April 24, 2015

Years in fashion, in the 1930's

Today, I thought I would show you some more from my collection of vintage (sewing) magazines. And try and show one of the reasons why I love having several issues of the same magazine, over a span of time. 
You see, when you read about fashion history, it's all too easy to start thinking there's one distinctive look per decade. One silhouette by which you can easily recognize it. It's easy to start believing that because there is some truth to it. Looking back, there are distinct shapes which belong to, roughly, each decade of the 20th century. In some cases, there is a clear starting date for something new, like the introduction of the New Look for spring 1947. 
However, things are, of course, more complicated than that. New silhouettes don't just spring into existence (even the New Look had careful precursors and its acceptance was slow and gradual), they can be a clear departure from what went before but more often, they evolve slowly from it. In the broad gestures of a short history of fashion, it's easy to overlook that process. When you are faced with a stack of magazines from the time itself, the little changes come to the foreground. The magazines compare the fashion they bring to their readers with that of last season or last year so they point out and magnify changes we, outsiders, might not even have noticed.

To give you a bit of an idea about this, I've put some images from the early 1930's side-by-side. All are from the sewing magazine Gracieuse. These are the numbers 8 (the magazine was published twice a month, so that's the one for the second half of April) from 1930, 1932 and 1933 (I thought I had included 1931 as well but it seems I forgot). I've combined pictures for similar kinds of clothes, really different things which are not featured in the other years are shown separately.

From 1928 to 1930, the cover is printed in colour, with a photograph or drawing on pale blue, from 1931 onwards there's a big full-colour fashion drawing on a white background. The great thing about these covers is that they are the only visual information about the colours fashionable at the time.

Simple day dresses. Please ignore the fact that only in 1932, they decided to look ahead to the warmer weather to come. 
Here, you can see how the silhouette of 1930 is still in transition. It's not a real 1920's style anymore but those belts and horizontal seams are not at the natural waistline. Two years later, they are. And a year after that, sleeves get more attention and more decoration and shoulders are slightly more angular (also in the style of illustration)

In the 1932 issue, they also included some more glamorous dresses, those with stripes are on the left and those with dots on the right. These show some of the flamboyance 1930's fashion is also known for, next to the tailored styles of the sportier dresses and suits. Oh, and the elbow at the join actually belonged to a lady near the fold of the page but the light on her was so bad I cropped the image. 

Walking outfits. From 1930 and 1932. There are dresses with some jackets for 1930 and suits with coats and blouses for 1932. I'm pretty sure that's just the choice made in each magazine and not representative of all walking clothes worn in those years.
But look at the difference in skirt length! And again, there's a slight shirt in the style of the drawing: From very straight-line ladies, to ones with slight curves.  
And a major change in hats, in this case a transition from something which looks very much like a 1920's cloche to a fairly typical 1930's hat shape.

This particular issue of Gracieuse was a pretty sporty one in 1930: There were also tennis dresses! 

And in 1933, there was a double page feature with sports and weekend clothes. I particularly like this one because it includes what look like real trousers. 

So, just a couple of looks you might have wanted to make 82, 83 or 85 years ago... Any preferences?


  1. I love those 1933 trousers. Especially the little details of extra buttons or pockets. Even in the 1930s, we ladies loved having pockets :)

  2. I love the sporty, yet feminine look of those tennis dresses... Would it be a horrible faux-pas if I didn't actually play tennis?

  3. I like all the dresses in the "stripes" feature. Of course I'm a sucker for stripes anyway so that's no surprise! The 30's style lines show them off well.

  4. All of these styles are SO gorgeous! The absolutely gorgeous fluid dresses from the 1932 magazine are stunning! I think I may just have to go and pin all these images to my 1930s Pinterest board. :)

    And thank you for your insight, and pointing out the ever so subtle differences between the years.

    the Middle Sister and Singer

  5. I'm very drawn to the walking suits on the lower right hand corner of that page and the weekend clothes cropped jacket and side-button skirt. Thank you so much for writing about this.