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Fashion During the Great Depression- the impact of the political upheaval on the fashion industry

Ian Harvey

The thirties undoubtedly was one of the most ‘active’ decades of the last century, and certainly, the one with some of the most exciting events unfolding.

But it would certainly be remembered for two main events, one the Great Depression that sent the entire civilized world on a roller coaster ride of uncertainty and deprivation, and of course the outbreak of the Second World War.

Girl in a hat Photo Credit

Girl in a hat Photo Credit

 

Germana Paolieri Photo Credit

Germana Paolieri Photo Credit

 

Vintage man and woman Photo Credit

Vintage man and woman Photo Credit

 

Allie Mae Burroughs print. Photo Credit

Allie Mae Burroughs print. Photo Credit

 

 Downtown - 1930 Photo Credit

Downtown – 1930 Photo Credit

 

Australian actor Brian Abbot and his wife Grace Rikard Bell on board SS MORINDA Photo Credit

Australian actor Brian Abbot and his wife Grace Rikard-Bell on board SS MORINDA Photo Credit

 

Australian actress Jean Laidley on board SS MORINDA Photo Credit

Australian actress Jean Laidley on board SS MORINDA Photo Credit

One aspect of the modern life that perhaps no one thinks much about, but had a significant ‘moment’ during the thirties is the women fashion industry and its remodeling. The primary reason for this unconscious neglect had to be the notion that during the Great Depression the life motto of many was to ‘Repair, reuse, make do, and don’t waste anything’; therefore, any creativity was apparently confined to those boundaries.

But nevertheless fashion did survive the Great Depression and certainly the outbreak of war didn’t hinder it, but it’s an exciting notion to comprehend as to why and how this survival was made possible.

Bonnie Parker Photo Credit

Bonnie Parker Photo Credit

 

Charles Kennedy Scott Photo Credit

Charles Kennedy Scott Photo Credit

 

Count von Luckner, centre, with visitors on board SEETEUFEL Photo Credit

Count von Luckner, center, with visitors on board SEETEUFEL Photo Credit

 

David Flam's grandmother in the 1930s Photo Credit

David Flam’s grandmother in the 1930s Photo Credit

 

Debutantes, Sydney, 1930's Photo Credit

Debutantes, Sydney, 1930’s Photo Credit

 

White hicks family in Penápolis Photo Credit

White hicks family in Penápolis Photo Credit

 

Father and daughter in yard by side of house in Redford, Michigan. Photo Credit

Father and daughter in the yard by side of house in Redford, Michigan. Photo Credit

 

Footsteps to follow this fall Enzel of Paris, 1306 Photo Credit

Footsteps to follow this fall Enzel of Paris, 1306 Photo Credit

 

Girl in black and white, early 1930s Photo Credit

Girl in black and white, early 1930s Photo Credit

 

Girls learning to ride a bike in the 1930s Photo Credit

Girls learning to ride a bike in the 1930s Photo Credit

Girls on the beach. Photo Credit

Girls on the beach. Photo Credit

Forward-looking, light-hearted and to some extent, the progressive attitude of the fashion that was primarily the product of the 1920’s, did linger through most of the 30’s.

However, the Great Depression suddenly suppressed that progress a significant manner, and the public leaned towards a more conservative approach to fashion. The dressing sense of the public living through the Great Depression had dramatically transformed itself, and people didn’t really think of keeping the traditions from a decade ago.

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. In the background is the old entryway to the Japanese Tea Garden ( Photo Credit

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. In the background is the old entryway to the Japanese Tea Garden Photo Credit

 

Man and women in fancy clothing Photo Credit

Man and women in fancy clothing Photo Credit

 

Miss Hera Roberts posing on the deck of HNLMS JAVA Photo Credit

Miss Hera Roberts posing on the deck of HNLMS JAVA Photo Credit

 

Mrs Elsa Evans posing on the deck of HNLMS JAVA, 10 October 1930 Photo Credit

Mrs. Elsa Evans posing on the deck of HNLMS JAVA, 10 October 1930 Photo Credit

 

NYA-San Jose California-dressmaking experience in sewing costumes for school play-young woman standing by mirror Photo Credit

NYA-San Jose California-dressmaking experience in sewing costumes for school play-young woman standing by mirror Photo Credit

 

 Schoolgirl rowing spectators at the head of river Photo Credit

Schoolgirl rowing spectators at the head of river Photo Credit

 

The revolution in the fashion industry that shaped it through the 1920’s was somewhat threatened and had to undergo a complete overhaul; to emerge as a whole new face, for some a step back for others an inevitable change considering the gigantic events unfolding worldwide.

The very first fashion accessory that got the brunt of change were the skirts that women wore, which became longer, and the waistline consequently returned to its previous or ‘normal’ position. This brought back the womanly look that was traditional and considered modest a few decades ago, however, it all changed in the 1920’s.

Some aspects of the popular fashion did take a bit longer to phase out, such as the Cloche hats that remained quiet ‘in’ all through mid-1930’s. Women short hair also resisted the change and remained quite popular all through the 1930’s.

 Four women golfers two on the right are Miss Odette Le Febre and Miss Joan Hammond Photo Credit

Four women golfers two on the right are Miss Odette Le Febre and Miss Joan Hammond Photo Credit

 

 The three bridesmaids and two flower girls Photo Credit

The three bridesmaids and two flower girls Photo Credit

 

Audrey Eager on a sailing boat Photo Credit

Audrey Eager on a sailing boat Photo Credit

 

Vintage girl in white, early 1930s Photo Credit

Vintage girl in white, early 1930s Photo Credit

The Great Depression could not be solely held accountable for the change in the fashion sense of the public, the emergence or rather popularity of the modern cinema greatly contributed to shaping the creative cloud for a number of designers even in the places considered the hub of fashion wellspring.

One Parisian designer, Elsa Schiaparelli had famously made the comment that the couturiers could no longer live without the cinema anymore, implying that the cinema was not only telling stories, it was shaping the public sense of fashion, and the designers could no longer escape its impact on their works.

Woman in hat Photo Credit

Woman in hat Photo Credit

 

Constructed Drinking Fountain at Verlot Camp, Mount Baker National Forest, 1936. Photo Credit

Constructed Drinking Fountain at Verlot Camp, Mount Baker National Forest, 1936. Photo Credit

 

Fashion trend from the 1935 Photo Credit

Fashion trend from the 1935 Photo Credit

All through the mid-1930’s the emphasis kept on shifting from the natural waistline and on an empire line; capelets, dresses with fitted midriffs, and short bolero jackets kept the focus on increasing the breadth of the shoulder.

When the 1930’s rolled in, the emphasis moved towards the back and halter necklines, with high-necked but backless evening gowns becoming the talk of the town.

Fashion trend from the 1930s Photo Credit

Fashion trend from the 1930s Photo Credit

Fashion trend from 1937 Photo Credit

Fashion trend from 1937 Photo Credit

 

fashion trend from 1936 Photo Credit

fashion trend from 1936 Photo Credit

Evening gowns that came with matching jackets were often seen worn by the women in the theaters, elegant restaurants, and nightclubs. Skirts didn’t have much more options to work around, in the 30’s Paris designers were making fuller skirts, ones that reached just below the knee.

Here is another fun read from our fashion files: In 1929, Spruce veneer bathing suits were described as simple, cheap, and easy to make, yet fashionable and modern

This rather practical length of the skirts remained in the fashion all through the Second World War.