Few people living in the booming 1920s could have predicted that the fifteen-year period starting in 1930 would be one of the most difficult times of the entire twentieth century. Yet these fifteen years are now so closely associated with two sustained historical events, the Great Depression (1929–41) and World War II (1939–45), that we can think of little else that mattered during these years.
When it comes to fashion, the 1930s were a complex age. On the one hand fashions were deeply influenced by the economic depression that gripped the Western world throughout the 1930s; on the other hand fashions in the 1930s were very elegant, with clothing trends largely determined by the tastes of the very wealthy, especially movie stars and other celebrities.
Dolman sleeves, sometimes called batwing sleeves, are sleeves that are cut deep and wide at the shoulder, with armholes extending almost to the waist. The sleeves taper to the wrist, and when the arms are held outward the fabric hangs in a long wing.
Introduced in the late 1920s and first popular in the 1930s, the little black dress—a slim-fitting dress of varying length worn for dinners, cocktail parties, and evenings out—was one of the most popular fashions of the twentieth century. Along with blue jeans and the T-shirt, it is one of the most influential and important garments of the twentieth century.
Despite the negative impact of the Great Depression (1929–41; a period of severe economic turmoil) that lasted throughout the 1930s, this period is thought of as one of the century's high points in men's suits. Perhaps as a way of rising above the money woes that troubled most people, the very wealthy and the very famous, especially male movie stars, chose beautifully tailored suits made of expensive fabrics.
Military uniforms exist for nearly the opposite reasons of fashionable civilian, or non-military, clothes. Civilian clothes are intended to flatter the wearer, to keep up with current trends in cut and fabric, and generally to be beautiful.
Apolo shirt is a knitted, short-sleeved pullover shirt with a buttoned placket, a small opening at the neckline, and attached collar. Polo shirts were first knit from wool jersey but soon were knit with cotton and other soft materials.
In 1941, upon the United States's entry into World War II (1939–45), the commercial manufacture of many types of clothing ceased for the war's duration. The materials from which clothing was made, including nylon, silk, leather, and rubber, were required for the manufacture of products that were essential to winning the war.
A sarong, also known as a pareo, is a free-fitting garment that, when popularized in the West, was worn by women primarily as a skirt or a dress. It does not, however, have clearly designated sleeves, buttonholes, or waistline.
Long used to describe socks or any covering for the feet, the term "stockings" has come to refer to the sheer foot and leg coverings worn mainly by women. Once made of thick cotton or wool, stockings were mostly hidden under long skirts and only seen in provocative glimpses.
Swim trunks, shorts designed to be worn by men while swimming, came into fashion during the mid-1930s. Trunks replaced much bulkier types of swimwear, which covered the entire torso and had often been heavy and hot.
Throughout much of Western history, women's clothing has been very different from men's clothing, and society has made strict rules requiring individuals to dress according to their gender. For the most part these rules have defined trousers as men's clothing.
Originally designed to be hidden under other clothes, the T-shirt has become one of the essential elements of casual fashion in the United States and around the world. The T-shirt, so-called because of its T-like shape, was issued as an undergarment to servicemen during the first two world wars (1914–18 and 1939–45).
Women's dresses had gone to great extremes in the 1920s, with very short hemlines and boyish styles. The change in dress styles in the 1930s was thus very dramatic, for the decade saw a return to femininity and distinct changes in cut and hemline.
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.
The zoot suit was an exaggerated version of a typical double-breasted (two rows of buttons down the front) business suit of the 1940s, altered to make it both more casual and more hip. Very popular among young African American men, young Mexican American men often referred to as Chicanos, and others trying to look hip and current, the zoot suit had a long jacket with wide shoulder pads and narrow hips, and high-waisted baggy trousers with tightly pegged, or narrowed, cuffs.
The severe hairstyles of the 1920s were replaced with softer styles between 1930 and 1945. Men and women grew their hair out slightly from the short styles popular in the previous decade.
For centuries men could not shave their faces without having water and soap, to soften their skin, and a sharp-edged object. With the advent of the electronic age, inventors and visionaries wanted to employ electric current to simplify and improve everyday living.
When film actress Veronica Lake (1919–1973) appeared in I Wanted Wings in 1941 she started a craze for a new hairstyle, the peek-a-boo bang. Her long blonde hair was parted on the left side, softly curled under at the ends, and often slipped in front of her face to cover her right eye.
The pompadour, an elaborate hairstyle where long hair is swept up into a tall arrangement of curls or smooth waves on the top of the head, has been popular at many different times in history, mostly among women, though some men have worn pompadours too. During the early 1940s many fashionable women wore their hair in a pompadour style, brushing their hair up into a roll worn high on the forehead.
Women adopted more feminine hairstyles between 1930 and 1945, growing out the boyish, short styles that had been popular in the previous decade. Though their hair was longer during this period, especially throughout the 1930s, women still wore what would be considered short hair; their styles were just softer and less severe than they had been during the 1920s.
The extravagant, frivolous fashions of the 1920s were replaced by more practical decorations and accessories during the 1930s. The Great Depression (1929–41) and World War II (1939–45) put pressure on both men and women to simplify their wardrobes.
Acharm bracelet is a chain of silver or gold, worn around the wrist, to which individual jewelry symbols, called charms, are attached. Traditionally, the wearer, usually a woman, begins with a simple chain then chooses and adds charms that have personal meaning to her own life.
As more women entered the workforce, the decorative beaded handbags and more fanciful embroidered or tapestry purses of previous years were limited to dressy evening events. The clutch Most clutch purses have a metal hinged clasp or snap closure.
Servicemen wore an identification bracelet as part of their uniform during World War II (1939–45). Identification bracelets were bent metal bands or heavy chains with metal plates engraved with the key elements of his identification: his name, rank, and serial number.
Named after the Spanish word for "mask," mascara is a type of makeup that is applied to the eyelashes to make them appear darker, longer, and thicker. Though women, and occasionally men, have applied darkeners to their eyelashes for centuries, modern mascara was first created and sold around 1915, the beginning of a time when cosmetics were becoming increasingly popular.
The types of shoes worn by men and women during the 1930s were greatly determined by the effects of the Great Depression (1929–41) on their lives. Those impoverished by the Depression wore old styles, sometimes with holes in the soles.
Soldiers in combat often find themselves trudging through dense forests or arid deserts, or climbing up mountains in weather conditions ranging from steamy hot to icy cold. In such situations the type of military boot they have been issued will play a key role in their individual survival, not to mention their effectiveness in battle.
One of the more popular women's shoe styles of the 1930s was the peep-toed shoe, so named for the provocative view that it offered of the tips of the toes. Peep-toed shoes came in a variety of styles, but they typically had a high heel, a small upper that covered the sides of the foot and the instep, a strap around the heel and, of course, a small hole in the upper, right at the point of the shoe, that revealed the toes.
Bucs, or bucks, were rubber-soled shoes whose uppers were made of suede or buckskin, a pliable leather with a soft, brushed surface. They were styled after the classic oxford shoe, which laced over the instep, or the upper part of the foot that is curved and that lies between the ankle and toes.
By the mid-1930s shoes handmade by Norwegian fishermen during their off-season became incredibly popular in Great Britain and the United States. These leather shoes featured slip-on styling, a moccasin toe, which was identified by the U-shaped leather inset stitched around the top of the shoe's front, and a strap sewn across the instep.