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


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.

April 14, 2022
In 1850s fashion, women wore dresses with large, voluminous skirts, and men wore suits with dark coats and light trousers. Women’s skirts be…
March 16, 2022
In the 1870s, women’s dresses were elaborate and highly decorated, while men’s clothing remained simple and solemn. Women wore gowns with bu…
February 3, 2022
At the tail end of the Victorian era, 1880s fashion featured distinctive silhouettes. These iconic silhouettes were created with boned corse…
January 25, 2022
Culture in the 1890s was swiftly changing in Western countries, as the turn of the century saw a shift away from rigid Victorian ideals. 189…
July 23, 2020
Poodle skirts and ponytails, jeans and slick-backed hair—that’s what many people consider iconic 1950s fashions. These looks were popular fo…
July 17, 2020
The 20th century brought major transformations in Western fashion, but these changes didn’t appear immediately. Trends of the late 19th cent…
June 18, 2020
When you think of Western fashions in the 1920s, glamorous flapper dresses may come to mind. But there was much more to 1920s clothing than …
May 20, 2020
World War II dominated the first half of the 1940s as well as fashions in the Western world. Materials such as silk, nylon, wool, leather, r…
April 9, 2020
Fashion in 1910 was unique. It retained much of the class and style of the previous era, but with a simplified flare. However, World War I h…

About the Author
Sunny Jane Morton teaches family history to global audiences as a speaker and writer. She is a contributing editor at Family Tree Magazine (U.S.) and content manager for Your DNA Guide. She is co-author of How to Find Your FamilyHistory in U.S. Church Records and author of Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy. Find her at www.sunnymorton.com.