Body Decorations, 1930โ€“45

The extravagant, frivolous fashions of the 1920s were replaced by more practical decorations and accessories during the 1930s. The Great Depression (1929โ€“41) and World War II (1939โ€“45) put pressure on both men and women to simplify their wardrobes. The fanciful purses of the 1920s were replaced by the plainer clutch purse style, for example. Rather than buying different jewelry to adorn each different outfit, women instead favored simple styles or wore meaningful pieces to which they could add decoration, such as charm bracelets.

One trend for excess continued during these lean years, however. The fashion for wearing heavy makeup started during the 1920s lasted well into the next decades. Women blushed their cheeks with rouge, darkened their lips with a variety of lipsticks, and lengthened and thickened their eyelashes with mascara. According to Jane Mulvagh in Vogue History of 20th Century Fashion, in 1931 Vogue magazine reported that "we are all painted ladies today," adding: "Now we feel undressed unless we have the right shade of face powder, and if we lose our lipstick, we lose our strongest moral support." The rationing, or limiting, of luxuries during World War II highlighted the importance of makeup. Mulvagh noted that the British government "tried to ban cosmetics at the outbreak of war, but fortunately withdrew this ruling." Lipstick and rouge, she pointed out, were "the last unrationed, if scarce, indulgences of feminine expression during austerity [seriousness], and were vital for morale."

Men simplified their looks more than women did. With the rising popularity of sporty clothing styles during the 1930s and beyond, men abandoned other forms of ornament such as canes and pocket watches. The only pieces of jewelry men typically wore were a wedding ring if they were married, pins to hold down the collars of their button-up shirts when they wore a tie and, if they were in the military, a metal identification bracelet.


Lister, Margot. Costume: An Illustrated Survey from Ancient Times to the Twentieth Century. London, England: Herbert Jenkins, 1967.

Mulvagh, Jane. Vogue History of 20th Century Fashion. New York: Viking, 1988.

Payne, Blanche, Geitel Winakor, and Jane Farrell-Beck. The History of Costume. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.

Charm Bracelet
Clutch Purse
Identification Bracelet

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