Saturday, June 20, 2015

Hollywood Glamour in the 1930s

Photo credit: Lee Brothers
(poor Fred didn't even get billed on this marquee)

During the years of the Great Depression, all industries were hard-hit.  The movie industry fared better than many. Some theaters offered drawings for prize money.  Others offered a free piece of glassware to attendees on "Dish Night" - a plate, cup, saucer, or glass. These pieces now comprise the collecting field of Depression Glass.  Pre-Depression ticket prices remained stable or were lowered. The average price nationwide for adults was 25 cents for a matinee and 40 cents for the evening showing. A number of theaters dropped the cost of the evening show to 10 cents in order to attract customers. Children's tickets averaged 10 cents, although the majority of theaters charged half that amount.

Americans turned to movies in order to escape the harsh, never-ending day-to-day reality of poverty and unemployment. Director Carlos Stevens observed: 
"Throughout most of the Depression, Americans were assiduously, devotedly, almost compulsively, drawn to the movies...the movies offered a chance to escape the cold, the heat, and loneliness; they brought strangers together....sharing in the one social event available to everyone."

Dress fashions were heavily influenced by the movies of this decade. Although most women were unable to afford the gowns worn on film, they could and did incorporate several aspects of dresses which they saw on the screen and in catalogs. No more straight, angular silhouettes from the 1920s --- women once again had curves.  Dresses were feminine and hems were around mid-calf level or lower.  Waistlines returned and narrow belts were worn.  Bodices were fitted. Collars, capelets, folds, ruffles, and draping were often used in dress designs. Fabric corsages, flowers and bows decorated hats, collars, and yoke fronts. 

1933 Spiegel's catalog ad
These prices were a fortune for most women during the Depression, but wouldn't it be wonderful to buy them at the 1933 price now?

The clothing article which appealed to most was the evening gown.  Such gowns were unattainable by all but the very well-to-do. Movie audiences eagerly waited for the moments when the star would appear in her bias-cut, backless silk or satin gown, where for a few hours they could be transported to a world of wealth and happy endings.  

These gowns were long, sleek, and sexy.  The bias cut hugged the body.  Such legends as Carole Lombard, Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford, and Ginger Rogers epitomized the Hollywood glamour people craved.  The popular Astaire-Rogers musicals utilized what was termed "The Great White Set", now the basis for many Hollywood Regency style rooms.  One of Miss Rogers' most famous gowns was the feather dress worn in 1935's TOP HAT.

photo from

photo from

Her backless gown was made of figure-hugging satin and encircled with blue ostrich feathers.  The feathers started around her neck and shoulders, then continued from the hips to hemline. 

Jean Harlow photograph from

Carole Lombard photograph from

Carole Lombard photograph by Scotty Welbourne, 1938

Joan Crawford in a dress designed by Adrian, 1932
photograph from

Several pattern companies have re-issued their vintage patterns. However, the selection below, from members of the Pattern Patter Team on etsy, consists of original sewing patterns from the 1930s.  Credits are below the collage.

by kinseysue on etsy

ROW 1 - Vogue 7432 from FriskyScissors; Simplicity 1723 from SoVintageOnEtsy; Simplicity 2377 from ErikawithaK

ROW 2 - Hollywood 1297 from BluetreeSewingStudio; Simplicity 1440 from kinseysue; Butterick 7066 from Fragolina

ROW 3 - Hollywood 890 from Fancywork; New York Mail Order 2831 from CloesCloset; Butterick 5040 from VintageNeedleFinds

What Americans Spend on Entertainment by Alexander Atkins
The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Book by Arlene Croce


  1. Those were the days....such elegance and style not to mention the figures !
    A great read, thank you kinseysue !

  2. Such elegance, makes me want to go see some vintage movies!

  3. Glamorous Sexy Steamy and so Elegant ! The 30s had it going on!
    What a great read Kinseysue!

  4. I love that sleek, 30s look!