Fashion went from one extreme to the other in just 20 short years.
Edwardian fashions were characterized by floor-length gowns and tightly-corseted silhouettes. By the 1920s, modern young women were sporting above-the-knee hemlines and slim, boyish figures.
After the frivolity of the 1920s, fashion found a middle ground in the 1930s. During this decade, dresses were slim, modest and elegant. Hemlines moved from well below the knee in the early 1930s to just below the knee in 1939. The boyish silhouette that was popular in the 1920s was gone, and healthy feminine curves were back in style.
Evening gowns were bias cut: the fabric was cut and sewed diagonally against the grain of the threads. This created garments with soft, flowing lines. Dresses that were bias cut had a tendency to cling to the body, which made a trim figure a necessity.
After decades of torture, women were finally able to say farewell to the corset. In the 1930s, new fabrics and stronger elastic thread made it possible for an undergarment to shape the torso without boning and lacing. As a result, new figure control garments were made of elastic and fastened with side hooks. There was now very little difference between a corset and a girdle, and the girdle became the most common type of figure control garment.
Before the 1930s, many different devices were used to provide bust support. They included corsets, wraparound bust bodices, tight elastic bands and simple cloth bands with shoulder straps. Bras became thoroughly modern in the 1930s when they began to feature individual cups for separation, four different cup sizes and heavy-duty lastex construction.
hair: cut & color In the 1930s, short hair was definitely in vogue. This trend applied to everyone under the age of 60, regardless of facial type or personal preference. Sweet old ladies dodged the scissors and wore their hair up in a bun; everyone else sported short, perfectly coiffed hairstyles.
Early in the decade, hair was cut close to the head to resemble the bobbed and shingled styles of the 1920s. Slightly longer styles were preferred in the late 1930s.
Actresses like Jean Harlow inspired women to color their hair, although the practice was still considered scandalous by most people.
hair: curls & waves Hair was soft and wavy and decidedly feminine. There were several waving techniques available to give your hair the distinct look of ripples on the water. Long-lasting curls were achieved with the help of a home permanent kit or a visit to the salon for a professional permanent wave.
Wave clips were clamped onto wet hair to create rippling waves.
A finger wave involved skillful combing of very wet hair and curling it with your fingers.
Croquignole curls were spiral or figure-eight curls on flat rods.
The marcel wave was invented in 1872. This popular style featured natural-looking waves that were created by flipping the curling iron upside down. In the 1930s, the term marcel was applied to all manner of wavy hairstyles and hair-waving methods.
makeup Eyebrows were plucked to a fine line and drawn in with an eyebrow pencil. Wearing makeup had become completely acceptable, and the manufacture and sale of powder, rouge and lipstick was very profitable.
permanent waves In the 1930s, permanent waves used chemicals and heat to produce curls. The chemicals were known as reagents, and were applied to the hair with a brush or by using special curlers and sachets saturated with chemicals and activated with water. In the 1930s, most reagents used ammonia, borax, lanoil or sulphur dioxide.
Heat was applied in one of three ways. The most common method was the electric permanent wave machine. This rather intimidating device used electricity to heat an array of metal tubes and clamps that were attached to the curlers with wires.
There were also two machineless methods in use during the 1930s. The first method simply used preheated clamps. The second method was introduced in 1931 and used chemical pads, which were wrapped around the curlers and moistened with water to generate their own heat. This was a popular choice for women who were afraid of electric perm machines.