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Classic and timeless fashion in the 30s that lives on today

August 9, 2019

Some trends of fashion in the 30s had no expiry date and are as stylish and in vogue today as they were back in the 30s, so rock these 1930s fashion looks today.


Take a virtual walk back in time through fashion in the 30s and see how some of the classic styles women would wear in the 1930s like day dresses, high waisted pants and skirts, puff sleeves and shoulder pads continue to live on today in new and inventive incarnations.

Paulette Goddard on the cover of Cinegraf magazine, October, 1935

Paulette Goddard on the cover of Cinegraf magazine, October, 1935

Influencers of Fashion in the 30s


Fashion history was influenced by global events in the 20th century, such as the great depression and the first world war in the 1920s. Having recovered from these devastating events, the world of 1930s fashion turned to sophisticated and glamourous styles to inspire what woman would wear in the 1930s.


Fashion in the 30s owes a lot to Hollywood style. 1930s fashion trendsetters in Hollywood included Greta Garbo in wide leg pants, Marlene Dietrich in Elsa Schiaparelli art deco creations, Vivien Leigh in classic day dresses with puff sleeves and nipped-in waists or Joan Crawford in sharply-defined shoulder pads in her suits and dresses.


And ready to wear 1930s fashion was birthed during that era! 1930s fashion saw the advent of ready to wear main street fashion that allowed women from all walks of life to partake of practical, affordable spins of the haute couture inspirations seen on high-end, high-priced catwalks.  Channel suiting style, Elsa Schiaparelli aesthetic and Dior fit-and-flare silhouettes were now readily accessible to the average fashionista everywhere.

Publicity photo of Andrea Leeds in 1935

Publicity photo of Andrea Leeds in 1935

Trends of Fashion in the 30s


In addition to 1930s fashion reaction to world events, Hollywood style influencers and designers promoting prêt-à-porter, other key trends of 1930s fashion are explored below:


  • 1930s Fashion Tea Dresses

Fashion in the 30s riffed on the classic cut of day dresses for the 30s version of tea dresses, with variations by hem length, sleeve length, fabrications and prints to suit all kinds of social events from formal cocktails to casual picnics in the park.

A Day at the Races, Sam Hood and friends at the Sydney cup, 1937

A Day at the Races, Sam Hood and friends at the Sydney cup, 1937


  • Fashion in the 30s from Menswear

In the 1930s, you would see women wear high waisted wide leg pants with short sleeved fitted sweaters tucked in, offering a feminine spin on menswear-inspired clothing.


Double breasted jackets with exaggerated shoulder pads were another riff on menswear styling that you would see as popular women’s wear in the 1930s.


Other 1930s fashion hacks from the menswear aisles included heritage suiting fabrications like wool and tweed, and classic patterns like houndstooth, plaid and pinstripes.    These fabrications and styles reworked for ladies’ fashion in the 30s in suits, dresses and skirts made for irresistible looks that continue to rock the catwalks every fall and winter today.


  • Fit-and-flare silhouette

Day dresses from 1930s fashion were designed with a fitted bodice, a narrow waist and a full skirt down to mid calf length, embodying the classic fit-and-flare silhouette made famous by Christian Dior and a style you would see women wear from day to night.


  • Sleeves as Focal Point in Fashion in the 30s

1930s fashion was obsessed with sleeves, from cotton or tweed day dresses to satin and silk evening wear. Puff sleeves emphasized with shoulder pads for day wear to exaggerated and exotic styling of sleeves for evening wear all made for feminine amplification of fashion in the 30s.


Japanese Lady sits by a western style water fountain in Tokyo, Japan, 1930s

Japanese Lady sits by a western style water fountain in Tokyo, Japan, 1930s


  • 1930s Fashion for All Occasions

Fashion in the 30s was also about versatility, where you would see women wear their daytime looks embellished with costume jewellery ala Chanel’s iconic pearl-draped look, then swapping out the faux pearls for over-sized earrings and bracelets for evening wear.

