Style, Fashion, and Etiquette of the Late 1930s

Hello all my Big Sixes, Fellas and Dolls! I hope that you’re ready, because we’re about to go on an adventure through time: a tour-de-farce of the 1930’s. You’ll learn how to act like a proper lady or gentleman on a date, you’ll be bombarded by advertisements from Life Magazine in the 1930s, and so much more! So please, stay awhile and listen.

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In the 1930s, there began a movement toward a more the ladylike appearance. Budding, rounded busts and waistline curves were made apparent, and hair became softer and luscious as we continued to make improvements in the hair department. Foreheads which had been hidden by cloche hats were revealed and adorned with small plate shaped hats. Clothes were keen on emphasizing the feminine figure, sweet and tidy in the daylight with a return to a glamour look at night.  

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Wealthy women hadn’t the need to wear practical “day” clothes, although styles had been designated for  day and night. Now that most women had more productive and busier lives, (much like running out to auditions and rehearsals!) simpler, pared down clothes gave a freedom of movement to women, who relished it in their daily life. More luxurious gowns were kept and only worn for evenings. New fabrics were popping up all over the place, like metallic lame that was very popular at night and made to shimmer even more by adding plastic sequins and glass beads.

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Skirts were frequently much longer in the back rather than the front. Below the knee pleats and “godets” fell from panels so it gave fullness to the hemline. The hemlines reached the bottom of the calf shortly afterward. Some of the clothes were stylish to the point that they could still be worn today. Part of their appeal was the draping fabric that was further enhanced by cutting fabrics on the true cross or the bias grain-also quite fashionable at the start of the new millennium.

blog4Hair and beauty made leaps and bounds from where it used to be! With the increasing need and want for makeup that achieved the looks of the various Hollywood starlets on the silver screen (we’re looking at you Jean!)  Max Factor, who started his career selling cosmetics to the studios exclusively, became the biggest name in makeup for the everyday woman all across the western world, surpassing the previous dominance of the Coty brand. The most popular complexion of the late 1930s was a natural pinkish ivory or a lighter white wax-like appearance; this giving birth to the look of a “doll”.  Foundations in shades such as ‘Gardenia’ and ‘Tea Rose’ were paired with ivory and light mauve colored powders to achieve a striking, flawless skin. Blushes in light pinks were used as well, but many women preferred not to wear any to retain this aspired “waxed” look. In fact if there is one distinct difference between the 1920s and 1930s face – it is the simple lack of rouge that these women had! (Really makes the word “Doll” stick out for this time period, doesn’t it!?)

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Now I promise I didn’t forget about the Men! Men’s suits were designed to inspire the appearance of a large upper body. (Because who would want to mess with your doll when you tower over someone!) Coat collars came down to create the “attractive” V-neck, and shoulder pads were added to create a more masculine and square appearance. (Men, these ladies just wanted to feel protected!) The double-breasted suit had became much more common; this would be something that even the everyday man would own. Jackets were long and “dressed up” (something that had withstood the test of time!) Fun history fact: After President Roosevelt signed the “New Deal”, fashion had a whole new face. The business suit was completely redesigned; fashion wanted to emulate the economic upswing and prosperity, so designs were therefore very affected. It was then that the “London drape” suit was designed, featuring shoulder pads that aligned one’s triceps and shoulders with a drape in the shoulder area, high pockets and flared lapels. Speaking of watches, want something to tell time while you’re at work, but also something that looks polished and nice when you’re out at dinner? Look no further! (Reversible watches, where are these now is what I say!)


Imagine that the zipper was something that was actually relatively new. A designer by the name of Schiaparelli liked new things as well as new ideas. In 1933, she promoted a foreign concept to all of pantdom in what we call the zip or zipper. The metal zip had been invented in 1893; by 1917, however  it was sheepishly used for shoes, tobacco pouches which were increasing popular, and U.S. Navy windcheater jackets. Her use of the new plastic colored zip in fashion clothes was both decorative, functional and highly novel! They soon became universally used and are now a very reliable form of fastening. Check out this ad from Life Magazine, introducing the new “Talon Trouser Fastener”!


Something that was incredibly important in this time period was the boarding houses that were popping up all over the place. Now; these weren’t all for theater or actresses per se. They came in all shapes and varieties. The house in Stage Door was loosely based off one such house like this, called The Rehearsal club. Well dolls, I happened to stumble upon the rules and regulations of  the Rehearsal Club.

  1. “Each girl had their own key to come in and out of the house ( due to the fact that run times of shows were different meaning not every show would finish at the same time)
  2. Guests were only allowed in the two lounges on the first floor.
  3. Men were NOT allowed upstairs. They could only step three steps up the staircase.
  4. No visitors at the club after eleven thirty at night.
  5. Although there was a maid service, girls were expected to keep their rooms clean, hang their dry cleaning, and turn off the lights when leaving their room.
  6. The club only had one telephone which was located in the parlor.
  7. Girls could leave and come back to the club, but availability is not promised to them upon return.
  8. Girls could not be out of work for more than two weeks due to the fact that rent had to be paid. However, some girls in the club were generous and helped one another out.”

Getting ready for a hot night out? Don’t worry. These authentic and original dating etiquette and tips will ensure that you are quite the charmer!

“Men are the ‘protectors’ and always have to ensure that their dates are safe and secure. Things including walking on the street side of the pavement and holding their date’s arm in theirs were protective customs that showed women that they were being taken care of.

Plan and pay

Women were never in charge of ‘planning’ a date. This was the man’s responsibility as he was the one doing the ‘courting’ and it was his responsibility that a good night was planned, and that he paid for everything. A lot of men insisted that they pay for a night out, and would usually suggest evening ideas.

Pick her up

Men are always expected to ‘pick up’ their dates, as women were not really supposed to be unaccompanied when it came to nights out on the town. They had to ensure they picked them up and walked to the door to greet them. He would then escort his date back to the car, opening and closing the door for her. This would mean that the man is the designated driver which would make the woman feel as though he was responsible.

Give her your jacket

A man would always give his date his jacket. If he noticed she was shivering or mentions the cold, a man would place the jacket on her shoulders and offer it to her just before it arrives on her shoulders. This avoids any embarrassment on her part and ensures she is comfortable and feels taken care of.

Follow up

It is the role of a gentleman to call after a date; just as you would call after a job interview to follow up on how you did, the same applies to dating. It is thoughtful to call to follow up after the night, and the great time they had.”

Your turn now ladies!

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From the bottom of my heart, I want to sincerely thank all of you for taking the time to take a look back into the 1930s! I hope you all had as much fun as I did!

Edited and Compiled by Peyton Ashby.

“The Proper Etiquette of A Woman Dating in the 1930s.” Ned Hardy. N.p., 3 Nov. 2010. Web. 16 Feb. 2013. <     woman-dating-in-the-30s/>.

Thomas, Pauline W. “1930s Fashion History Stylish Thirties.” Fashion Era. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2013. <;.

“The 1930s – The Golden Age of Glamour for Women’s Fashion.” Glamourdaze, 21 Nov. 2012. Web. 18 Feb. 2013. <;.

N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2013. <;

N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2013. <;.

N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2013. <;.

“Dating Advice for Men in the 1930’s.” Anna Musson, n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2013. <http://plastics;.

Wilson, Jennifer. Web log post. Stage Door: Through the Eyes of a Dramaturg. Tumblr, 11 Oct. 2011. Web. 27 Feb. 2013. <;.

Life Magazine 5 Sept. 1936: 45-67. Print.