The 1920s was a time of radical change and the dawn of women’s independence in how women thought, acted and dressed. The androgynous look of the 1920s was part of that revolution because it allowed forward thinking women to make a statement about their individuality and their demand to be treated with respect in the world. This kind of social extremes was the norm in many areas of culture in the 1920s. But like most times of drastic social change, that era passes to be followed by another era where the changes are tamed and made part of the norm.
This was certainly true of women’s clothing in the 1930s. While the sense of style and individuality in woman’s fashion did not vanish entirely, there was a move toward more feminine and ladylike women’s clothing to return to women their femininity without giving up the gains that were won in the 1920s. As such, bust lines were no longer suppressed and women’s clothing emphasized rather than suppressed the curve of the waistline as well.
Hairstyles of the 1930s also became more feminine as perms became more sophisticated to bring out the softness and beauty of the hair. While in the 1920s, the woman’s forehead was commonly hidden by hats, it was revealed and emphasized as part of a look that took on a modern feel in the 1930s. Eveningwear replaced the 1920s woman’s styles that were outrageous and festive with elegant and glamorous woman’s outfits for an evening on the town.
The economic calamity of the Great Depression changed values dramatically and woman’s clothing in the 1930s reflected that change. There was a move toward more practical garments for daily wear. Women now felt both liberated and called upon to contribute to the family income as much as they could and this meant clothing that looked good but were durable and functional as well. No more was daily wear dainty and restrictive. A woman in the 1930s dressed for success by sporting styles that were entirely timely and fashionable but also outfits that supported a more active and productive lifestyle.
In addition to practicality, clothes in the 1930s represented a return to a conservative look because the harsh economic times turned the mood of the country from frivolous and adventuresome to conservative and cautious. As such, even evening wear in both men and women’s fashion communicated success combined with class and sophistication because that is the image people wanted to have others see of them.
Hats became an expected part of just about any outfit in the 1930s and that is reflected in the photographs we have of the time. Men almost universally wore a suit outfit with a tie when out in public and very often when lounging around at home as well. Those that could afford it had their clothing made to order so the fits were exact. Even those with more modest incomes took the time to tailor their own clothing at home even if those outfits were bought at second hard stores. Every effort was made to look successful and well dressed went into a 1930s wardrobe to counter the general feeling of despair and failure that came with the Great Depression.
The swing back toward less aggressively avant-garde clothing, music and lifestyles was a big part of the change of culture in the 1930s. It is true that the Great Depression had a big part of that change. But these shifts in public behavior are a natural part of the growth of fashion and culture. The clothing of the 1930s reflected the desire to keep much of the good of 1920s experimentation while correcting for the excesses that could not be sustained in a more stressful time.