  • The Shirt dress of Fashion in the 30s

1930s fashion saw the rise in popularity of the timeless shirtdress. Because we are talking about fashion in the 30s, this look was based on the then-trending fit-and-flare silhouette and mashed up the shirt collar and shirt sleeves look with the full skirt and fitted bodice of day dresses.


Shirtdresses were finished with tie belts in the same fabric as the dress and worn in a range of fabrics and patterns to suit every taste and event.


  • 1930s Fashion Accessories

Fashion in the 30s was finished to perfection with accessories that included vintage brooches, printed scarves and strands of pearls. Once again, these classic accessories live on today as the epitome of timeless style and taste. You would also see women wear short gloves, structured handbags and Oxford heels to complete their ensembles.


It’s interesting to also observe styling sccents of Fashion in the 30s. Beyond accessories, 1930s fashion was also embellished with satin and velvet bow ties around the neck in blouses and dresses, feminine prints of floral, polka dots and gingham for day dresses and puff sleeves with everything.


Women in the1930s modeling underwear at fashion show, Queensland, Australia

Women in the1930s modeling underwear at fashion show, Queensland, Australia

Fashion in the 30s Reworked for Today


1930s fashion pioneered some trends and styles that are both classic and timeless and will bring a unique modern-retro spin to your wardrobe today.


Think uber-flattering day dresses with mid calf length full skirts for that evocative hourglass figure, finished with puff sleeves and small shoulder pads for an extra-feminine spin.


Or picture demure high neck blouses worn with tweed pencil skirts and embellished with layers of pearl necklaces for a prim-yet-provocative day look.


Here are some more ideas for 1930s fashion mash-ups inspired by fashion in the 30s:


When looking for either authentic, original and one-of-a-kind or modern spins on Fashion in the 30s, start your shopping at the global virtual market places that offer the widest ranges of choice and price option.


These online market places include Amazon, eBay, Mod Cloth, Asos, Etsy and so many more cool sites to take a virtual tour and then find and buy those special pieces to incorporate 1930s fashion into your modern closet.


Joan Grimes learns to ride a motorcycle for the Australian Women's Emergency Legion,1939

Joan Grimes learns to ride a motorcycle for the Australian Women’s Emergency Legion,1939


Here are some of the most popular sites for fashion in the 30s, as well as some more niche shopping sources for 1930s fashion:


  • Vintage Dancer

Find 1930s fashion-inspired vintage clothing, accessories, shoes and costumes for men and women.  Everything from jewellery, to hats, shoes, dresses and suits are offered here. Learn more about 1930s fashion history here too.


  • Unique Vintage

Source genuine 1930s fashion clothing for women from this online marketplace.


  • eBay

Your best option for a vast selection of clothing and accessory choices based on fashion in the 30s.


  • Etsy

Check out the 1930s fashion range here for the very best in vintage, one-of-kind clothing choices like velvet or silk dresses and other great finds.


  • Ballyhoo Vintage

At this site, you will find bias cut gowns with classic 1930s fashion silhouettes, 30s vintage sportswear and 1930s work clothing including vintage coats, vintage dresses and vintage separates sourced from fashion in the 30s.


  • Mod Cloth

Here, you’ll find a modern spin on retro styles from fashion in the 30s. Get yourself some whimsical, fun outfits modelled on 1930s fashion that include swimwear, pants, skirts, tops, dresses and shoes.


Alternatively, go visit your local thrift stores for throwback Fashion in the 30s – if you are lucky to find some original pieces, you will get them at bargain prices and you can be sure they will be unique. You are more likely to find Fashion in the 30s items at your local consignment stores but these will likely come with premium price tags.   They are worth the investment, though, because these 1930s fashion finds will be of high quality, in excellent condition and truly one-of-a-kind specialty pieces that will ensure you stand out from the crowd.

