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Perhaps best exemplified by movie star glamour,
the 1930s were noteworthy for supple, flowing fabrics that came out of the Hollywood costume designer's need to satisfy the morality police. Otherwise known as the Hayes Code, this studio imposed censorship focused mainly on the cleavage of an actress, which was thought to be immoral and obscene. 

The scandalous behavior and half nakedness of the early films of the twenties brought forward a cry for a return to modesty, so clever Hollywood costume design draped slinky silk and satin over the actresses of the day, covering their bosom but naughtily removing their brassieres. How could a conservative complain? Bare skin was covered up, yet under the slinky fabric an outline of the female form was visible in the most provocative way. 

How seductive in a roundabout way!






The first appearance of the halter dress for evening and then the exposure of the midriff, seen in formal gowns and later worn by the stars was acceptable to the censors only if the wearer's belly button was covered up  Hair was now chin to shoulder-length and
softly waved.  In contrast to the boisterous twenties, an elegant and sophisticated woman appeared on the silver screen, expertly manufactured by the studios.  Depression weary audiences flocked in record numbers to the cinema. There inside the movie house, a world of glamour existed that most women could only imagine.  Gowns were an important ingredient to the recipe and they had to be chic.  Sparkle was accomplished with sequins and shine on black and white filmstock.  Diffusion filters created a filmy gauze for dreamlike fantasy.

Quite modern, the new Hollywood Heroine was articulate and self-sufficient, her loose bosom and softly broadened shoulders replacing the boyishly flat and linear silhouette of the 20's.  Costume jewelry was also heavily utilized in black and white films to achieve sparkle and glitz and soft finger waves of hair were also adorned with rhinestones and feathers 42nd Street (1933) Gold Diggers of 1933, Fashions of 1934 and Gold Diggers of 1935 were wonderful fantasy films that showcased Busby Berkely's amazing choreography as well as the gorgeous slim fitting styles and glamorous rhinestone accessories.

By the end of the thirties, companies like Eisenberg, originally a dress manufacturer, began to concentrate solely on the manufacture of sparkling rhinestone pins and clips.  Dress clips, Fur clips, and Duette clips were considered the ultimate accessory in Sterling Silver, but more affordable pieces were also sold in rhodium, spelter and pot metal.  The Eisenberg Dress Company had discovered that the dress clips they had accessorized with an Eisenberg dress were far more sought after than the dress itself.  Eisenberg "Ice" was now the companies main focus.


The American Modern movement, which began as early as 1925, began to reflect the desire for streamlined and stylized objects.  A new generation of industrial designers, such as Norman Bel Geddes, Donald Deskey and Russel Wright, transformed mundane objects like tea kettles, cocktail shakers and other kitchenware into dynamic and beautiful sculpture.  Decisively altering the shape and character of  the everyday things with which we live, these designers helped to glamorize and place importance on form.  The immense success of  the "design for a new age," popularized in advertising and Hollywood, led to the 1930s wedding silhouette of a satin bias cut gown, which closed at the side or buttoned down the back, that hugged and fit a women's body and showed off her curves. Often this sleek style was modified with the addition of a clasped two-piece belt sewn into the side seams.  The self fabric belt buckled at center waist with a sparkling rhinestone duette that fit together.  The gown's sleeves were long and often had fullness at the upper arm tapering at the forearm and ending in a wedding point above the hand.

1937 Du Barry Pattern

Lace sleeved bias silk satin gown, softly shirred at front bust in a vertical gather to the peter pan collar and raised underbust seam. Closure down center back. with French rolled buttons   A removable train is in one with the girdle and attaches in center front with a duette clip.

Economy of style was important in the 30's. 

The detachable train allowed the Bride to wear her gown after the wedding as an evening dress.  It could be cut and dyed for evening wear.

For most of the 1930s Brides, a long, sleek appearance was desired and a natural, slim silhouette became the fashion with accents on the bias cutting and draping of the gown's  fabric.  By now everyone was copying
Madeleine Vionnet's invention of cutting across the weave of the fabric.  Her cutting technique gave such elasticity to the fabric that a silk satin gown could be pulled over the head or just simply stepped into.

Crepe backed silk charmuese was favored for its luxurious drape, feel and sultriness.  Crepe fabric was also extremely popular for the bias cut, with versions of cloky crepe, rough crepe, crinkled crepe, metal crepe and Romaine crepe as options. Silk tulle was used for veiling, as it hung limp and straight and matched the sleekness of the gown perfectly.

Lelong Silk Bias Gown 1934

European designers, such as Maggy Rouff, Edward Molyneux and Lucien Lelong were famous for the understated slim look that was quickly copied by American pattern makers.  Lelong was a second generation couturier, and was particularly adept at silk.  In 1934, he introduced a line of ready to wear bias cut silk satin wedding gowns of  classical elegance.  Their debut coincided with Roosevelt's National Recovery Administration in the United States.

What was the NRA?


The NATIONAL INDUSTRIAL RECOVERY ACT (NIRA), a U.S. law enacted by Congress in June 1933, was one of the measures by which President Franklin D. Roosevelt sought to assist the nation's economic recovery during the Great Depression.  It enabled American garment maker's to move through the decade unencumbered by restraints.  Alas, it wasn't without it's critics and by 1935 the blue label with the white eagle was, quote the Raven, "nevermore."  For more on the NRA, click on the link at left.

At Left: Circa 1934 silk satin.  Notwithstanding the knock-offs, most floor-length, late 1930s wedding gowns usually had an ultra-modern look to them and this silhouette lasted until 1939, when Margaret Mitchell's epic Gone with the Wind created a period craze for full skirted hoop style antebellum gowns. 

As in the 20's, close fitting cloche cap headpieces were still the rage, but they became more sophisticated and sleek, hugging the head and matching the slimness of the silk bias silhouette. Wax blossoms were still highly regarded and most brides incorporated them into the headpiece or as a corsage placed onto the dress. The cap headpiece and silk tulle veil shown above was created with strips of satin cut on the bias, criss-crossed in a lattice pattern and sewn together with a glass bead center, creating a wonderful flower effect.

 Since she had been divorced, Wallis Simpson's Mainbocher Wedding Dress was blue...

Life magazine featured a story on the Mainbocher blue wedding dress of the divorced Mrs. Wallis, who married the Duke of Windsor in 1937.  The original $250.00 dress had been appreciated by Americans as the height of style and was quickly "knocked off" arriving June 13th at Bonwit Teller on Fifth Avenue in a short sleeve version for $25.00.  In less than two months it was at the Lord & Taylor Department store for $16.95.  A week later the famous "Wally" dress could be purchased in Klein's Cash and Carry for $8.90.  Mind you, a top of the line pocketbook sold for .94 cents and the average American earned $1,000 annually.


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