One of the most common outfits worn by women of the 1930s and early 1940s was the suit, a basic ensemble that paired a matching skirt and jacket with a blouse. Women's suits were one of the few choices of business wear for women, along with the skirt and shirtwaist or blouse, but they were also commonly worn for any type of daytime activity. All variety of fabrics could be used for women's suits, from wool tweed for cooler weather to silk or rayon, also known as artificial silk, for dressier occasions.
Following the general trends in women's dress during this period, the skirts with women's suits were very simple, without pleats or elaborate tailoring. They hung straight from the waist to a varying length from just below the knee to mid-calf. The matching jacket, however, was a much more versatile garment. In general jackets fit the body closely, and most had a cinched waist. The small waist was defined by a decorative belt or by tailoring that drew the jacket in sharply at the waist. Suits that flared at the hips accented the waist-line. Another prominent feature of women's suits in the 1930s was wide shoulders. Shoulders were made to look broad and square with tailoring or padding. Necklines, most often cut in a deep V-shape, where the neckline plunged to the waist creating a V shape, to show off the blouse or neck ruff, could have lapels, or flaps on the front of a coat that fold back against the chest, similar to a man's suit.
One of the fashion innovations of the 1930s was women's use of the pants suit, also known as the slacks suit. Like many of the popular fashions of the 1930s, the pants suit was associated with a Hollywood starlet. Actress Marlene Dietrich (c. 1901–1992) wore men's clothes in many of her movies, but she was especially known for wearing masculine suits in her public appearances. Women's pants suits generally had flared or bell-bottomed trousers, and the jackets were tailored in slightly softer versions of men's styles. Pants suits were considered a little outrageous during the 1930s and 1940s, for people were still adjusting to the idea of women wearing pants.
Bigelow, Marybelle S. Fashion in History: Apparel in the Western World. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing, 1970.
Costantino, Maria. Fashions of a Decade: The 1930s. New York: Facts on File, 1992.
Hatt, Christine. Clothes of the Early Modern World. Columbus, OH: Peter Bedrick Books, 2002.
Payne, Blanche, Geitel Winakor, and Jane Farrell-Beck. The History of Costume. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.
[ See also Volume 4, 1930–45: Men's Suits ]