This is a brief overview of women's fashion during the 1920s through the 1940s. This particular time period began during what was called the Jazz Era, in the 1920s. The 1920s are perhaps best known today for flapper fashion, prohibition, as well as the first decade women were allowed to vote in the United States. By the mid-1930s, the Swing Era had begun and would last until shortly before the close of the 1940s.



When leaving the house in the 1930s, it was appropriate for women to wear a hat. The most common hats worn by all women were brimmed hats worn at an angle. Later in the decade, pillbox hats saw an increase in popularity.

With the onset of World War II, many women's hats began to take on a more military look, but the styles of the previous decade still held on. Because many women had to take up the factory jobs left behind by the men gone to war, headwear that kept their hair in place was needed. This took the form of scarves, snoods, and turbans. It became convenient to continue wearing these outside of the workplace, and thus many fancier snoods and turbans showing up for purely fashion usage, divorced from their previous utilitarian usage.


In the 1930s and thee 1940s, women would usually wear gloves when they left the house. For most occasions, the gloves were no longer than the wrist, and were made of cloth or leather. For more formal attire, such as with an evening gown, elbow-legthed gloves were called for. With the restrictions imposed during the war, gloves began to quickly fade from use during the 1940s except for the most formal occasions, which became the occasional norm by the 1950s.


During the 1930s and 1940s,most women used a clutch purse. By the end of World War II, however, shoulder purses became the normal choice. Material choices were as varied as they are today.


Women's shoes, well into the 1950s, were generally always made of leather. Tennis shoes and other sportswear were many years away from having any kind of acceptability as an everyday clothing choice. Fabric, likewise, was generally shunned and it was considered somewhat disrespectful to others not to wear a decent pair of leather shoes (and appropriate clothes).

In the 1930s, heels were generally longer than half an inch, but shorter than four. Heels also tended to be thick. Ankle straps were common, as well as high heel laced shoes. Two-toned wingtips were available in more varieties than the men's oxford version.

Conservation during the war limited shoes in a number of ways. Heels became shorter, wood and cork replaced leather soles. Sling-backs and peep-toes became popular for more formal attire.


In general, 1930s-40s underclothes were quite similar. Underclothes of the 1950s generally resembled the most modest of underclothes available today.
   • PANTIES were usually boxer-style, falling to mid-thigh or knee. They were either pull-on or button-closed with either flared or elasticized leg openings.
   • GARTER belts were worn with stockings and were made of sturdy cotton, nylon, or silk. Often, these were incorporated into girdles or panties. The All-In-One became popular around 1935; it served as bra, panty, girdle, and slip.
   • STOCKINGS were once a valued cloths item. They were made from silk which made them more difficult to obtain. In the 1930s, they frequently had a seam down the back of the stocking. When war rationing began, silk was replaced by nylon. When that too became rationed, some women began drawing a seam with an eyeliner to immitate the look. It was because of this rationing that it became more acceptable for women to go without.
   • GIRDLES were always worn in the 1930s and early 1940s. Dresses were manufactured to be worn over girdles. Early 30s girdles were made of cotton with boning to give it shape, but this soon gave way to rubber. Once rubber was deemed necessary for the war, women quickly became used to going without them.
   • BRAS, in the 1930s, had finally become what we consider a modern bra with the introduction of cup sizing. They were fairly basic, light colored or white. (See also History of the Bra)

Additonal Fashion Tips for Swing Dancers


A rather important aspect of swing dancing with a skirt is the need of a good pair of bloomers for when a women goes into a spin, or does some other movement which kicks her skirt into the air. If you just want simple and basic, some people have gone with biker shorts as well as tap pants. However, many women prefer a good stylish pair of real bloomers knowing that it is one more opportunity to show off on the dance floor.


Long hair can be a problem on the dance floor. Frequently, men find themselves slapped in the face with their partner's hair. Or worse, the hair gets into their eyes, or they inhale it as it flies past their nose and mouth. If your hair is the type that likes to take-up into the air on even slow turns and spins, it would be quite considerate toward your partner if you would tie it up, or style it in a manner to prevent mishaps.


    (See also 1930s Jewelry)

Jewelry can be problematic while dancing. It can cut, scrape your partner. It can get caught in clothing. If you wear a ring, and someone clamps down on it with their hand, it can be quite painful. Jewelry can also fall off and get crushed — or worse — cause someone to slip on it and injure themselves. In general, it is a good idea to minimize the amount of jewelry you wear. This includes watches (not as much of an issue these days since most people now forego the watch in favor of their cell phones).

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