Ask Aunt Ruthie FAQ on Fashions


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This page contains Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) and answers regarding fashions and styles in the 1930s time period. The questions are organized by sub-category as best as possible.

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Hair Styles


Questions and Answers


Q: What kind of suits did men wear?

A: Usually the suits were made of serge or tweed and were either double breasted or single breasted. Bear in mind that there was not a lot of money around in 1930 and beyond after the Depression. Jobs were not too plentiful so there were not too many people into fashion besides the wealthy.

Gangsters were a breed of their own and dressed "natily" They wore well made suits, big fedora hats and long overcoats.  I cannot really say that they influenced the dress code very much.

Q: If we were getting dressed up in 1920s/1930s/1940s styles, what would we wear?

A: The fashions in the 20's were slim line dresses and skirts and when one dressed up the lady would wear a cloche hat. Leather or suede pumps. This was the "flapper era" and the beginning of the dance called the "Charlston" These years in the 20's were referred to as the "Roaring 20's" Men wore double breasted suits, wide ties with a small knot. bowler hats or possibly fedoras.

For the 1930s, if you are dressing up - for the man it could be a pin stripe dark suit, or serge or tweed. Pee caps or straw skimmers. In the 40's guys got into draped pants with nice sweaters or shirt.

Ladies wore skirts long in length a nice top or possibly suit jacket Shoes were suede with a strap across the instep. Full skirted dresses were also worn In the 40's the teenage girl wore below the knees skirts with mega oversize sweaters.

More: Outfits of the 30's were varied.  However the dresses were predominately long and slender and if worn with a jacket, the jacket would be button front with perhaps a ruffle at the waistline.  Shoes would be black pumps either suede or leather or a heeled shoe with a strap across the instep.  Hats would be a cloche or a pillbox with a veil or big picture hats with wide brims.

Also see the answers to other questions below.

Q: What did maids wear back then?

A: A cotton housedress (probably plain in color) with either a half apron or full bib apron - kind of ruffled around the outside. Black laced work shoes with thick heels about one to two inches high.

Q: What would swimwear/sportswear be like?

A: Women's swimwear was not too glamorous.  One piece black with big armholes.  Some were one piece not too colorful with a skirt at the bottom.  Sports wear (tennis for instance) white blouse, white skirt knee length or below.

Q: Can you describe what men, women, boys and girls would wear when dressed up?

A: Fashions of the 30's varied according to income.  The ladies wore long skirts very slender with a variety of tops.  The tops could be long sleeved blouses with a ruffled front or perhaps a satin blouse.  They wore suits - the length again being long and the jacket either long well below the hip line or shaped in at the waist then a little bit of a flare. Hats and gloves were always part of any ensemble.  The hats were many in style - some being big picture hats and others similar to a pill box hat with a veil.   Shoes were plain pumps or heeled leather with a strap across the instep.  When the average woman was at home (which most of them were) they wore cotton housedresses that had a belt to match and were colorful.

The men, when dressed up, wore suits probably of serge or tweed material.  Some were pin stripe with vests and narrow lapels.  The trousers were usually cuffed.  Shirts had high collars that were starched. The ties were wide and could have a tie pin for show. Shoes were plain black , laced  for dress and a more rugged shoe would be brogues which looked like they could last forever.  Suspenders were also part of the attire and quite often they wore sleeve bands.  The working man (blue collar) a colored shirt and rugged wool pants.

Little boys wore wool pants, or breeks with knee high wool socks.  Summer time they wore shorter versions of long pants.  This would be worn with a sweater or a dress shirt but no tie.

Little girls wore cotton dresses in the summer which were very feminine.  They had puffed sleeves and pretty little collars.  The shoes were flat buckled shoes.  Regular wear were skirts and blouses or sweaters.  No ladies wore slacks until the outbreak of war in 1939 when women went out to work en force in factories  They could then wear slacks or a kind of stylish coverall.

Q: What did boxers wear?

A: The garb of the day for boxers in the 30's was long underwear-like bottoms, ankle high laced boots and the top would be a sleeveless undershirt.

Q: What would you have worn as a teenager?

A: I attended Lansdown Public School then we moved to the east end of the city and I attended Adam Beck Public.  Continued on to Malvern High.  During elementary school, we wore what our mom's could make on the sewing machine from hand me downs. We were all in the same boat so there was no snobbishness over clothing.

