1930s were a time of glamour and modernity. At a time of advancement both in the design and production of clothes this allowed a much wider audience to engage with 'Fashion'. High-fashion designs were making their way to the average women in the form of ready-to-wear clothes.
Women had gained economic, social and political advances and these were reflected in their modern wardrobes. Many more women entering employment and securing a wage gave them financial independence. Suits became popular for women in the workplace and trousers were worn for work and for leisure.
Women needed different clothes for work, for day and for evening. Otto Weininger, a psychologist: “You cannot drive a Rolls Royce in a Gainsborough hat, amputate a limb in a crinoline, or play polo in stays”.
Air travel was seen as utterly glamorous during what is known as the Golden Age of Travel. Traveling the world was a thrilling new possibility for those with the resources, time, imagination, and daring. To fly was to be one of the anointed few who had experienced what it means to be modern. It was not so long ago that to travel by air was imbued with a magical significance capable of evoking an entire world of vivid color and high glamour. The journey was once at least as exciting as the destination.
Technically speaking the jet age was born in the 1930s when Germany’s Hans Joachim Pabst von Ohain and England’s Frank Whittle pioneered the large aircraft engine.
Until the 1950s intercontinental travel remained much as it had for a century: The last major revolution had been the arrival of steam, and with it the railway and the ocean liner, but momentous though those changes had been, mankind had remained fastened to the planet's surface. The jet age was about to change all that.
A new passion for sports ushered in a new era of smaller, tighter sportswear. The liberation that sports fashions offered was very appealing and they became more feminine in compliance with the fashionable shapes of the time, and more functional as luxury fabrics were replaced with more durable materials. This meant that instead of merely looking practical, sportswear garments also became practical. The comfort they offered suited the modern woman's lifestyle.
Chanel bought pieces of jersey and imposed new clothes lines that were casual, practical and stylish: polo shirts, jodhpurs, sailor shirts; an androgynous style inspired by racecourses, golf courts, tennis courts and yacht clubs. Chanel embraced 'understated elegance' by keeping the easy skirt and pairing it with a jersey jacket. Chanel invented the silhouette of the 20th Century woman.
Bathing suits had deep scooped backs so women could develop suntans worthy of showing off under fashionable backless evening dresses. Chanel introduced trousers and pyjamas to wear on the beach.
Hollywood film had a huge influence on the fashion of the day. In 1930 Coco Chanel signed a contract with Samuel Goldwyn to design costumes for the stars of United Artists. Parisian designers realised the film would be the future of fashion.
The little black dress was the new evening style in 1934 but some women loved to express themselves in long dinner suits.
The accentuation of the waist and the hemline combined with the popularity of the bias cut created a contoured silhouette with a focus on the hips.
Bias cutting involves cutting fabric at a 45 degree angle instead of along the warp or weft. The bias cut allows for the creation of sculptural dresses that closely hug the body, literally stretching the material round its contours. The method had been popularised by Madeleine Vionnet who favoured silks, satins and crepe de Chine to develop a silhouette that was luxurious, elegant and modern.
Cotton and linen were being promoted as fashionable materials thanks to designers like Chanel using them in haute couture designs. Silk remained popular as the most exquisite fabric to capture the folds and drapes of the bias cut couture creations and velvet was declared as being 'the epitome and symbol of elegance' by Hollywood costume designer Walter Plunkett.
Fine wool crepes, silk satins and luxurious lamés in gold and silver remained the prerogative of the rich. Fur of all kinds was worn extensively, both during the day and at night.