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The Glamour of 30s 40s Fashion that never went out of style

December 28, 2018

From Hollywood glam ala Vivien Leigh and Marlene Dietrich to practical day dresses and ready to wear, 30s 40s fashion offers masses of inspiration for you today!


Take a virtual tour through 30s 40s fashion for inspiration for razzle-dazzle evening and event wear all the way through to workwear that ups your fashion game!

Photo of actress Vivien Leigh as Scarlet O'Hara in Gone with the wind, 1941

Vivien Leigh as Scarlet O’Hara in Gone with the wind, 1941. Fawcett Publications, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


1930s Fashion Story

In the 1930s, the world had emerged from the deprivation of the Great Depression and the horrors of the first world war. Carefree flapper styles of the 1920s gave way to the timeless and classic glamour, sophistication and elegance of 1930s fashion.

Hollywood Influences 1930s Fashion

Picture Vivien Leigh in ladylike elegance and timeless 1930s fashion. The look of 1930s fashion was all about emphasizing the female form with narrow waists set off by huge puff sleeves and exaggerated with shoulder pads.


Or visualize Marlene Dietrich in an Elsa Schiaparelli art deco number made of slinky silk, spaghetti straps and adorned with ropes of pearls, pencil-thin eyebrows and red bow-shaped lips.

1930s Fashion Design Focus on Sleeves

Recreate 30s 40s fashion for evening wear in silk or satin, or spin day dresses for workwear in timeless tweed or casual cotton. 1930s fashion was all about the sleeves, which were worn puffed up and emphasized with shoulder pads, frills and flounces for an elegant, ladylike style.

Jeanne Lanvin Evening dress, 1938

Jeanne Lanvin Evening dress, 1938. Jeanne Lanvin, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons


Ready to Wear, 1930s Fashion Style

In the 1930s, we also saw haute couture making itself available to women everywhere in the form of ready-to-wear 1930s fashion. Chanel’s timeless elegance, Elsa Schiaparelli’s fantasy prints and designs and Dior’s fit-and-flare silhouettes were now accessible to anyone via ready to wear.

Greta Garbo 1925

Greta Garbo 1925. Arnold Genthe [Public domain]

 1930s Fashion Accessories

Taking inspiration from Jean Harlow’s berets and wrist-length gloves or Greta Garbo’s slouch hats worn provocatively tilted upon her head, women in the 30s embraced the elegance and style of 1930s fashion accessories, from hats to gloves to shoes and jewellery.

1930s Fashion from Day to Night

 1930s fashion was embellished with costume jewellery, a look made famous by Coco Chanel ropes of pearls worn over tweed jackets. Evening dress was glamourized with chunky bracelets and statement earrings, finished with elbow-length gloves.

photo of Lilian Bond for When Strangers Marry, 1933

photo of Lilian Bond for When Strangers Marry, 1933. UnknownUnknown author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

1930s Fashion Inspiration for Today

Bring 30s 40s fashion into your wardrobe today by sourcing timeless classics like a knee-length fit-and-flare dress with puff sleeves or a mid calf length midi skirt worn over a ruffled blouse or slim-fit sweater. Pair your inspiration looks with on-trend accessories like block heeled pumps and a structured bag and you can work your 1930s fashion spin in any setting.


Or get yourself some classic 1930s fashion accessories to mash-up with your current outfits for a different twist on retro dressing. Look for structured hand bags, oxfords and berets in jewel tones, then rock the retro-modern mash-up with your very own personal style.

30s 40s fashion - Cover of the first Women's Weekly, 1933

Cover of the first Women’s Weekly, 1933. User:Bilby [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Marlene Dietrich wears white trouser suit, 1933

Marlene Dietrich wears white trouser suit, 1933. Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-14627 / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de]

30s 40s Fashion Evolution

 1930s fashion evolved into the next decade with some major style influences, explored below.


  • 30s 40s Fashion and Menswear Inspiration


Wall street dressing provided the inspiration of menswear fabrics, trends and styles for the trousers and suits that women adopted in 30s 40s fashion spins. Picture wide leg trouser styles worn with pleats and cuffed hems, over tucked-in demure blouses with long sleeves and high neck buttoned-up fronts. Or suit jackets with padded shoulders, sculpted waists and menswear fabrics of classic tweed, plaid or pinstripes.


  • 30s 40s Fashion the Fit and Flare Way


Day dresses the 30s 40s fashion way focused on nipped-in waists, full skirts that were gathered, pleated or flared and fell to mid calf finished with self-fabric belts emphasizing an hourglass figure. Christian Dior made this fit-and-flare silhouette famous for 30s 40s fashion trendsetters and style is as timeless today as it was current back then.

