The desirable look for women in the 1930s was still slim, but more womanly and sophisticated than in the previous decade. This body shape was created through longer skirts cut on the bias and by an indented waistline and rounded bosom.

This increased exposure of the body was due to sportswear’s influence on new styles including the ‘halter-neck’ credited to the French couturier Madeleine Vionnet, which exposed arms and back.

Typical daywear for women consisted of a two-piece suit with sleek, fitted jacket and matching skirt or dress. Day dresses were usually simple and calf-length, while more formal attire was longer, often reaching the floor. Evening dresses became more elaborate and extravagant as the decade progressed.

Although Hollywood stars, such as Marlene Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn wore trousers, they were not widely accepted. However, they did appear in sports and leisurewear, particularly for playing golf, tennis or for riding and cycling. In 1939 high fashion magazine Vogue featured trousers as acceptable day wear for women for the first time.


Title: [Fashion Show and Seaside Scenes]
Date: (1930s)

Film-maker: John Ayling

In this clip two women dance together in matching floral all-in-one trouser suits as part of an informal performance.


Title: Joce and Gill at Home
Date: (1936-1940)

Film-maker: Joseph Emberton

In this clip, Mrs. Emberton wears a good example of smart daywear to host her eldest daughter’s birthday party.

She wears a multi-coloured print dress, which appears to be made of a synthetic material such as rayon. It loosely follows the contours of her body, to create a silhouette that is typical of the period. It has a shallow V neck collar and bunched sleeves, which produce the popular wide-shouldered look. Mrs. Emberton has added a wide black belt to the dress to give it more definition. The dress falls to just below the knee and has small box pleats at its hem.

New man-made materials such as rayon and viscose rayon appeared in the 1930s, and the introduction of easy-care luxury fabrics, such as silks, satin, and crepe-de-chine meant these materials could be used for more everyday items including blouses, underwear and nightwear.

Printed fabrics were very popular at all levels of fashion. Floral designs dominated but geometric forms were also much in evidence. They appear in readymade styles – bought from local boutiques and department stores, as well as in fabrics available for home dressmaking.

1930s pattern material

Section of cream rayon dress
with small multi-coloured pattern c. 1933- 34
© Worthing Museum & Art Gallery

This material has a pattern comprising a series of triangular shapes. The dress and textile collection at Worthing Museum & Art Gallery has a number of day dresses from this period with similar designs on them.


With the Bentley in France and Switzerland (1939)

Title: With the Bentley in France and Switzerland
Date: (1939)

Film-maker: Joseph Emberton

This woman, whose nationality is unknown (she may be French or English), wears very fashionable clothing and has styled her hair in the popular mid-length bob with a parting and loose curls.

She wears the kind of neat, carefully co-ordinated outfit typical of the decade’s sophisticated style, which emphasised smart, sleek ensembles and a well-groomed appearance. Her white high-necked lace blouse has a pointed collar and pearl buttons, worn with a low-fastening pink wool cardigan and a cream blazer with black trimmed lapels. The jacket has reinforced shoulder padding to give a squarer appearance to the upper body, in line with the desirable body shape at the time.


Title: [Burne Family Pictures]
Date: (1930-1932)

Film-maker: Dr. Catherine Violet Burne and Dr. Thomas Burne

This clip shows a variety of early 1930s hat styles, including bonnets, sun hats and cloche hats – which were still popular from the 1920s.

This film of an informal party in the Burne’s family garden, highlights the social convention and importance of headwear. At the time, a hat was an integral part of men and women’s clothing.


Title: [The Wedding day]
Date: (1930)

Film-maker: Not known

This clip shows a bride and groom emerging from the train station, after the wedding ceremony – perhaps returning from their honeymoon. Both wear very fashionable clothing set against a background of a street scene incorporating advertisement posters from the era.

The woman’s hat is very stylish, with an upturned brim, small dome shaped crown with a long feather sticking up. It sits slightly to one side of her head and like many hats of the decade revealed the face.

To see further fashionable hats from the decade, see the British Pathe film ‘1935 Fashions Go Ahead,’ British Pathe.

The rest of the woman’s outfit is equally up-to-date, comprising a short boxy light-coloured jacket with reinforced shoulders and mid-calf length pencil skirt. She is seen carrying an unusual hatbox with swirl-patterned lid.