Grown Up in the 1930s - Fashion
Explore the styles of the 1930s as we celebrate a century of youth culture with Grown Up in Britain.
It might seem surprising, but after the loose and liberated looks of the 1920s, many elements of women’s fashion in the 1930s reverted back to more traditional styles, with a marked return to defined, feminine silhouettes.
Skirts got longer, waistlines rose again from the dropped style popular in the previous decade, and padded or embellished shoulders helped to create hourglass shapes. “Bias cuts” - where fabric is cut at a 45 degree angle against the weave – exaggerated the slender figures that were fashionable at this time.
Formal evening dresses were often fitted, low cut and/or backless, hugging the slim figures that were all the rage. Hair and make-up were carefully styled, to create an air of sophisticated Hollywood glamour, as women looked to film stars like Greta Garbo, Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford, Marlene Dietrich, Bette Davis and Carole Lombard (pictured in the evening gown above) as style icons. Elegant accessories, often with streamlined, art deco-style designs, added to this effect, and furs like the jacket pictured below might be worn by those who could afford them (in the days before concerns around animal welfare and rights gained ground).
For men, the wide-legged trousers that had been popular in the 1920s started to give way to tapered cuts again. Elsewhere, relatively casual clothing was normalised in a wider range of contexts. Sports jackets grew in popularity, and it became more common to mix and match jackets and trousers rather than wearing a full suit.
The 1920s had already seen some men start to forego waistcoats, a trend which continued into the 1930s. While flat caps and fedoras remained popular, hats also became increasingly optional, which had a knock-on effect on hairstyling.
Instead of the short military cuts that were largely a hangover from the First World War, men were now beginning to grow their hair a little longer, styling it with pomade, most often with a neat side parting. Facial hair was typically either shaven off or trimmed down to a pencil moustache, and although not common, early electric razors by Schick and Remington did come onto the market during this period.
Celebrating 100 years of teenage life, Grown Up in Britain is curated by the Museum of Youth Culture, and is free to visit until February 2023. Take a look at some more 1930s items from our collection below.