A sylph is an air spirit, slender and graceful, exactly the line of dress favoured during the 1930s. Achieved by the clinging, draped bias-cut garments, with a higher waist and longer skirt than the boyish 1920s styles. Day dresses were almost uniform style, as mass production increased and class distinctions vanished. Evening wear was mature, glamorous and inspired by the cinema, although the economic depression and warnings of a second European war kept fabric use fairly unextravagant. Later in the decade there was a sort of Victorian revival, with leg-of-mutton sleeves, wider shoulders and ‘crinolines’ for evening. Hair was worn longer and curved under, gradually becoming swept up, whilst make-up became less garish and more subtly applied than in the bizarre twenties.
21a Wedding of Mr and Mrs H. B. Excell, Hackney, 1930
The bride’s brown crêpe dress and matching coat was made by the Hackney firm, where the bride worked and was given to Maidstone Museum collections in 1979, via Bethnal Green Museum. The dress is showing signs of the more feminine, softly clinging styles that will typify the 1930s, and her hat with its large, drooping brim, is the latest fashion. Her hair is longish and softly waved; the cropped, ‘twenties ‘bob’ is very old fashioned now. The original sepia photograph was by Hawksworth Wheeler, of Folkestone, and is still the property of the donor.
21b Afternoon dress, spotted navy crêpe, c.1937
A smart dress like this example could have been accessorised with a fox fur stole, a corsage (small bouquet pinned on the bodice) and a small hat worn tipped forward. The dark navy rayon crêpe is embroidered with off-white ‘spots’, and is shiny on the reverse. It has triangular shoulder pads, which became popular towards the end of the decade. It fastens at the left side with press studs (‘poppers’), now more popular than hooks and eyes. This style was inspired by the severely smart look of Mrs Simpson, Duchess of Windsor.
21c Doll’s dress, terracotta rayon, c.1935
The cult of the child (and by default the doll) found expression in the mass adulation of the child film-star Shirley Temple, whose career began in 1934 and ended in 1949. Our terracotta rayon party dress, with lilac ribbon trim and huge muslin collar is from the ‘Temple’ era. Made in the relatively new modern fabric, rayon, it has the highish waist, puff sleeves and full, gathered skirt of the children’s dresses of the thirties.
21d Camiknickers, blue satin rayon, late 1930s
Camiknickers, first introduced around 1916 and most popular in the 1920s and 1930s, were essentially a princess line, shortened petticoat joined between the legs with a gusset on step-ins and a buttoned flap on others. Most had full legs, either hip or thigh length. Our example is cut ‘on the cross’ in slinky shiny, duck egg blue, rayon satin and trimmed with coffee lace inserts. It has peach baby ribbon adjustable shoulder straps.
Given by Susan Pittman of Swanley, Kent, in 1985
21e Brassiere, coffee lace, rose ribbon straps, c.1930
Caresse Crosby was credited with the innovation of the ‘bra’, using two handkerchiefs, in 1913. In 1926-27, Rosalind Klin, director of Kestos, re-invented this, folding the squares of fabric crosswise into triangles, joining them with an overlap in front and adding shoulder straps. Elastic was also added and crossed at the back, then buttoned under each ‘cup’, which was darted to give shape. The modern bra was born! Our example looks home made, but vaguely follows Kestos principles in slightly shaped, coffee coloured cotton net bound with pink. It is suspended from pink ribbon shoulder straps crossed at the back. It fastens with pairs of hooks and eyes, and would not give much support.
21f Suspender belt, peach machine net lace, 1930s
Until about 1878 stockings were held up by garters, an elastic band around their tops. The 1880s suspender had a shaped belt fitted over the corset, and looked a little like 20th Century men’s elastic braces for trousers. By the early 1900s, the ‘modern’ suspender belt was recognisable. Our example is in peach machine embroidered net with a satin front panel and has elastic tapes and clips made of vulcanised rubber and chrome. It fastens with a mother-of-pearl button and a fabric loop – a replacement of the original hook and eye. Size 26, it has a manufacturer’s label ‘Dolores lingerie deluxe’, and would have been thought glamorous in its day.
21g Handbag, navy leathercloth, mid-late 1930s
Leathercloth (Rexine) is a strong fabric coated with nitrocellulose and waterproofed to imitate the texture of leather. It was a versatile material and used in the early 20th Century for car bodies, upholstery, pram hoods and covers, as well as fashion accessories. This navy bag is in the fashionable ‘Odeon’ shape, popularised in cinema architecture. This style derived from South American design, with its angular or curved flat shapes, often in bright colours.
21h Evening shoes, coated leather, gold detail, c.1935
This button bar style was most fashionable in the 1920s, but the blunt toe dates it to the early 1930s. Made of coated kid leather, it has an unusual gold stitch detail imitating a woman’s necktie or cravat. The heel has a gold band near the tip.
1930s – What’s New?
Dress clip, 1930
A fashion item which first appeared at this time consisting of two jewelled clips attached to each side of a dress or blouse just below the shoulders, often made of diamanté.
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, 1930s
This was the era of these two dancers, producing ‘Flying down to Rio’ in 1933. They made a picture every year for the rest of the decade.
The tennis star René Lacoste nicknamed ‘Le Crocodile’, launched a white, short sleeve, knitted tennis shirt with a small crocodile emblem on the chest.
The result of research by Dr Wallace H. Carothers at the Du Pont company of Delaware in the USA. It was first introduced in 1938 and nylon stockings soon became popular in 1939. Drawbacks to this new fibre were that it could not absorb sweat and it was not good to dye.