The shirtdress

30s 40s fashion also saw the trend of the shirtdress. This fashion staple was worn in a variety of patterns and fabrics and with the tight waist and full skirt of 30s 40s fashion.


And let’s not forget the 30s 40s fashion tea dresses, the epitome of a stylish yet demure, chic yet casual, independent 1940s woman. These retro classics ranged anywhere from knee-length to mid calf but always showed off slender ankles under full skirts.  30s 40s fashion tea dresses emphasized an hourglass figure while looking ever so modest.   In an endless variety of styles and takes that offer options to fit perfectly into your personal style, these 30s 40s fashion staples never go out of style.

30s 40s fashion - Swedish model wears white tea dress, circa 1940s

Swedish model wears white tea dress, circa 1940s. Unknown photographer, Nordiska museet [CC BY 4.0]

Tea dresses

30s 40s fashion tea dresses were unique in combining the form-flattering shape of the tiny waist and full skirt of the fit-and-flare silhouette with the choice of a wide range of hem lengths, sleeve lengths, prints and fabrics, making them a versatile choice for every event, not just tea parties!


  • 30s 40s Fashion Accessories


The finishing touch to 30s 40s fashion was all about classic accessories such as multi-stranded pearl necklaces worn against the throat, or short patterned neckerchiefs tied around the neck. There were also ladylike gloves worn to wrist length, usually in demure white. Polishing off the look were boater hats embellished with ribbons or topped off with big flowers in a contrasting colour.  Shoes finished the outfit in solid colours like brown or black, typically styled as block-heeled pumps.


  • 30s 40s Fashion Accents


30s 40s fashion Day dresses were accented with bow ties at the neckline, a short puff sleeve look and a wide range of patterns from playful polka dots to classic florals and timeless gingham. Belts were on trend in a contrasting colour from the dress, calling attention to tiny waists and full skirts. You would also see belts added to everything from suits, dresses, skirts and pants.


  • 30s 40s Fashion Finishing Touches


30s 40s fashion looks were finished with short, shiny hair worn in styled curls, embellished with flowery hair clips to keep the look in place. The overall impression was one of polished elegance, amplifying the image of 30s 40s fashion as suave, polished and ready to take on the world!

570px-Utility clothing in wartime Britain, Woman models mustard yellow wool dress in 1943

Woman models dress in 1943. Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

30s 40s Fashion the Modern Way

Be inspired by 30s 40s fashion to inject timeless style into your modern wardrobe by keeping away from a costume-y head-to-toe vintage outfit and instead picking one or two statement pieces with 1930s or 1940s fashion elements, then mashing them up with your current clothes and accessories.


For example, combine a vintage day dress with an on-trend moto jacket and white sneakers for a streetwear look that is retro-cool and oh so casually stylish.


You know what you love to wear and what makes you look and feel good, so let your own personal style be your guide as you spin through 30s 40s fashion for inspiration on trends and styles to bring into your fashion repertoire today.


Picture yourself in 30s 40s fashion accessories like statement costume jewellery or a classic trench jacket, then work these vintage pieces into your trendy blue jeans or floral dress outfits for a look that is uniquely you and very au courant yet shows your retro-chic savvy.

Finding what’s right for you IN 30s 40s fashion

When searching for 30s 40s fashion, take a virtual tour through the multitude of popular online shopping sites, like Modcloth and Ebay, that specialize in vintage clothes and accessories from these decades. You will find yourself a vast selection of both true vintage pieces as well as modern spins on retro styles, so pick whatever works for you.


Alternatively, visit your local thrift store or neighbourhood consignment store for 30s 40s fashion and accessories that you can combine with your current work and play outfits for that injection of classic retro style.


Source yourself some vintage day dresses and skirts in classic 30s 40s fashion silhouettes and timeless prints like gingham, plaids or polka dots and polish off your look with a structured blazer or cute cardigan draped over top for look-at-me flair.

1940s Snakeskin Bag With Bakelite Oval Frame

1940s Snakeskin Bag With Bakelite Oval Frame

Fashion accessories

1930s or 1940s fashion accessories like retro brooches, vintage pearl necklaces or wrist-length gloves give you so many options for dressing up your work wardrobe with your very own whimsical style and essence, so don’t hold back!


And don’t forget to add a dash of 30s 40s fashion to your play wardrobe as well, mixing in puff sleeve blouses with cropped skinny jeans or art deco jackets over your black cords for cool yet stylish weekend wear that takes you from street to party.


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