Thursday, February 11, 2010

Dressing Up 1930s

These days, dressing up in fashions of the past is easier than ever. We have merely to look to the last century to be inspired, and with fashion today being so diverse, it's perfectly acceptable to wear vintage outfits, old-fashioned hats, or add a retro skirt or jacket into your wardrobe.

Achieving the look of the 1930s involves putting the right shaped pieces together. Many of these pieces may already be in your closet! Here's a brief look at how to put together a 1930s ensemble...

The Dress (or the Skirt + Top)
For the greater part of the '30s, the shape was slim and long. Look for slim skirts that hit at mid-calf or a couple inches below the knee. Skirts with inset pleats, button details, and belts are great. You can also add buttons, bows, and trims to modern skirts to give them that vintage feel.

On top, the look was "full" and blousy. Look for loose-fitting blouses, shirts, and sweaters that are tailored at the waist. Full sleeves, ties at the neck, and interesting details such as pin-tucks and pleats are all the mode in the 1930s. Tuck blouses into skirts and add a belt, or pair a tweed skirt with a sweater that's thin through the waist and full in the top.

Fabric choice ran the gamut - for Winter, we suggest anything tweed, twill, or with a pattern like houndstooth, and go for warm tones like browns, rusts, and taupes. For warmer weather, thin voiles and batistes, printed rayons, or lightweight linens and silks work great.

The Shoes
Shoes play an important part in the look and feel of your 1930s ensemble. The shape should be slim and refined, with a slightly rounded toe, a not-too-high french heel. Look for fun details like bows, straps (especially t-straps), cut-outs and pinking, and two-tone colors. A sensible pair of black and white (or brown and white) wingtips will pair with almost any day outfit.

Vintage shoes can be hard to find and harder to wear. Lucky for us, a huge selection of inexpensive, retro-inspired shoes are available at places like Target (take a look at these or these), Payless Shoes (these, these), Steve Madden (check these out), almost anywhere in fact!

The Hat
Hats in the '30s could be anything from cloches to little perch hats with net veils. Earlier in the decade, the cloche and brimmed cloche were still popular. These are great hats because they cover the hair almost completely, can be kept on inside, and have great decorations such as felt flowers, ribbons, bows, feathers, beads, you name it. Later on, sporty shapes, altered cloches, large-brimmed picture hats, and sailor-styled caps came in.

Vintage hats can be easy to find at antique shops and thrift stores, but you can also spot them making a come back at stores like Target (cute cloche) and online boutiques (like this one).

In the 1930s, curled and waved hair was all the rage. If you're not one to lob off your locks for a waved bob, try rolling your hair into large curls and pinning against your head. A chignon bun at the back and some waves at the front will also achieve the look. Later in the decade, longer hair came back into style, with shoulder-length bobs curled and fluffed. Try tight curls by pin-curling your wet hair, drying, and fluffing (here's a tutorial), scultped finger waves (how-to), or go for a looser style by using a curling iron, pinning curls until they cool, and tousling with your fingers. If you're like me, though, you'll just keep your cloche hat on all day!

In the 1930s, it was all about the "matte look," the bold lip, and big lashes. Apply all-over foundation with a sponge applicator, then brush on powder over the top using a large powder/blush brush. A little blush goes a long way, so use it sparingly and on the apples of your cheeks only, not all over.

For eyes, stick to neutral tones like browns, and keep it soft. If you like eyeliner, use it on the top lid only, and blend it with shadow for a warm, soft look. An eyelash curler and lash-enhancing mascara will make your eyes pop. Be sure also to fill in your eyebrows and extend them, as thin, long eyebrows were en vogue.

The last step is the lip color. Darker shades of red, to neutral shades of mauve and rose are great, but stay away from pinks, pearly shades, orangey hues, and glossy lip colors. A little shine is good, but glassy is too modern.

If you'd like to make a 1930s outfit from scratch, here are some pattern companies to try:
Selection from The Vintage Pattern Lending Library
Selection from Decades of Style Company
Selection from Past Patterns Company

Want to read up on Depression-Era clothing, check out these books:
-Art Deco Fashion
-Everyday Fashions of the Thirties As Pictured in Sears Catalogs
-Fashions of the Thirties: 476 Authentic Copyright-Free Illustrations
-Dress Cutting: Instructions and Illustrations for Sewing 26 Vintage 1930s Fashions
-Make-Up -- 1930s Beauty Instruction and Technique
-Fashionable Clothing from the Sears Catalogs: Mid 1930s
-Pattern Making -- Drafting 1930s Lingerie, Blouses, Skirts and Sp­ortswear Fashions
-Women's Wear of the 1930's: With Complete Patterns
-Millinery -- 1930s Hat Making Techniques

As always, leave your tips, tricks, and suggestions in the comments section below!


  1. seriously digging the shoes, hats and hair!!! In fact j'adore les chaussures!! My favourite shoes are those 'built up' types, and fortunately they are in fashion right now as well!!

    I noted a rage of knitted cloches in NYC in December - I got one and then my mum knitted one for me when I got home!! Great!

  2. and I do mean a RAGE of them, there were gals everywhere wearing them, and they were for sale on every corner market!!