The 1930s were defined by economic turmoil and the Great Depression. But for those living through it, it was all about trying to maintain a sense of normalcy and dignity despite the hardships.
For a 1930’s woman, hairstyles and fashion accessories were a way to add class and charm without breaking the bank. Today we will look at some of the trends that defined the era, and look at how you can recreate these looks on your own today!
Fashion’s Role in Tough Times
If you know anything about the 1930s, you have likely seen the images of bread lines out-of-work people, and farmers fleeing dust. But you probably don’t know that women of the time were still expected to look “smart” - code for looking classy and put together while not spending too much.
The typical 1930’s woman still had to play a traditional role - dresses, perfectly done hair and accessories were all used to maintain the image that things were “put together” - even if in reality you were hanging on by a thread! This led to more importance on hairstyles, accessories and other little touches to bring outfits together without buying a whole new look.
Evolving the Roaring 20’s Fashions for a New Decade
Many of the trends we will explore are an evolution of the 1920’s style. While some things from the 1920s were left behind - short hemlines and wild parties, for example - other fashion trends continued to make their mark.
Short hair - started by 1920’s bob craze, stayed mainstream, and perfectly coiffed cuts continued to appear on women. The trend of a boyish silhouette was evolved in the 1930s to be more of an elongated, very slim hourglass, but still had a waifish, minimal appeal. The shorter hair also made the shoulder and neck of women look slimmer, adding to the overall thin body ideal of the time.
Hairstyles to Get the 1930’s Look
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The 1930s were characterized by doing more with less, and hair is no exception. We will look at the most popular styles of the decade as well as the DIY tricks to try them for yourself!
Short and Sweet: The Marcel Wave
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Short waves or curls were preferred on women in the 1930s, which was a trend lasting all the way until the 1970s! During the 1930s, the “finger waves” of the 1920s were out, and new at-home devices of a curling iron were used to create soft, fuller waves that disguised any grown out haircut!
The Marcel Wave was named for the inventor of the “hair waving” iron Marcel Grateau. Although created in the 1870s, the style reached the height of popularity in the 1930s as women used at-home curling irons, rather than a salon. Electric irons, invented in 1924, made this possible To create the look, all you need is the curling iron and some hairspray. Rather than wrapping a whole strand around the iron, just a section is pressed into a wave, then set with hairspray. Working the way down the whole head dramatically shortens hair and adds volume.
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Moviestar Mystery - The Pageboy
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Taking a cue from the short and sassy bob, the pageboy adds a feminine twist. Favored by starlet Greta Garbo, the Pageboy featured a side part, a smooth flat top, and had ends curled under at shoulder-length for a polished look. Usually, the hair along the face was cut at a slight angle to frame the face.
Getting the Pageboy look is easy if you have shoulder-length hair. Just part to the side and smooth down the hair. Then curl each end to softly fall just below the chin, taking special care along the face for a vampy over the eye bang.
Classy without the Cut - The Chingon
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For a woman on a budget, the frequent haircuts to maintain a short style were too much. If a woman had long hair she could use a chignon style to create the look of short hair. This style also has the benefit of keeping her hair out of her face, which was great for a working woman!
To create a chignon, you start by pulling the hair into a smooth ponytail. Then split the ponytail just above the tie, then flip the rest of the tail through the gap, creating a topsy turvy. Take another small hair tie and tie the very end of the tail into a new, tiny tail. Take the tiny tail back up to the topsy turvy and nestle it in, looping around the outside and creating a bun. Then stick some bobby pins in to loosely secure the bun. Take a few strands in front out to complete the romantic effect.
Long and Layered - The Grown Out Bob
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Not all women were on board with the short hair, and for them the fluffy and fun curly look was popular. Ginger Rogers made this her signature haircut and helped its popularity skyrocket. Basically a grown out bob, the key for this 1930’s style was a lot of voluminous curling at the bottom. This also hid split ends or at-home haircuts, both of which helped keep the “smart” look without spending.
To get the look, simply slick down the hair from the top to the midpoint. Using a bobby pin, poof up the top section of the hair, giving it volume. Then, using a heated iron or curler, make small curls along just the bottom. Tease out and spray and you’re done!
Adding a Touch of Glam
Hairstyles weren't the only way for women in the 1930’s to maintain an air of sophistication. Accessories such as hats, bags, belts, and scarves all played a role to look “smart” without spending too much.
Topping It All Off
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Hats could be made at home or designed specifically to upgrade an outfit. Hats sold for under $1 typically, sometimes only costing a few cents. Belts often came with a certain dress, but they could be switched around to create new looks for old dresses. Both hats and belts could be coordinated together to create a sense of matching sophisticatiom.c
To get this look, find chunky belts worn high on the waist as was the style of the time. Hats can be trickier, but looking online for the right hat can be worth it. For a true 1930’s look, match a hat and belt together in bright, cheerful colors to add a pop of vintage glam to your next outfit!
Mix and Match Shoes Styles
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Shoes in the 1930s are practical but still feminine. The standard was a high heel. All shoes had some type of heel, and even sports shoes had a small flat heel. Only house shoes and beach sandals had flat soles, and even those usually had a small heel to add lift.
Most shoes had a one or two-strap design, which held the foot in place while the woman continued to move. Straps were often in a cutout pattern, which added to the design. Some strapped shoes also had a decorative “tongue” sticking out under the strap, which could give a more stylish look.
To stay thrifty, some shoes featured removable tongues with fringe, which gave the wearer two shoes for the price of one! The tongues appeared everywhere in the 1930s - strapped shoes, Oxfords, and even beach shoes featured decorative tounges! Some shoes came with two different colored tongues, giving the owner three different looks. These versatile shoes were stylish yet affordable - a perfect choice for cash strapped women of the 1930s.
To rock this look today, you really need the right strapped shoes. But as a DIY hack, try matching frilly or colored socks with your Oxfords of pumps. Just like a 1930’s gal, you can get multiple looks out of one simple shoe.
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Frugal - yet Fun - Fashion
The 1930’s woman had a lot to handle. Times were tough, yet she was still expected to look glam. To do this, women turned to little touches to stay sane and stylish in this world. While the Great Depression passed, the styles stayed with us. Fluffy bobs and tongued oxfords are still staples of style today, and with the right fixes at home, you can pull off the fun and frugal 1930’s style as well!
You might want to take a look at:Retro Fashion for Men: What Clothing did Men Wear in the 1930s?
1930s Beauty Trends: What Was MakeUp Like in the 30s?
What Was Women's Fashion like in the 1930s?
Fashion from the Past: All About 1930s Style