In High School the trend was skirts, with the biggest and baggiest sweater we could find.  Usually wore moccasin shoes with no socks although some wore saddle shoes with socks. We handled the Depression okay because we had no other choice but to do so.  Money was sparse and ... we were assisted by the city in the form of chits for food, etc.  They supplied pogey pants and boots for my brothers every six months.

Q: What would a teenage girl wear for work clothes?

A: It was not too common for teenage girls to work in the 30s.  Those that did have some kind of job would wear a cotton house dress. If it was an office job they wore long skirts with a frilly blouse and plain pump shoes.  They also wore ladies suits cinched in at the waist with a nice blouse.

Q: What would kids wear on a farm?

A: Boys would wear bib overalls, boots and shirt. If it could be afforded he would have a pair of wool type trousers, straight legged, boots and probably a shirt kept for dress up on Sundays.

Little girls would wear a cotton dress or skirt with a blouse, laced shoes or shoes with buckles.

Q: Can you give me an overview on clothes of the 1920s?

A: Clothes for men in that era were kind of dapper.  Suits were slim cut with vests and single breasted jackets. Black kind of pointy shoes with spats over them were on the agenda of the well dressed.  Shirts were high collared ofttimes worn with wide ties.  Bowler hats were predominant.

Ladies fashions were fluffy frilly dresses or tailored suits long skirted with a frilly blouse perhaps.  Cloche hats were also popular.  Shoes were with a heel and strap across the instep.  This was kind of a happy decade and was known as the "flapper era".  The Charlston was the dance of choice.

Working class men would wear slim trousers with braces. cotton shirt and boots. Pee caps were popular. Working women would wear a tailored suit and severe hairdos such as pulled back in a bun.

[Re 20s clothes worn by blacks] In the 30s black men and women were usually in servitude to whites. They worked in cotton fields or farms so therefore would dress for these jobs.  I suppose there was the odd black family that dressed up a little but these people were not educated nor did they make very much money. 

[Re what a 12 year old girl would wear] Twelve year old girls wore dresses or a skirt and nice blouse or a sweater with a skirt.  Shoes would possibly be patent leather flats which would be for dress up - otherwise they would be leather. There were no jeans worn or slacks.

Q: What were Zoot Suits?

A: Zoot suits came in about the time the war broke out in 1939. Some guys wore them as a statement against the war and they would not go into the service.  Many times the zoot suiters got into fights with the servicemen.

Q: What material would clothes have been made of?

A: Fashions for ladies were two piece suits with long skirts worn with a nice silk blouse and black pumps.  They were made of wool or linen if worn in the summer. Full pleated skirts with a nice blouse would be another option.  Skirts would be wool or rayon.  Around the house ladies wore cotton housedresses made of cotton. and colorful.

Men wore double breasted suits with vests with a dress cotton shirt and tie.  These suits would be either plain wool or sometimes tweed. Casual wear would be pants, serge, with a shirt open at the collar or a sweater in cool weather.

In the 40's girls wore wool full skirts with a blouse or sweater and saddle shoes.  Guys wore what they called "strides" with a shirt and or a sweater.  When the wore broke out a pretty ridiculous style for men came out called "Zoot Suits"  They were draped pants with an extremely wide knee and tapered down to a very narrow cuff.  They often wore a watch chain that hung halfway down the length of the pants.  The top was a double breasted jacket and they often wore fedoras.  As you can see, every era had a dress code of their own and of course today it all has to be designer clothes. 

For the poor folks the fabric would be cotton in the summer and wool in the winter. For those a little better off, it would be silk, or satin dresses and wool blend for men's suits.

Q: Can you describe a typical lady's coat?

A: It would be about finger tip length, tweed with a scarf around the neck.

Q: What would an immigrant "off the boat" wear?

A: I would think that a female immigrant, say from Italy, would wear a black dress mid calf length, black shoes, a purse probably in black with a long carrying strap.  Her coat would be a dark color same length as her dress and she would wear a kerchief over her head.  There really was no dress code for immigrants  - they dressed the best they could and came by boat usually.

Q: If I was a teenage girl in the 40s what would I wear?

A: In the 40's girls wore mid calf skirts, probably made of wool in the cool months,  They were very very full, and a very oversized sweater would complete the outfit.  Footwear would be ankle socks or bobby socks as they were called then.  Shoes were two tone saddle shoes with laces.  This is as close as I can come to an outfit.

