The 1930s Costume Ideas
Up until recently, most requests for 1930s costumes here at Props & Frocks have tended to be centred round the Murder Mystery party, or event. However, thanks to the film The Kings Speech and the recently updated TV series of Upstairs Downstairs, this is beginning to change. It is still one of those eras that is difficult as far as costuming and if you cannot get inspiration from the more authentic 1930s ‘look’ why not look at some of our more ‘out of the box’ costume ideas further down this post?
The 1930s is an odd decade, sandwiched between the bright young things of the 1920s and the stark austerity of World War II. It was a decade which, following the 1929 Wall Street Crash in America, saw not only the Great Depression, but also a partial return to the social structure and class system, experienced before the advent of World War I. A major difference between the 1910s & 1930s was the gradual emancipation of women, which meant they were leading more active and busier life-styles. As a consequence, there was a difference in daywear, with more practical outfits being used, whilst for evening wear, the dropped waistline of the flapper decade, was replaced with the natural waistline. Dresses of the period (particularly evening wear) were often made of satin, cut on the bias, and embellished with frills and bows. In the 1930s, costume jewellery in the form of necklaces, brooches and rings was also very popular, as were cigarette holders.
When it comes to costumes, at Props & Frocks we have both day and evening wear for males and females in our hire range. Aside from the dresses, suits, top hat and tails, we also have a range of products to help you carry off the look, including wigs and make-up. The latter was another aspect of life which had become more mainstream during the 1930s, with manufacturers such as Elizabeth Arden and Max Factor becoming household names. In the 1930s, pencil thin eyebrows and lipsticks in pinks and shimmer colours replaced the 1920s flapper look of heavy kohl eyes and bright red lips.
Another fashion trend that became adopted by some women in the 1930s was the wearing of trousers. Nowadays of course, women wearing trousers is an acceptable fashion look, but back in the 1930s and even as late as the early 1970s, it was unacceptable in certain quarters, for females to be donning trousers. Consequently, the film star Marlene Dietrich caused a sensation when she wore a male Top Hat n Tails outfit in the film Morocco in 1930 and she found herself banned by the Chief of Police in Paris when she went out in public in a male-orientated ensemble.
Hats also evolved in the Thirties: The cloche of the 20s developed a popular twin, the toque, a similar tight fitting piece of headwear. Meanwhile, a soft hat with a dented crown, seen in a stage version of a du Maurier novel, took the name of the heroine of the piece, Trilby, (and with an added feather became especially popular with the Germans of both sexes). The 30s also saw a first appearance of the fashion pillbox hat: Garbo wore one in the film As You Desire Me and it generated almost as much enthusiasm as when Jackie Kennedy helped revive the style in the early 1960s.
When it comes to costumes from the 1930s era, the style was very focused on the glamorous look, with some of this being attributed to the increasing popularity of the cinema as a leisure activity. Fashion trends, based on what was being seen on the Silver Screen, started to evolve, with both men and women wanting to copy their screen idols. If you are looking for inspiration on hair and clothes, female stars of the time were Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Greta Garbo, Jean Harlow, Mae West and Shirley Temple. Male icons included Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, James Cagney, Tyrone Power and the Marx Brothers. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were also much emulated, whilst at the other end of the spectrum we have The Brazilian Bombshell Carmen Miranda (who was actually Portuguese), whose extravagant outfits included platform shoes and fruit headdresses!
1930s Films – an ideal place to get some alternative 30s costume ideas…
If you are attending a 1930s party and not particularly wanting to emulate the fashions of the period, the Silver Screen also spawned a number of films, for which costumes are available. These include:
- The Wizard of Oz
- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
- The Mummy
- Cleopatra (remake)
- Alice in Wonderland (remake)
- Adventures of Robin Hood, starring the swash-buckling Errol Flynn
- Dr. Jekyll & Mr Hyde
- King Kong
- Bride of Frankenstein – great for a couple
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame – another great couples costume idea
- Treasure Island – a chance to wear a pirate costume
- Gone with The Wind (also a book) – Scarlett O’Hara & Rhett Butler costumes – take a look in our Victorian costume section
Why not go dressed up as Pluto? The planet was discovered in 1930, but dressing up as the Disney character is much more fun!
1930s Books that may help you to choose your costume…
- Little House On The Prairie
- The Hobbit
- Murder On the Orient Express
- I, Claudius – Gives some Roman Costume options
- Mary Poppins
Aside from the cinema there were a number of other leisure pursuits that occupied the masses during the 1930s. Whilst private car ownership was still in its early days and out of the reach of the masses, public transport improved opportunities for access to the countryside, which in itself called for some other varieties of clothing styles. For the upper and middle classes, the country gent could be seen during the day in the Norfolk suit or tweed jacket and trousers, whilst changing into a lounge suit or evening dress for dinner.
Whatever your take on the 1930s look, contact us here at Props & Frocks and see how we can help.