Where Fashion Sits: 1930s Fashion Meets Contemporary Culture

How can you bridge an 85-year gap to put a contemporary spin on 1930s fashion? What does it mean to be “puttin’ on the ritz” in 2016?

Actually, it may be as simple as taking a fresh look at your wardrobe, or paying attention to details at your favorite boutique. The confluence of modernism and major historical events reverberated through Western culture in the 1930s, and the effects on how we live and what we wear carry through to today.

The 1930s decade began in hardship, as the optimism and excesses of the 1920s gave way to the solemnity of the Great Depression. Lifestyles necessarily became more austere, and fashion took a conservative turn. For women, the short, loose-fitting dresses and bobbed haircuts of the 1920s flapper look gave way to lowered hemlines, longer hairstyles, and clothes cut to accentuate the natural waist with a more “feminine” silhouette. Where changing clothes several times a day had been the norm, now practicality demanded more bang for the buck, and progressive attitudes led to more flexibility. American designers responded with sportswear lines that were both stylish and comfortable, with easy-care fabrics and ready-to-wear designs. Pants for women were becoming acceptable, and fashion generally evolved to be more democratic and functional.

However, pragmatism was only part of the story. Hollywood provided an escape from the gloom, and movie stars set glamorous standards. European designers like Coco Chanel, Madeleine Vionnet, and Elsa Schiaparelli led haute couture with elegant innovations that emphasized independence, many of which still appear in closets today.

Iconic styles like the little black dress, bias cut, cowl neck, and wrap dress all hit the scene in the 1930s. Fashion was also influenced by avant-garde art movements, particularly art deco and surrealism. Vanessa Di Palma Wright, stylist and owner of Park City’s Farasha Boutique, suggests drawing inspiration from the celebrities of the time, such as Ginger Rogers and Greta tumblr_lq6tqv8u9L1qid3wgo1_500Garbo, by “pulling out pieces that are classic, but not too retro.” Her advice for women looking to define a “ritzy underground” style: “Think your go-to, sexy black dress with an open back or high halter neckline, to emphasize your figure for a look that is both vintage and current.” She points out that metallics, lamé fabrics, and flutter and billow-shaped sleeves that are on trend now were also a must for evening wear in the thirties. And, of course, accessories and details complete a look. “Keep your accessories fresh and now with a pair of platform sandals and a modern clutch,” says Wright, adding, “If you want an extra touch of glitz, go to a vintage shop and find the perfect pair of gloves to add a hint of retro-chic to your ensemble. Style with finger-waved curls, bold red lips, and fantastic statement jewelry, and you are all set to turn heads.” > Farasha Styling Slide Show

Larger-than-life characters—Clark Gable, Cary Grant, and Fred Astaire, to name a few—were fashion role models for 1930s men. Suits were designed to show off the male physique, with broad shoulders, fitted waists, and wide, pleated trousers. Double-breasted jackets, wide lapels, sweaters, and polo shirts were also trendy, along with short jackets, and the safari-inspired bush shirt. Hats were key accessories for both sexes, and men donned a variety of headwear: fedoras, flat caps, boaters, and top hats for special occasions.

tumblr_n050osYWXY1qkztyio1_500“Men cared what their clothes said about them and didn’t leave a first impression to chance,” says BJ Stringham, president of Utah Woolen Mills. “Three-piece suits were the rule of thumb, with crisp white-collared shirts that were rounded instead of today’s point collars.” According to Stringham, a contemporary man of style is aware of trends, yet firmly rooted in timeless designs. For example, “Today’s version of a double-breasted suit is more fitted, shorter, and sporting no-show socks” he explains, and while “1930s style was full-fitting suits with plenty of extra fabric, today’s interpretation of a well-dressed man is a fitted suit, no excess of fabric, and a flattering taper that compliments his masculinity.” Stringham is also emphatic about the importance of a good tailor. “The key to interpreting a passion for great fashion is understanding that the tailoring of the day is what really matters.” So, get the fit right, add a pocket square, and lace up a pair of oxfords or fitted boots, and carry it all off with a swagger in your step.


Want to learn more? UMOCA gala ticket holders are invited to attend private, exclusive styling sessions with Farasha and Utah Woolen Mills this month. Click here for details, and have fun finding the perfect pieces for an unforgettable night on June 4!