Fashion History – The Effect of World Events on Design Trends in the 1930’s and 1940’s

The stock market crash of 1929 effected a lot more than bank accounts. The ensuing Great Depression threw the world into a period of change that showed up at the dinner table and at fashion shows. Where a few short years before, the Roaring 20’s was a time of wild exuberance, fashion trends of the 1930’s followed the economy toward a new austerity that ruled fashion designs for the next 20 years.

In the 1930’s, women’s dresses showed a more tailored look than they had in the 1920’s. Where once women wore loose, short dresses adorned with fanciful decoration, they now wore longer skirts and higher waists. Skirts and dresses cut on the bias hugged hips and flared slightly below the knees. The new line was diagonal, a way to add interest to the tailored, simplified silhouette.

The new frugal styles did not end with the decade, however. World War II ushered in a different kind of austerity in ladies’ clothing styles. Fabric was restricted by governmental decree. Wool and nylon were needed by the military as well as the metal used for zippers. Where the 1930’s frugal styles displayed a sleek elegance, the clothing of the 1940’s were utilitarian.

During the war years, women enlisted in the military. They took on jobs formerly performed the men who had gone to war. Work clothing had to be functional. Women began to wear trousers at factory jobs and for casual wear.

In order to save money at the beauty parlor, women let their hair grow long in the 1940’s. The long hair, curled at the ends for a touch of femininity could be caught up in a twist for safety in industrial settings.

Most women knew enlisted men and as the whole country, and the world, marched off to war, fashions followed suit. A military style emerged in women’s clothing. Even dresses took on a military look with padded shoulders and neat, short skirts.

Recycling became necessary for the war effort. Women remade old blankets into jackets and learned to ‘make do’ with the new ‘war wise’ fashions.

Even when World War II ended, supplies were limited and fabric was expensive. When Christina Dior introduced his New Look in 1947, women were shocked at the extravagant use of fabric. The New Look introduced a new silhouette, an hour glass figure with longer hemlines, wide skirts and large, wide brimmed hats.

But, after 20 years of austere clothing design trends, the New look caught on and influenced ladies’ fashions for the next decade.