Nostalgia: A Column about Antique Fashion

Liv Combe, News Editor

Although the Great Crash occurred in 1929, it took a few years for the luxury and decadence of the Roaring Twenties to plummet along with the stock market. By 1933, when this photo was taken on Tappan Square during a campus picnic in May, the public had begun to feel the effects of the Great Depression, and with a difficult economic climate came more conservative popular fashions.

In contrast to the androgynous and boyish silhouette of the 1920s, a more traditional “womanly” look was in favor during the ’30s. Accentuated shoulders and waists were emphasized instead of the hips of the 1920s; Waistlines were raised back up and skirts were lowered down to mid-calf. Soft, fluttering dresses were cut on the bias — a technique for maximizing a fabric’s stretch, where the pattern pieces are cut not on the straight grain of the cloth but rather at a 45-degree angle — so that they would drape and highlight feminine curves.

The short haircut for women, however, was one trend that managed to endure beyond the Great Depression. Hair was kept smooth at the crown to accommodate for hats, which were worn small, asymmetrical, and often tipped to one side. For better or for worse, the perm became popular during the thirties, and flyaway curls — like those of the girl on the far right, looking at the camera — were in vogue.

Although it was a decade marked by hardship and strife, the 1930s nonetheless brought about some notable developments in fashion and lifestyle. Zippers had been invented some 30 years earlier, but during the Great Depression they became decorative and fashionable. With the advent of film fashion coverage in magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, Hollywood began to exert an influence on mainstream fashion and haute couture, and cinema-goers wanted to dress like the stars they saw onscreen. Sunbathing developed into a popular pastime, and a penchant for white clothing accompanied the new trend of bronzed skin.

The average woman in the years leading up to the Great Depression had typically not needed practical daywear clothes, but with hard times came greater hands-on responsibility. Simpler fashions allowed for more freedom and movement, which these Obies obviously enjoyed — it would have been difficult to relax on a lawn in, say, a corset from the early 1900s, or even a drop-waisted flapper dress from less than a decade before. With their white cotton dresses, set hairstyles and casual yet womanly silhouettes, these Obies fit the bill for 1930s fashionistas.