If you’ve ever searched online for 1930s garments, or have been luckily enough to find them in vintage shops, you’ll have probably been rather shocked by the price and, even though you’ve fallen in love, you just can’t justify paying that much for a dress or top. Quite often you’ll also find these very costly pieces of fashion history not to be in the best of conditions and your heart sinks a little more. Believe me, I have been there many, many times.
So what do you do if you love the 1930s but can’t afford genuine pieces? Well I’m lucky enough to be able to sew so I can make my own clothes from original 1930s patterns, which I personally prefer because it means they’re not going to fall apart the minute you put them on (as some more delicate vintage pieces can) and so they’ll last a lot longer. But I know that not everyone has the ability or the inkling to do this, so what’s the secret to achieving a 1930s look without spending a fortune? The 1970s!
“Ahhhhhh”, I hear you scream! “Not flairs, platforms and lashings of lurex!” Well, no. There was a lot more to 1970s fashion than this and one trend that continued right the way through from the late 1960s to the tail end of the 70s was the 1930s. And what’s better, right now vintage 1970s clothes are soooo much cheaper than original 1930s ones and there is so much more of it available.
The trend was mainly thanks to a flurry of Hollywood films being released such as Cabaret (1972), which was inspired by Christopher Isherwood’s 1939 novel The Berlin Stories, The Great Gatsby (1974), adapted from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 book of the same name, and Bonnie and Clyde (1967), about the infamous outlaws from the early 1930s.
The French film Stavisky was also released in 1974 and featured costumes designed by Yves Saint Laurent. It starred Jean-Paul Belmondo who portrayed the infamous financier and embezzler Alexandre Stavisky who died in mysterious circumstances in 1934. His death lead to the Stavisky Affair, fatal riots in Paris, the resignation of two French prime ministers and a change of government.
So, what were the 1970s does 1930s trends?
Below the knee skirts with narrow hip that fluted out when they hit knee, often with inserted pleats were teamed with long line jumpers or tucked in tops. Classic 1930s headwear such as berets, turbans and headscarves worn low over the forehead were popular in many fashion shoots to complete the look.
Big bows and interesting necklines were back. The archetypal secretary blouse with pussy bow was huge in the 70s, and even lasted throughout the first half of the 80s. Trousers and skirts returned to the higher natural waist in the 1970s, moving away from the low hip designs of the end of the 60s. Wide leg trousers that begin flaring from the hip, rather than the knee or calf like flairs do, were typical of 1930s trousers and beach pyjamas.
Cloche hats were everywhere in magazine shoots thanks to the The Great Gatsby (watch the Mia Farrow version, it’s much better than the recent one!). They were still popular throughout most of the 1930s, although styles often got smaller than the wide brim ones of the early 20s. Note Angelica Huston’s cloche, bow blouse and narrow hip skirt. She could’ve literally stepped out of the 1930s.
White, ivory and cream were big colours during the 1970s and complete outfits were put together in various shades. Jersey and knitwear were also very popular, as well as the quintessential 70s fabric polyester, which all lent themselves perfectly to 1930s style sportswear. Seriously how stunning is this outfit by Yves Saint Laurent? I’d wear the whole lot in a heartbeat!
High quality silk jersey was used by designers such as Madame Grès and Halston to create dramatic draped evening gowns and this was replicated in the high street using cheaper jersey and polyester. The look was very similar to evening gowns in the 1930s and the Halston one above could easily be mistaken for a Madame Vionnet piece from decades earlier.
What to Look Out For When Vintage Shopping
Pussy bow blouses and narrow hip skirts in typical 1930s colours such as burgundy, green and navy blue. This matching set from Shop Twitch Vintage can be worn together or mixed and matched with other separates and it’s only £25 for the two pieces.
Below the knee pleated skirts in white for sportswear, tweed for country wear, and wool or good quality mixed fibre suiting for an everyday look. This white polyester one from J L Vintage is an absolute classic 1930s design and is only £10!
Day dresses in interesting jersey knits like the ivory and blue one from Vieux Amies are perfect for sports or cruise wear. This particular one is just £27. Look out for cape sleeved dresses or ones with interesting necklines or sleeves like the one above at £30 from Recycling History. Be careful of going for cheap polyester dresses though as they will immediately look 1970s.
1970s maxi dresses are great for evening wear or glamorous picnics in the park and cotton or chiffon are the best fabrics to look for. I absolutely adore the yellow one above from Hungry Heart Vintage and at £34.50 I’m seriously tempted. The black chiffon maxi from Second Hand Rose Worc has the classic 1930s cape sleeves and layered frills around the hem and is great for a budget 1930s evening gown at £25.
Wide leg trousers in suiting, linen or cotton will easily emulate the look of 1930s trousers, just make sure they flare from the hip. How about these amazingly bright linen ones from Fine Stone Vintage at £41, they’d make the ideal beach pyjama trousers.
1970s cloches are so much cheaper than 1920s/30s ones and this burgundy fur one from Vintage Easy Style is just £14. Berets on the other hand can usually be picked up for about £5 or even cheaper if you spot one in a charity shop.
Finish off outfits with slim, longline, fur trimmed coats or interesting wool capes, like this beautiful striped green one from Brick Vintage at £43, for a complete authentic look.
I personally have several carefully chosen 1970s pieces in my wardrobe that look very 1930s, including a full length grey suede coat with a huge fur collar and a beautiful orange, red and brown floral top with a distinctly 1930s neckline and bishop sleeves. I’ve also got a beautiful burgundy suede waistcoat that I’m hoping to get up on Etsy soon as it’s too big for me (which I’m really annoyed about) that looks very much like something Lady Mary would’ve worn in Downton Abbey.
So, when you’re out there rummaging through all those rails of old clothes don’t overlook the 70s stuff, but just remember to go for quality fabrics that are, or at least look, man made. Synthetic fabrics such as polyester, Lycra and nylon were not used in clothing during the 1930s and the cheaper versions of these will look obviously 1970s.