1930s Fashion: Women’s, Men’s, and Children’s Clothing, 1930–1939

May 29, 2020  - by 

The Great Depression and World War II bookended the 1930s, but fashion flourished anyway during this decade. Glamorous Hollywood screen stars inspired new looks for women, men, and even children. Inexpensive fabrics, affordable catalog clothing, and homespun ingenuity let anyone copy styles previously worn by the wealthy. Here’s a quick look at 1930s fashion.

1930s fashion couple
1930s wedding dress
1930s couple, woman in stylish dress

1930s Fashion for Women

The young, boyish silhouette of 1920s women evolved into a conservative, sophisticated shape in the 1930s. The ideal, popular profile was tall and thin, with strong shoulders and slim hips.

Women’s Dresses

At home or in public, women most commonly wore dresses with wide shoulders; puffy sleeves; modest necklines; higher, belted waistlines; and mid-calf flared hemlines. Frilly bows, ruffles, buttons, and other details often decorated dresses.

1930s fashion women sitting on a porch

Housewives wore practical house dresses at home, often homemade from colorful printed cotton (including flour and feed sack fabric). A clever version was the “Hooverette” house dress, a reversible wrap style. Day dresses for wearing in public were more tailored and elegant, often made from silk or rayon crepe. Some women wore blouses with skirts.

Formal dresses most dramatically displayed the decade’s willowy, elegant silhouette. Evening gowns in fluid fabrics were cut on the bias to create flowing, figure-hugging lines that reached the floor. Popular fabrics included satin, rayon, and chiffon.

Women’s Trousers and Active Wear

Women donning 1930s fashion dress and hat

Hollywood screen stars Katherine Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich helped introduce women’s trousers for sports and leisure. These trousers were wide-legged and high-waisted, often styled like sailors’ pants. Women wore baggier, casual lounge pants on vacation and at the beach. The modern swimsuit came of age during the 1930s, as lighter-weight, rubberized fabrics replaced heavier wool suits.

Women’s Hairstyles and Accessories

In the 1930s, women copied the hairstyles and accessories they saw on popular, glamorous film stars. Short, curly styles dominated, such as the sleek Marcel wave (first popularized in the 1920s). Toward the end of the decade, the more classic 1940s medium-length “middy” style started coming into fashion.

Women often accessorized with inexpensive costume jewelry, gloves, silk scarves, and furs. Smaller hats were popular, such as berets, Greta Garbo-style slouch hats, or knit caps. Turbans topped fancier looks. Two-tone oxford shoes and strappy dress shoes with high, chunky heels were the shoes of choice. It was common to match accessories such as shoes, handbag, and hat.

1930s Fashion for Men

The male silhouette had wide, padded shoulders, a broad chest, defined waist, and straight legs. The overall trend was looser and a little more casual.

Two boys dressed in 1930s style

Men’s Suits

Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor, was a famous 1930s fashion icon. He popularized the English drape suit, which became popular all over the world. In contrast to the rigid, militaristic cut of men’s suits of his day, Edward wore jackets that were softer in the shoulder, with a vertical drape over a fuller chest. Other trendsetters included film stars Clark Gable and Gary Cooper.

Suits of the 1930s typically had high waists and slightly tapered, creased trousers with turned-up cuffs. Younger men preferred baggier trousers and longer jackets. Suits were darker blue, brown, or gray for cooler weather, with lighter tones for warm weather. Bold patterns included stripes, checks, and plaids.

A vest, pocket handkerchief, shorter tie, hat (such as a fedora or bowler), and dark or two-toned leather dress shoes completed the look.

Man in overalls in the grass

Men’s Work and Leisure Clothing

Daily wardrobes of laboring men paid little heed to fashion trends. They often wore bib overalls or coveralls of sturdy denim or duck cloth. Work shirts were loose-fitting and long-sleeved. Work uniforms often paired lighter-weight, colored shirts with matching trousers. Heavy leather work boots protected the feet.

Some men wore sports jackets for leisure; in the United States, men also wore them to work. Knitted sweaters, soft-collared shirts, and flannel trousers were also donned for sports and relaxation. Men typically wore one-piece wool swimsuits, but the 30s decade also saw the first men’s swimming trunks.

What Did Children Wear in the 1930s?

Many children wore homemade clothing or items purchased from mail-order catalogs. During the Great Depression, mothers often remade children’s clothing from other items, including flour and feed sacks. These items would have been unique and perhaps well-worn, but many were styled after prevailing trends.

The frilly dresses worn by young, popular film star Shirley Temple and Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret in the United Kingdom set the tone for girls’ clothing. Embellished, puffy-sleeved dresses sported rounded Peter Pan collars. Hemlines were high for younger girls and dropped below the knee for older girls. Dark “Mary Jane” dress shoes topped ankle-high white socks.

Two stylish children in 1930
Mother and sonin 1930s
Young girl in 1930s fashion, sitting

Boys’ trouser hemlines also dropped as they got older. Younger boys donned sailor suits or “buster suits,” which paired shorts with long-sleeve, button-down shirts. Older boys wore trousers or flannel suits with button-down shirts and ties, sometimes with a knitted sweater or sweater vest.

Fashion in Your Family History

Fashionable 1930s couple

What did your relatives wear in the 1930s? Look for photos of them in the free, crowdsourced collections of FamilySearch Memories. Or upload your own family photos to share memories of your loved ones—and of what they wore.


Sunny Morton

Sunny Morton teaches personal and family history to worldwide audiences. She's a Contributing Editor at Family Tree Magazine, past Contributing Editor at Lisa Louise Cooke's Genealogy Gems, and the author of How to Find Your Family History in U.S. Church Records (co-authored with Harold Henderson, CG); Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy; "Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites," and hundreds of articles. She has degrees in history and humanities from Brigham Young University. Read her work at sunnymorton.com.

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Comments

  1. I absolutely adore old photos. I enjoyed reading about fashion of the 1940’s and now 1930’s. But while reading I lose myself in the images, wondering about the people in them, and their stories, their lives, their circumstances. I day dream about what their lives were like and who they were. I do this too, maybe oddly, in daily life when passing people on the street, or in stores, anywhere really. I just wonder about people’s lives and all the details that create our life stories. Thanks for a terrific post.

  2. Sorry, this sounds like elitist, Hollywood, rich styles of clothing. My parents were young adults in the 1930’s. Their style consisted of plain, barely affordable clothing, sufficient to modestly cover the body. Life was hardscrabble for almost anyone living in the country. These were DEPRESSION years. I believe the article you’ve put together is misleading for the majority of people living at the time. Silk scarves and furs… for average people?!?!?!

  3. Amo todo lo q tenga que ver con la antiguedad recien vengo a conocer que ropa se usaban en los años 30 y 40 las fotos son unicas gracias por publicar esta belleza.

  4. Amo todo lo q tenga que ver con la antiguedad recien vengo a conocer que ropa se usaban en los años 30 y 40 las fotos son unicas gracias por publicar esta belleza.

  5. This is so awesome to read and see. I inherited a large amount of Family history that includes personal journals, stories, all kinds of things including pictures and what I think are old negatives. It has been fun to see the faces that go with names. I love old pictures and these collections are fun!