Q: What would an adult wear in the 1940s?

A: Women dressed rather conservatily in the 40's.  Suits were fashionable and the skirt would be straight cut well below the knees.  The jacket would be tailored with a nice blouse underneath.  A full skirt made from wool and calf length was another ensemble. They would wear a cashmere sweater with this outfit.

Q: What type of caps did men wear?

A: The only cap that I remember were pea caps . They were flat on top with a button in the centre. They had a visor and any that I saw were made of warm material such as wool.

Q: What would people wear around the house?

A: Clothes worn by women around the house would be a house dress made of cotton and belted, low shoes or slippers.  Men would wear an older pair of pants with suspenders, slippers and a sport shirt. Girls would wear a play dress and buckle shoes and boys would wear short pants in the summer and longer pants in the winter with a pullover sweater or tee shirt. 

Q: What was swimwear like?

A: The suits that I remember my brothers wearing were trunks like men's shorts and a lot of times they were a fine wool.  We did not get on any vacations when I was growing up as there was no money to do so, therefore I am not up on my styles.

Q: Please describe bowler hats and their purpose.

A: Bowler hats were round on the top and a upturned brim all the way around.  As for their purpose - it was just the style for men in the early decades.

Hair Styles

Q: What were hairstyles like?

A: Hairstyles of the 30's were varied.   One style was a lot of waves on top of the head with curls around the bottom.  Older ladies would pull their hair back into a bun at the back.  Some ladies wore their hair in an upsweep. Others wore it kind of long with a little curl at the bottom and curly bangs. Another do was short curly hair with a velvet bow on top and to one side.

A very popular style in the 30s for little girls was the Shirley Temple look.  Curly curly hair with some ringlets.

Q: Can you describe a finger wave hairdo and how to do it?

A: The finger wave hairstyle was a style that was worn close to the head.  A swished bang to one side of the forehead and crimping of the hair across the skull.  It would be like squeezing the hair between the index and middle finger to form waves in the hair. 

So to do a fingerwave for yourself, wind your hair around the forefinger right to the scalp then hold in place with bobby pins. When the hair dries, take out the pins and comb the curls and leave them fairly close to the head.

Q: I have long hair - how can I do my hair 30s style?

A: With hair that is long you could put it in a bun at the back of your neck and leave a few long strings around the ears to soften the look.

Q: How would a maid do her hair?

A: As I remember the era and the hairdos of maids, it would be appropriate to comb your hair straight back and have a bun at the neckline.  A short, uncurly hairdo would also work, as the maids usually wore a cap that sat on top of the head and had a bit of frilly white trim across the top.

Actually any style that was very neat and worn with a maids cap would suffice.  A short hairdo would be best overall if you intended it a little on the curly side.

Q: Can you describe how to do other 30s/40s hairdos?

A: In the 30s I wore my hair about ear length, straight and on dress up days with a bow on one side.  Later it was braided and like a horseshoe on the back with big bows on either side. Yucky.

In the 40s the hair was worn long to the shoulder with permed ends Some wore it shoulder length and no curl- just smooth and well groomed.

Also, some hair as I remember was done in a shoulder length page boy. It would be curled under and the bottom but remain a smooth look with a little bit of curl at the forhead and swept to one side.  You could also do the 40s thing a little shorter, curly on the end and a little curly at the forhead.  If you remember the Andrew Sisters, who did a lot of entertaining for the troops during the war, you would get a definite idea of the hairstyles. 

Q: What style did young/teenage boys have?

A: Boys in the 1930s had hair that was parted on one side and combed back no special "effects."  Hair styles did not differ when they became teenagers. We did not have boys with pony tails or long hair such as we have today. We liked to look neat and clean  but we were not into ourselves or styles mainly, I guess, because we had very little money. 

Q: Were there any formal hair styles?

A: Upswept hair style would be one style used at a formal function. Hair pulled back and made into a bun was another and more severe style.  Another style was hair at shoulder length curled at the bottom and curled around the forehead.


Q: Can you describe home furnishings?

A: Home furnishings for kitchen :  Table was wooden framed with a metal top.  Dishes and sundries were stored in a kitchen cabinet. Wooden chairs to complete the kitchen set.