Maureen O'Sullivan in Hold That Kiss, 1938. Evening dress designed by Dolly Tree

Maureen O’Sullivan in Hold That Kiss, 1938. Evening dress designed by Dolly Tree

Making the 1930s your own


Let your personal style compass guide you in your choices of fashion in the 30s as you select 1930s fashion trends that speak to you and that mesh well with your current favourite clothing and accessories.  Then mix and match retro 20th century fashion pieces with modern separates for a put-together look that is all you.


But, always remember:


  • Picture yourself in timeless 1930s fashion favourites like vintage brooches, multi-stranded pearl necklaces or classic trench coats. Pair these vintage items from fashion in the 30s with your fave blue jeans, cropped skinny pants or floral maxi dresses for a throwback look that is still very au courant.


  • Source yourself a 1930s fashion day dress or fit-and-flare vintage dress and layer on a moto jacket or a faded blue denim jacket for casual daytime streetwear chic or dress that dress up with high-heeled nude pumps and a chunky gold choker for night time sass.


  • Another way to spin day dressesinspired by fashion in the 30s is to dress them down under long, loose cardigans, chunky knit sweaters or cropped knitted jumpers and finish this fall or winter look with ankle booties for a cosy, comfy interpretation of 1930s fashion.


  • Spin key trends from fashion in the 30s like a retro blouse with puff sleeves into a modern twist by pairing it with skinny cropped black pants and nude pumps for a polished day look. Or wear a mid calflength pencil skirt from 1930s fashion in a classic texture like tweed with a ruffled white blouse tucked in for a sexy yet demure look.

Portrait photo of singer Helen Morgan, 1934

Portrait photo of singer Helen Morgan, 1934


Some tips to personalisation:

  • Source some timeless 1930s fashion accessories from your local antique market, estate sales or consignment stores, then wear with everything from day to night for an amplified look.


  • Pick up 1930s fashion structured hand bags, brown or black high-heeled oxfords, scarves and berets in rich jewel colours and vintage brooches and multi-stranded pearl necklaces to finish any current look with a style that is all your own.


  • Look for day dressesin throwback yet timeless prints like polka dots, gingham or plaid. These prints from fashion in the 30s never go out of style and add a touch of whimsy and fun to any look. Pair with a tailored blazer for day or drape a cute cardigan over your shoulders for an off-duty spin.


  • Don’t forget to add 1930s fashion spins to your evening and weekend streetwear style. Wear that vintage puff sleeves blouse with faded blue skinny denim jeans and white trainers for a sweet yet sassy look.


  • Add some edge to wide legpants pulled from fashion in the 30s by pairing with a cropped fitted T-shirt and black moto jacket. Finish with high-top sneakers for day, stiletto pumps for night.


  • Pair a vintage Elsa Schiaparelli style art deco embellished jacket with your khakis or chinos for a casual yet stylish weekend or off-duty look, or wear with skinny leather pants for a dressed-up evening look that takes you from party to girls’ night out to date wear.


Publicity photo of Leslie Howard and Myrna Loy in the film The Animal Kingdom 1932

Publicity photo of Leslie Howard and Myrna Loy in the film The Animal Kingdom 1932


Spark your imagination

There are so many other sources of inspiration for fashion in the 30s that will spark your style imagination and get your fashion creativity flowing.  From the movie “Mary Poppins Returns”, enjoy the visual bounty of Mary Poppins in her 1930s fashion double-cape longline coat, a homage to the traditional nanny uniforms of the age. Be inspired by the whimsical prints and 1930s fashion era fabrications then find ways to incorporate these inspirations into your current wardrobe.


Mary brightens the screen with her chevron weaves on jackets and skirts, brightly dotted bow ties and glove, and playful stripes on her 1930s fashion blouses.


All these special touches and embellishments added personality, interest and colour to the day dresses, ready to wear skirt suits and blouse-and-trouser combinations that you would see women wear in peak fashion in the 30s outfits.


Other great sources of 1930s fashion inspiration include hugely-popular TV series “Downton Abby” and “The Crown” – look back at the fashions from the early 20th century in these shows and be inspired to take the timeless trends and styles from fashion in the 30s for a twirl today!


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