Fashion influences the world around us daily and gives insight to life during different time periods. Men, women, and children’s lives in the 1930s were grim due to the Great Depression. Poor was something you found everywhere, and everybody was trying to earn even meager wages to support their families. Many people had to work in textile factories in unfavorable environments. However, it was their only way of income. Despite these obstacles, fashion was still prominent throughout everyday life whether it be reflecting what society saw as accepted clothing or exhibiting the working life of fellow citizens.
A woman wrote, “The labor conditions at the Appalachian Cotton Mills here are worse than miserable” (“Treated”). Numerous letters were sent, following this premise, complaining about the environment, pay wages, and hours of the textile factories. Back then, workers felt as if they were being treated like slaves. In the letters, it explained that the mill only had two shifts, a day and a night. Each was ten grueling hours with short to no breaks. Despite the fact the government having
citizens working so long, the effort put in was fruitless. Despite how longed they worked, people reported not having enough money to support their families. Suggestions like having three eight hour shifts with increased pay or other scheduled changes were proposed. Without any changes, people were sure that crime would occur. In fact, one woman wrote, “…forced men and women to steal…” (“Treated”). She even went on to say that stealing damaged Americanism which was not good for the country.
If the hours were not bad enough, the environment of the factories was intolerable, criminal, and overbearing. The area was described as a hot wasteland with very small working areas. It was mentioned that places even were missing resting stools for the woman that were needed by law. People would complain about it; however, their complaints were ignored. In extreme cases, when the employees would find the courage to riot, it usually led to violence and the loss of their job. Because of this, many people
stayed quiet out of fear.
Women’s fashion did not come to a halt even with the occurring struggles. Fashion trends and different outfits for different occasions were still relevant. Body shape was important, and this article states, “The ideal ’30s woman was tall and slender with a very small waist and narrow hips…” (Krystle). Something all women wanted to obtain back then was a lean, athletic body. Most outfits incorporated this trend. Example being their casual wear. Women wore dresses with loud colors and patterns
and usually paired this look with a mid-heel. These dresses included exaggerated puffed sleeves, shoulder pads, full collars, or ruffled cap sleeves. The reasoning behind this is because most women were not blessed with the desired hips and waists. To compensate for this, the increased volume in shoulders gave the illusion of smaller waist and hips. Furthermore, these casual dresses were made from peasant fabrics and cotton. Fashion back then fancied materials that had a textured or crepe looked
to them. Not to mention, these were cheap alternatives to expensive fabrics. Magazines even said that going rougher was smarter because that usually meant the clothes were low in cost. It is an ironic contrast from today because people usually want something well-made to preserve it longer. Similarly, women’s glamour-wear also included the slim waist as well as other trends. Evening gowns were usually manufactured to display girls’ best features. It also included low-cut backs and long hems. Fabrics
popular back then were chiffon, silk, and satin. These materials were cut to show chic, elegant lines. Women added a train that touched the floor to give off an even classier look. Coupled with these looks, the glamour-wear also hugged the waist tightly and flowed easily down the leg. The amazing thing about these dresses is that all modern gowns are influenced by the 1930s and can be seen being worn on today’s red carpet. Bathing suits included the athletic look too. Swim wear took a major turn
with the invention of latex in 1931. No longer did women feel weighed down or appear saggy with the wool suit. Latex suits were lightweight, comfortable, and more stylish. These suits had a variety of patterns and colors as well as being cut to give off the appearance of a lean, athletic body. The suits even had thin straps to look as if the woman had broader shoulders. There was two types of bathing suits. One being the maillot and the other the dress
maker. The maillot was the trendier of the two suits and was fitted at the waist with a tight skirt or boy shorts. In contrast to this, the dress maker was less fitted with a loose skirt and more closely resembled suits in the earlier decade.
Woman were not the only ones with a spectrum of clothing. Men also had a range of outfits for various occasions. When it came to their casual wear, all men wanted to look professional and strong. Causal clothing everywhere for males included polo shirts, pull over sweaters, suits, converse, loafers, and wide leg trousers. Outfits like these were manufactured so males could look masculine, broad, and thin. Same thing goes for their swimsuits. The 1930s embraced short briefs as the desired bathing
suit. The short briefs were intended to show off a superman like body shape. When it came to materials, the suit was usually made of wool knit and was quite snug. The colors were bright with examples like red, tan, gold, yellow, green, and many others. Also, it was common to see these bathing suits with horizontal stripes. Men back then might have paired the swim suit with a knit top to be a little more modest. However, calling these tops modest is a misnomer. To put simply, these shirts were like
modern day wrestling tank tops which expose a lot of skin. Men get the most varied in their clothing with their work clothes. If males worked in the hands-on areas, the clothes consisted of overalls, coveralls, and heavy-duty boots. Overalls could be seen being worn by farmers, oilman, construction workers, and miners. Overalls were a one-piece attire made of heavy denim cotton or duck cloth. Colors included was blue, black, white, or striped. It had many pockets for tools to make working easier
and more efficient. Overalls also had a few different styles being high back, low back, and vest back. High back had the bib cover most of the back of a person. Low back had two suspenders that crossed in the back. Finally, vest back had the backside completely concealed. Coveralls were very similar to overalls. People who worked as mechanics, factory employees, or aviators wore them. The main difference between the two is that coveralls were missing the straps, pockets, and hand cuffs. It was heavily
emphasized that these absences existed because it prevented the workers from being caught on machinery. The boots for the active jobs had thick, rubber soles with large tread to prevent outside materials from getting in. Employees with service jobs wore matching uniform sets. These people included gas station attendants, gardeners, delivery drivers, and others blue-collared workers. Matching uniform sets had more color than the other working clothes like green, blue, tan, and other light tints.
In this set, there was a work shirt and pants. The shirt was a button up and the pants were flat and cuffed at the bottom.
Children’s fashion in the 1930s was limited compared to the closets of today’s kids. An author writes, “Usually kids had about three sets of clothing: one each for school, play and special occasions” (Mezensky). In modern times, kids must wear a different outfit every day because that is what is socially accepted. Due to the Great Depression, most kids wore the same thing every day which included hand-me-downs or home-made dresses unless their family had money. Example of this could be the Finches from To Kill a
Mocking Bird. Children also emulated their corresponding parents’ outfits. Girls wore dresses and acted very feminine. Their wardrobe included bright colors such as pink, green, baby blue, and gold. Paired with these outfits, that all young females had, were black Mary Jane shoes. A place where being lady-like was expected from a girl is also in To Kill a Mocking Bird. Scout is known for being boyish and wearing masculine clothing. She did this because she never had a motherly influence to teach
her how to be a proper lady. That is where Aunt Alexandra comes in because she hounds Scout to wear dresses act more like a lady. While for boys, they wore nice polos, pants, and were raised in their father’s footsteps. However, young men would wear suits for more formal occasions like school or church.
As seen through today’s society and books like To Kill a Mocking Bird, fashion is a big part of a societies culture. It displays many of the norms seen in daily life and reflects events going on within the decade. Not only this, but fashion can also identify what jobs are mostly practiced and how wealthy or poor someone is.