Pass notes: Vintage 1930s Fashion

Do you long to create the 30’s silhouette and live out the Golden Age of cinema? Morley tutor Lynda Kinne breaks down the characteristics of 1930’s fashion.

What defines 30’s fashion?

The carefree attitude of the 1920s became more subdued in the 30s with the Great Depression in America and the unsettled political landscape in Europe in the years between the wars. The overall style of Art Deco which began during the 20s continued into the 30s, emphasising streamlined designs influenced by the modern machine age. The rise of the cinema as a cheap entertainment and escapism for the masses made Hollywood glamour a driving force in fashion and style. Women began to imitate the looks seen on the silver screen by stars like Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich.

Who were the major designers of the day?

Madeleine Vionnet and Gabrielle Chanel were the biggest names in the fashion of the day although there were stark differences in their work. It has been said that “Vionnet pioneered a cut but Chanel pioneered a lifestyle.”

  • Madeleine Vionnet is known as the creator of the modern bias cut dress; the bias cut uses fabric off grain, creating a fluid drape with the ability to stretch and contract. Vionnet’s work was mainly conceptual, with designs based on geometric forms that were lightly embellished, better to show off the elegant lines.
  • Gabrielle Chanel was known for her modern and clean approach to fashion. She was among the first to expand her range beyond clothing by developing cosmetics, jewellery and perfumes (Chanel No. 5 is still among the best selling perfumes of all time).
  • Elsa Schiaparelli was the avant garde designer of the day; her work was highly influenced by the Surrealist art movement and she was well known for her witty designs, including a “shoe” hat, “desk suit” and vegetable costume jewellery. Her designs appealed to a more intellectual and sophisticated clientele.
  • Madame Alix Grès had originally wanted to be a sculptor and that love is evident in her Grecian inspired designs. Her signature pleating style was draped directly on the body without the use of patterns and had to be entirely handmade.

What are the main characteristics of 1930’s fashion?

In contrast to the shorter hemlines and straight boyish silhouettes of the 1920s the 1930s saw a return to a more feminine form. The waist returned to normal and silhouettes became more curvaceous. Vionnet’s bias cut dress was hugely influential as it allowed the fabric to float above the curves of the body while still allowing for ease of movement.
Dresses were still worn in daytime but there was also a return to women’s suits. Fur was very much a status symbol, being worn mostly along collars and cuffs, and as wraps and stoles. Sportswear (including the introduction of wide legged trousers), was also very popular as women required clothing to suit their more active lifestyles.
Silhouettes were long, even for daywear, never measuring more than 10″ from the floor and increasing in volume towards the hem. Exposed backs, especially in eveningwear, replaced the bare legs of the 20s as the new feature to display. This stemmed from the cinema, where costume designers used garments with an open back to create a sexy look on film without the risk of censorship.

How do you make 1930’s fashion?

A variety of techniques can be used to reproduce fashions from the 1930s; you could work with an original 1930’s patterns or create your own based on an original design. You could also create your pattern through draping on the stand, a technique well suited for the form fitting styles of the day. Machines were used for the sewing of major seams, but hand work was still an essential part of quality garment construction. We will examine the techniques of creating a beautifully crafted garment with an emphasis on the methods of the day, especially  the challenges of working with bias. An overall experience of clothing construction and working with patterns is essential.

I always enjoy a good costume movie, so to get in the mood you could try:

Do you long to create the 30s silhouette and live out the Golden Age of cinema? Morley tutor Lynda Kinne breaks down the characteristics of 1930s fashion.

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