Women's fashion in the 1930s was more conservative than that of the optimistic 1920s. Another contrast in fashion in the 1930s from that of the decade before was a return to a more feminine look for ladies. Women's curves were no longer being de-emphasized, skirts became longer, and clothes returned to being near the natural waistline. The 1930s was also the decade of the introduction of bra cup sizing.

New synthetic materials became increasingly used for the manufacture of fabrics. Rayon, wool, silk, and cotton were common materials for women's fashion in the 1930s. But, by the end of the decade, nylon would be introduced as a replacement for silk. Dresses were bias-cut to emphasize feminine curves.

Influences on 1930s Fashion

On October 24, 1929, Wall Street crashed and the Great Depression began. This would have a strong influence on women's fashion in the 1930s. Because of the need to save money, the average women could no longer buy new clothes every few months. Instead, they had to remake the clothes they already had, reusing any material that was on-hand. Only after clothes had been patched and mended beyond what was reasonable would they consider buying a new dress, or the fabric to sew a new one.

Up until this time, the custom was for a person to change clothes a few times during the day, each time wearing the clothes appropriate for the activity, or for the time of day — a different set for morning, afternoon, and evening. Once the Depression took hold, this custom quickly began to be cast aside. Throughout the day, one would wear the same outfit, it would only be for certain occasions that one would change, such as donning evening wear when going out for the evening where more formal clothes would be warranted.

Although Paris fashions were still having an influence on American women's fashion in the 1930s, the influence of clothes worn by famous actresses in Hollywood films became a stronger influence. The broad shoulder look, present through the decade, was directly influenced by Irene Dunne's dress in Cimarron. Greta Garbo had an influence on women's fashion throughout the decade.

Characteristics of Fashion in the 1930s

Women's 1930s fashion was characteristically long and sleek. The flapper look of the '20s was now out, and a more sophisticated look — influenced by Hollywood movies — was in. More muted colors were popular, as were deep colors. Fabrics with prints in abstract or geometric patterns were also widely used.

Women's skirts often had their hemlines at mid-calf for daytime wear. A skirt would softly widen from the hip, while a full skirt would accentuate a slim waist without emphasizing the hips. A long skirt would occasionally be trimmed with ruffles, flare with flounces, but would most likely be simple with a long, slender shape. For evening wear, skirts would have ankle or floor-length hemlines.

Sleeves would on occasion be puffed, but could also sometimes be seen with ruffles or flounces. Shoulder pads were frequently used to broaden and square the shoulders of dresses, coats, nightgowns, and blouses, while torsos were sensuous, sleek, and emphasizing a thin waist. Women's fashion in the 1930s had necklines which were much lower than they had been the previous decade, with much more dramatic attention given. The most common styles for necklines were crossover and v-necks with ruffles, scallop-edges, or lace accents.

For women in business, a well-tailored suit was a must. Women's suits were designed with tightly fitted coats, emphasizing a thin waist line, yet the suit as a whole had a more masculine look to show the woman had seriousness and was willing to get things done. This masculine look in women's business attire would later reach its peak in the 1980s. However, in the 1930s, despite the overall masculine design, these suits still had an obvious feminine look and included feminine pleating.

For casual lounging at home, or for doing housework, women would often wear a house-dress. A dressier house-dress would be worn for more social occasions such as gathering together at a friend's house for small parties or playing cards.

Evening Wear

Evening dresses in 1930s were backless, and the bodices were slightly bloused. Evening dresses had hemlines which were ankle or floor-length. Flowers made of fabric, as well as bows, could be found on one shoulder, or in the center of the waist or neckline.

Late in the decade, silky dresses became more popular. Empire-waisted waistlines, which were tied in the back, were popular.


The one-piece undergarments consisting of a brassiere and a girdle with garters were worn. However, separate undergarments began to become popular as the individual bra became better designed and more acceptable. Cup-sizing, which is today ubiquitous, was just being introduced, allowing for a slightly more consistent fitting. Even though the majority of corsets no longer needed boning, it was still available for those who still wanted it.

1930s Women's Fashion Accessories

Women wore brimmed hats, often worn at an angle. Pill box hats and turbans also gained popularity near the end of the 1930s. Cloche hats, which had been popular during the 1920s, would still continue on in 1930s women's fashion until around 1933 when they quickly began to fade away.

Women usually wore gloves outside the house. The gloves would be worn to match their shoes and handbags. For day clothes, these gloves were often short, they didn't extend past the wrist, and could be made of cloth or leather. Evening gowns frequently required appropriate elbow length gloves.

Shoes with rounded toes would have wide, thick heels. Ankle strap shoes would have a moderate heel. Other popular shoe styles included flats, pumps, and buckle shoes. Like men's shoes, two-toned spectators for women became popular, differing from the men in being more feminine in shape and having a feminine heel.

Makeup and Hair

Because suntans were still somewhat considered to be lower class, most women in the '30s had fairly pale skin. Makeup, such as rouge and lipstick, was frequently used to brighten pale faces.

Artificial eyelashes were popular despite taking hours to apply in a professional salon. Women tended to keep their hair fairly short, about shoulder length. Finger-waves or soft curls with very little body were common. Near the end of the decade, women's hair would start to become longer, as did the popular hair styles seen in the Holly movies did.

Material Used in 1930s Women's Fashion

Wool, silk, cotton, and rayon were the most popular fabrics for women's fashion in the 1930s. Many coats, capes, and stoles were made from fur, as was the trimming on many evening dresses. Popular furs included sable, mink, Persian lamb, and silver fox. For swimwear, Lastex was often used. Lastex consisted of a thread of rubber wrapped with a fiber such as cotton or rayon.

Before the 1930s, most synthetics were made to appear like natural fibers. In the '30s, synthetics which were openly so began to be widely used. In the beginning of the decade, rayon was the most frequently used. But, by the mid-1930s, nylon had been developed, and by the end of the decade, it was being used to replace silk, most significantly for stockings.

The "slide fastener" — later to be popularly known as the "zipper" — was frequently used on overshoes. Its popularity increased through the 1930s as it began being frequently used as a closing fastener on women's dresses.

The End of the 1930s

Women's fashion in the late 1930s saw the introduction of nylon, and growing change due to the growing influence of Hollywood movies. The prolonged duration of the Great Depression also took its toll. The care-free Jazz Age in the 1920s had given way to the more serious, financially conscious Swing Era. But, throughout the decade, the styles had remained fairly consistent.

On September 3, 1939, England and France declared war on Germany for invading Poland — the beginning of World War II. Not only would this event change history and culture of the world there after, but it would have a huge effect on men's and women's fashion everywhere. The pressures created by the war would bring an end to many of the 1930s women's fashion trends, causing 1940s women's fashion to have a look of its own.

Website and article author information