Recession and Escapism, 1930-1938

Worldwide Depression, the collapse of the New York stock market and mass unemployment, was an inauspicious start to the 1930s. For a while the French high fashion industry had been dependent on its export trade to United States, after the «crash», the orders from department stores and private buyers were cancelled. In a bid to ride the Depression, the designers slashed their prices–it is said that Chanel cut hers by half. They also tried to do something, introducing cheaper, ready-to-wear lines, and top names raised additional revenue by endorsing fashion-related products.


Although, Paris still dominated international fashion, the competition was growing due to the addition of more designers from such places as London and New York. In London a new generation of designers replaced the court dressmakers. These couturiers operated along similar lines as their Parisian competition, though on a smaller scale.  Brands such as Molyneux had houses both in London and Paris, Norman Hartnell were joined by talented newcomers, Victor Stiebel who specialized in romantic day and evening wear and also, Aquascutum, Pringle, Barbour and famous to this day Burberry, which sold protective, waterproofed garments.


While Britons excelled in  tailoring and sport clothing, the United States of America worked in the ready-to-wear fashion market and leisure sport wear.  By 1930s, America led the world in the mass production of clothing in standardized sizes. The interesting fact is  that mostly all American ready-to-wear designers were anonymous because they wanted their garments look somehow Paris related.

It is worth discussing what  actually was  fashionable in the days of 30s.  For a long time, Hollywood’s studios had followed and adapted Paris fashions. Samuel Goldwyn’s decided to invite  a world famous Paris couturier to the Dream Factory and he chose Chanel. She accepted his invitation and designed on-and-off-screen wardrobes for some top stars including Greta Garbo, Gloria Swanson and Marlene Dietrich. Chanel worked on the outfits ( or costumes) for the  three beautiful Hollywood films such as «Tonight or Never»(1931) starring gorgeous Gloria Swanson, «Palmy Days»(1932), with Charlotte Greenwood as a leading actress  and «The Greeks Had a Word for Them» (1932) starring Ina Claire. Unfortunately, her costumes were either entirely overlooked  or criticised for being too understated.

Greta Garbo nära

Also, we can not forget the fact that the shoes that the French shoe designer Roger Vivier has been credited with producing the very first platform soles in the mid-1930s and in 1936s the innovative Italian shoemaker Salvatore Ferragamo created the original wedge sole. The name of this brand is  well known nowadays and is becoming more and more popular. Nearly in every corner of the world people recognize the name of the extraordinary and gifted shoemaker Salvatore Ferragamo. Now this brand continues running its successful  and profitable business around the world. This brand could be a good example of preservation of traditions with addition of innovations. Obviously, Salvatore Ferragamo has changed during the years but has not lost its identity. This brand is still  unique keeping memories alive from the time of the original days. It still has a stinging charm of 30s in its fashion DNA.  Roger Vivier continues to do a great job in the fashion shoes industry.


Actually, nowadays many designers are inspired by the style of 1930s, once could spot these features in many collections. Some of Ralph Lauren Collections inspired by 30s years can be used as example. Echoes go the thirties are also heard in such retro brands as Prada and even sometimes Louis Vuitton.

maxresdefaultIn 30s accessories served to update and add distinction to what were often plain garments. Hats were still common for outdoor wear and styles were diverse, including the fez, berets, tricorners and pillboxes. In 1936 designs started to reflect the influence of Surrealism. Within the framework of general trends, designers derived much inspiration from historical and escapist sources: from Hollywood glamour, Victorian revivalism, Surrealism and ethnic clothing tradition. These influences were also evident in other areas of applied art such as shop windows, salons, photography and illustration.

By the 1930, designers of women’s fashion had abandoned the linear, gamine look of the twenties in favor of softer, more sculptural clothes which accentuated feminine contours. Bodices were slightly bloused, belts emphasized the waist – now reinstated to its natural position, as well skirts were gently flared although the fashionable silhouette was shape, slenderness was still desirable.

Throughout the 1930s, beauty became inextricably linked with health. Naturist, sports and health clubs were set up to improve both body and soul.


As was said in the beginning, it should not be forgotten that the time of 30s was shrouded in a veil of depression. The Great Depression had place between 1929 – 1939 years. Most sharply from 1929 t0 1933. It means that all epoch of 30s fashion was influenced by crisis and gloom. There was a huge percentage of unemployment and poverty. And each one tried to survive the best way he could. The same happened with fashion, those were quite difficult times, because of the lack of money. Perfect examples of that era can be such novels  as«Three Comrades» (1936) and  Arch of Triumph (1932)  written by famous German writer Erich Maria Remarque.  Both of these works are a reflection of the era of 30s. It portrays the miserable and difficult life experience  that generation had to live through: personal problems, true pain of depression, incurable diseases and absolute poverty. Remarque is describing this time in a very precise and deeply moving way, everything in this book touches the soul and creates intimate atmosphere in it. The reader actually believes and see beyond everything that there is in the book. Futhermore, the author is portraying women’s characters very accurately. In the novel  «Three Comrades» (1936) The woman protagonist Patricia Holman (Pat) is portrayed very precisely: her character, personal position, her past and future and obviously her relation to the garments. Clothing was not the main component of her life but it is still of importance, Pat was extremely ill with tuberculosis so she went quite often to the mountains to help improve her health. She lived every day like her last day. She did not have any confidence in the future, no guarantee, she just wanted to live one more day the best way she could. Her relationship with fashion is very interesting because being in poor health she still wanted to be pretty and beautiful, she was willing to inspire and attract men. She did it very well. She ate, travelled and loved, in other words she did everything that she enjoyed. She took pleasure in being gorgeous despite excessive thinness and illness, she liked buying and creating clothes. She paid a lot of attention to her style. She even did not want her lover to see her the day of her death because she was scared that she wouldn’t t be looking beautiful anymore. In the book there is a scene where Pat hangs her clothes on the walls, the furniture and even on a chandelier and says that all these garments are her only friends who will be with her until her last day. They are all different facets of her essence, so they are all her representations.

91203            ThreeComrades

I suppose that Patricia Holman represents in a way the women of Recession and Escapism epoch. The person who lives in a world of misery and fall, experiences the psychological and physical suffering but still wants to be happy, satisfied and beautiful. She is eager to live and tries hard  to get escape through every single possibility. It could be seen in case of Pat who tried to escape through love and her dresses, which she identified  with herself. They were her own little world which helped her not to lose herself in that lost and depressed world.


Fashion since 1900, Valerie Mendes/Amy de la Haye, Thames and Hudson, World of Art


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