Good morning dears! Things have been a bit strange on the blog here lately, haven’t they? In case any of you may have seen a certain Magazine Monday go up two days ago, and then mysteriously disappear, don’t worry, it will be up next week. We were having some technical difficulties with the Link-up widget (Yes! You can link up your Magazine Monday post next week, if you want to participate!), among other things, so the post has been postponed until next Monday. Now that that’s out of the way, I have a rather fun topic to discuss today: 1930s Fashion!
I used to HATE 1930s styles. I thought they were ugly and weird looking, not to mention the hand-drawn models had the most odd of body proportions. But in the past two years, my mind has been changed, thankfully, to be in favor of the fashion era that was the elegant 30s. And because of that change, being the fashion sleuth that I am, I of course had to start looking into why the 1930s looked so different to the other eras of the 20th century. The main thing that was the catalyst to me really researching the era of the 1930s was the fact that in practically all of the dresses from the early part of that era that I saw on Etsy.com, the waist was rather large in proportion to today’s 5-6″ difference. Why was this? Were women’s waists larger on account of the no-waist styles of the 20s? Did dresses just fit more loosely? Or was there something more? Well, my dears, today I am here to finally share with you what I have discovered regarding 1930s fashion. So grab your magnifying glass, and let’s get sleuthing!
In order to fully get to my point, I am going to be comparing the 30s, in all of its fashion details to its bookend eras: the 20s and 40s. You’ll notice that in the 20s, shoulders were relaxed, and there was no definition of the natural waist. Style lines were long and lean, and there was little to no bust to speak of. In the 30s, The waist was defined with a belt, the top being fit with slight gathers at the waist and horizontal bust darts. The shoulders are more defined than the 20s, but not so much as they were in the 40s. Schiaparelli says this was on account of the cafe lifestyle of the era, where the dress was mainly seen from the waist up, since women would be sitting quite a bit in such a culture. So of course the shoulders would be a main focal point, while the skirts remained rather plain. In the 1940s, the waist was still defined with a belt, and the shoulders were accentuated. The styles were more tailored than those of the 30s or 20s.
Ah, now we can get even closer to the results that I found in my study. As you can see from both the “Waist Up” picture, and the picture above, Dresses were cut from rather simple shapes in the 20s. Mostly different variations of rectangles or circles for the skirts, which hit anywhere from a few inches below the knee, to at the knee; and a basic sheath shape for the top. In the 30s, skirts were cut rather close (until towards the end of the era), and extended all the way down to mid-calf. Walking room was provided by either pleats, godets, or the dress being cut on the bias. In the 40s, skirts were shorter (just a few inches below the knee), and were of more of an a-line shape.
You may notice, upon closer observation, that the 30’s have rather similar style lines and aesthetics to the 20s. The basic shape (rectangularly long and lean) was still relatively the same, only with the waist being more defined.
So, what have we discovered so far? Waists weren’t defined in the 20s, but were defined in the 30s and 40s with a belt. Skirts were close cut and long in the 30s, and the style lines and shapes were similar to those in the 20s.
“Yes, yes Brigid. I already knew all that stuff! But what does this have to do with the waistlines being larger in the 30s?” Have patience! I will get to that! Just hold on to those italicized phrases, and let me add one more clue to the enigma.
On the Pattern
If there is anything I have noticed on 1930s patterns, it is that the waist measurement was hardly ever given, as it was on the pattern envelopes of the 40s onward. My theory is that this was left over from the 20s lack of a waistline. Since there was no waist definition in the 20s, the waist measurement was not half as important as that of the hips and bust. And that my dears is the final clue to the mystery of the 1930s waist. “What? But you haven’t discovered anything yet!” Wait just one moment my dears! Let us review the clues:
1. Waists weren’t defined in the 20s, but were defined in the 30s and 40s with a belt.
2. Skirts were close cut and long in the 30s, and the style lines and shapes were similar to those in the 20s.
3. …this [Lack of waist measurement on pattern envelopes from the 30s] was left over from the 20s lack of a waistline.
Do you see it yet??? No waist in the 20s, but from the 30s onward dresses practically always had belts displayed with them. The lines and shapes were similar to the 20s, but with the waist defined. The pattern sizing was also a leftover of the 20s era! So, the answer to the enigma?
The 30s were a transitional era between the 20s and 40s! Since women weren’t quite used to tailored lines yet, the waist was a point where you could custom fit it to yourself with a belt! This allowed for two things: One, expanding, and decreasing waistlines. Two, (this only applies when the dress was cut rather loosely) It allowed for no closures on the dress! Think of it: It’s the Great Depression. Money was scarce, and not everyone had easy access to a store where you could buy sewing supplies. Of course having no closures on a dress, and instead fitting the excessively large waistline of the dress with a belt, would be the simplest answer to the problem of not having any snaps or buttons to hand! Granted, this doesn’t apply to every. single. dress from the 30s, but I think I’ve caught on to at least one reason why waistlines were larger on dresses we find from the 1930s.
“Alright, alright Brigid. I get it. But was this really true? How do you know for certain that women’s dresses were fit this way?” Well, why not you take a look for yourself below?
In Real Life
Three out of the four dresses pictured above have belts. and those three all have rather blouson, or relaxed fit bodices. It looks like the one dress that does not have a belt possibly has a tie or sash to fit the waist. I could be wrong with this whole thing, or I could be quite right. The other reason to account for more fitted bodices, is again, the famous bias cut of the era, and the waistline being cut higher than normal. One last option would be, if you had a seamstress make a dress for you, or you made one for yourself, is to custom fit the dress as you sewed it. If you want to see more evidence, you can check out my 1930’s board.
What do you think?
Do you have another theory regarding why waists might have been larger?
What thoughts or discoveries do you have on 30s fashions?
I would love to know all of your thoughts! So please comment with them!
Brigid, the Middle Sister and Singer