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1930s vintage clothing

August 24, 2015

1930s vintage clothing is a mixture of fun, film star looks and elegant beach wear, including wide, floppy sunhats, bikinis and beach pyjamas and more practical mid calf skirts and thick cardigans.

The 1930s in Britain were a time of radically different experience for people living through it. The Depression in America had a significant knock on effect across the world, and Britain also found itself in a financial depression. This was devastating for some, as 25% of the male workforce were out of work. In some towns, especially in the North, every single man found himself unemployed as major employers, such as shipyards or pits, closed down.

1930s Jarrow Protest. The Town of Jarrow in the North East had such high unemployment that they mounted a protest, marching to London to get Parliament to sort it out. Which it didn't.

1930s Jarrow Protest.


People who were previously doing OK found themselves on the breadline, and forced into using soup kitchens. Fashion was, of course, not their priority.

Queuing for bread, 1930s

Queuing for bread, 1930s


However, this downturn produced a flipside. Food prices dropped and the government decreased interest rates and made taking out loans easier to ease people’s debts.

This was great for those who actually had jobs, because it meant that they could save money on food and other goods, and take out a loan if they wanted to spend on fun things. So they bought TVs and washing machines, and went on holiday. The really rich went to the French Riviera, and the not so rich went to the British seaside and pretended they were on the Riviera, by buying themselves a whole new beach wardrobe of 1930s vintage clothing for their visit.

1930s vintage clothing for beach holidays

Glamour on the beach 1930s

Glamour on the beach 1930s


Glamorous beach pyjamas, 1930s vintage fashion

Glamorous beach pyjamas, 1930s


Working and middle class holidays, then as now, were about escape but also escapism, and outfits could be pretty outrageous. Not only was daring swimwear worn, including the not yet named bikinis, but wide, floppy palazzo pants with matching tops and jackets, known as beach pyjamas. These were also daring, as women did not generally wear trousers at the time. These are now hugely sought after as 1930s vintage clothing.

1930s vintage clothing accessories

1930s vintage fashion - sunglasses

1930s vintage fashion – sunglasses


Photo by Louise Dahl-Wolf, 1939

Photo by Louise Dahl-Wolf, 1939


The huge floppy sun hats they wore were not entirely practical, and more for posing than protection – especially since sun tans were in fashion.The story goes that a few years back, in the 1920s, Coco Chanel had accidentally got sunburned whist yachting on the French Riviera, and anything that Chanel did must have been chic, so legions of women followed suit.

It may have been this, and it may also have the growing trend for women to be more athletic and into outdoor pursuits like hiking and biking, but the former need to prove you were pale and posh and not a suntanned field worker with no choice about being exposed to the sun had now been reversed, as more women now worked indoors and their yearly holiday was the only real chance they got to see the sunshine. Having a suntan meant that you could show off about having been on holiday. Stylish sunglasses protected their eyes, continuing to grow in popularity as they had since the 1920s. 1930s vintage clothing includes accessories like sunglasses.


1930s vintage clothing-1930s fashions.

1930s fashions.


When you had to return to your every day life, mid calf pleated skirts were very popular, along with thick stockings, sensible shoes and heavy cardigans and sweaters – central heating had been invented but was not very common at home at that time.

1930s vintage clothing-Women on motorbikes 1930s

Women on motorbikes 1930s

1930s vintage clothing – high fashion

In high fashion, Elsa Schiaparelli was doing her Surrealist thing, Jeanne Lanvin her feminine thing, and Coco Chanel her casual-chic thing, and some of these styles filtered down to the British working classes – for example, you can find 1930s vintage clothing accessories like plastic brooches in the shape of sinister flies, courtesy of the Schiaparelli influence, and Chanel’s cardigan jacket was particularly suited to our cold climate. On the whole though, it was practicality over glamour, and many clothes were still home made, and designed to last, rather than being mass manufactured and fashionable only for a season.


Read more about 1930s fashions