One might be tempted to think that the financial deprivations suffered by most people during the Depression would have brought fashion to a halt, but it continued, although the catalogs of Sears, Roebuck and Co., from which this anthology has been assembled, reflected the economic tumble.

In fall 1929, advertising copy had been light and breezy: "The newest styles, the most recent designs, and the very latest in colorings and finishes..." (A change in buying patterns in the mid-twenties had, however, necessitated an approach, emphasizing low price and good value, that had not been prominent at the beginning of the decade.) In the spring 1930 catalog, the import of what had happened had not yet been fully realized: A full page of electrical gadgets designed "to drive drudgery from your home" seems to assume continued prosperity.

In the fall 1930 catalog, reality had made its mark: "Thrift is the spirit of today. Reckless spending is a thing of the past." Finally, in the fall 1932 catalog: "These are not ordinary times...Of greatest importance today are the costs of the necessities of life... We realize that economy dictates that women must sew more
this year... Repairing, rather than replacing, will be the order in many families... We recognize the struggle that is taking place everywhere to make ends meet." Washfast "Hooverettes" (house dresses) made sure Mom would still look fashionable while taking care of the brood and "Many-Way Dresses" allowed economical fashionistas to simply "change accessories--have a different dress for every day of the week!"

 

By the late twenties, hemlines began to fall and the waistline, which had dropped to the hips, was returning to its natural position. In the early thirties, “the trend [was] toward femininity”: there was a move away from the boyish flapper to a softer, more feminine form. The adult female figure returned to fashion. The hemline dropped very low, then was lifted slightly and remained at that position until the end of the decade, when skirts shortened. Long dresses for eveningwear replaced the flamboyant short beaded gowns that had characterized the twenties. In France, Madeleine Vionnet, by using material cut on the bias, was creating beautiful figure-molding gowns. However, because bias construction, or using fabric on the cross, was expensive and called for great skill in handling, its interpretation was limited and relegated mainly to skirts and minor details. For this new silhouette, foundation garments and underclothes were shaped to conform to the body.

Reflecting the stress on natural form, men's suits also began to curve in at the waist. The wide trousers that had been so popular in the twenties continued to be worn in sporty or collegiate styles, reaching a 22-inch width, but by the late thirties, although trousers were still of a generous cut, the width was modified.

Women's cloche hats, another trademark of the twenties, disappeared, their place being taken by berets, pillboxes and brimmed hats, frequently worn at a jaunty angle. Turbans later gained popularity.

The movies provided one of the major escapes from the harsh realities of the Depression, so it was natural that the sales gimmick of marketing accessories (and some dresses) endorsed by such stars as Loretta Young, Claudette Colbert and Fay Wray should be expanded from pre-Depression days. "Hollywood" and "California" style clothing and accessories abounded. Even children's clothing found its own star--Shirley Temple--for promotion.

In the spring 1930 catalog women's overalls were first introduced--a harbinger of Rosie the Riveter, the image that was to dominate the first half of the next decade. By 1939, women's Indestructo Work Clothes helped women "get down to business."

Women's sportswear developed further. Although most apparel had become more feminine, in sportswear masculine forms continued to be adapted: middy slacks, sportsuits, leather jackets. The tailored

suit was also favored, especially in business, where masculine dress was equated with seriousness of intent. The inclusion of slacks or "gob outfits," as they were called, anticipated the oncoming popularity of long pants for women. Shorts were listed, but only for little girls. Pumps became fashionable again and were available with different heels, including four-inch spike heels. The men's section added tuxedos to the selection of suits. Trimmings and surface decorations in most clothes began to fall away as the lure of a totally different look came on the horizon.

With the end of the 1920s came the end of the reign of the preadolescent ideal. The Depression and changing times were forging new fashions. That fashions did change, and that people, whatever their circumstances, did try their best to follow them, is a potent argument for the view of fashion as a psychological and sociological necessity. How else can one justify a change in style that called for dresses made of more cloth than prior to the Depression?

Blum, Stella. Everyday Fashions of the Twenties As Pictured in Sears and Other Catalogs.