Dining Room:  Dark mahogany furniture or oak with leather padded chairs.  There was a buffet to go with the table and the good dishes would be stored in this.

Living Room:  Big and heavy stuffed couch and chairs with possibly portiers made of velvet for the windows (portiers were a kind of drape) Rugs were ornate and certainly not wall to wall as they are today.

  Beds:  Again heavy wood furniture with an open spring on the bed and a stuffed tufted mattress.on top.

  Bathroom :  A toilet with the flushing chamber up high toward the ceiling and a long chain hanging in order to pull and flush the toilet.  Bath tubs were not too long and sat on four feet - but did the job.

  Washing was done in laundry tubs with the use of a scrub board - all done by hand.  Most all of the washing had to be ironed. In the late 30's my mom got a wringer washer with an agitator and thought she had died and gone to heaven.

Q: When doing interior decorating, what colors were used?

A: In the 30's unless you were monied people, there was not too many trendy colors.  From my own experience, our home was spotlessly clean . Wallpapering then was a cheap route to go - now it is very expensive.  Ceilings were done in a white on white paper.  We made our own paste and it would take two people, one on each end to stick this to the ceilings.  I think during those times you bought whatever was on sale rather than getting in to designer colors.

The 40's were a little better economically due to the outbreak of war.  Wars are notorious for stimulating the economy.  Dark green and burgandy either in paint or wallpaper became popular.  Yellow was a favorite for kitchens.  Off white wallpapers were popular and colors basically were very conservative.  Decorating imaginations did not stretch to the magnitude of todays designers.

I cannot tell you what the monied people preferred, mainly because I did not know any.

More thoughts: Walls wpuld be painted in a neutral color. Kitchens would be painted possibly a light yellow.  I am sure those with more money would have different trends.  In one house we had we had navy on one side and deep red on the other - portiers better known as drapes.  Windows would be plain panels and also criss cross frilly curtains with tie backs.

A little more money existed in the 40's and the trend was still mostly painted and papered walls.  Some people went for dark colors and others lighter shades.  Trendy styles were not much in existence and it was more important to keep a clean home than keep up with the Joneses.

Q: What were houses like?

A: The homes in the 30's were usually two and three stories high.  They were usually brick which in those days was two layers of bricks not the brick veneer of today's houses. Many had big front verandas Windows were long and narrow and they were opened by pushing the bottom part up.  They usually had larege kitchens with wood cook stoves. Dining rooms were not unusual and fairly large living rooms or drawing rooms as they were referred to sometimes. The ceilings were very high and wallpaper was the cheapest way to decorate back then. Even the ceilings were papered.  Most of the wood trim was dark - some people painted over this. Heating systems were coal furnaces = the heat was not that efficient. Most had ice boxes not their homes.

The families would vary in size - I came from a family of six children The times were very poor during this decade and many were on some kind of city relief to get by.  Jobs were not plentiful as a result of the Crash in 29. To go to a show was a real luxury and not one that was experienced too often.  An odd penny for candy treat was a bountiful day. Kids played in the streets and in school yards during the summer.

More thoughts: Windows were functional but oft-times not very attractive.  There were bungalows as well - double brick and most with some kind of porch.  They were very solidly constructed with lathe and plaster walls but not insulated very well such as they are today.  Heating was mostly coal furnaces and houses would have a coal bin in the basement that could be accessed from the outside when the coal men made their deliveries.

Overall, though not modern such as todays houses are, they had a lot of character.

Country homes such as on farms, were oftimes clapboard with wood stoves for heat.  They were mostly painted white.

Q: Please talk more about house styles.

A: Homes styles in the 30's varied.  Many had attics and hardwood floors throughout.  Tall windows all with window sills and more wood windows would be installed outside in the winter to serve as storm windows.  Many homes had big front verandahs which were great to sit out on when the weather was hot.

Bathrooms had bath tubs that stood on four feet and were not very large. Some homes had dark wood baseboards and staircase railings Some homes were tall and narrow and very close together. Others had more property and were just two story.  They were functional more than trendy.

Most were heated with wood stoves or a big coal furnace in the basement.

We could not afford to buy a home back then so we mostly rented.  Rent would be around $8 a month. You could buy a decent little home for about $1500 to $3000.

Q: What colors would be popular for household items?

A: Browns, blues and greens were the primary colors in the 1930s. 

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Last updated: May 5, 2005


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