began to match their hats, gloves and handbags with their outfits. As well as tying around their shoulders similar to Faye Dunaway in Bonnie & Clyde, skirts and day dresses were A-line or tight at the hips with wedge cut pleats at the hem to create an hour glass silhouette.
While 1920s Hollywood makeup was designed for silent films and exaggerated expressions, 1930s makeup was similar but a much more toned-down affair. Better products and lighter colored palettes gave a more natural fresh-faced look — with the exception of stars like Marlene Dietrich, Bette Davis and Jean Harlow who favored a more dramatic femme fatale look.
The 1920s finger and marcel wave carried through from the 1920s to the 1930s but advances in perming techniques and new hair products gave a soft and sleeker look. However, the bobs and short hairstyles of the 1920s had grown out and ladies wore their hair mid-length so that their curls would sit on their shoulders. To get the perfect 1930s look, take a look at our hair tutorial.