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Clothing: 1930 - 1940

In the 1930s Dunedin women were wearing clothes radically different from those of the 1890s.  Images of femininity had expanded to include visible arms and legs, short hair and make-up. Hats and gloves were important accessories, always worn with a coat on the street or at any public occasion. For daywear the trend was toward a waisted, fitting bodice or blouse with a bias cut skirt to the mid-calf.  For evening wear dresses extended to ankle length or longer. Fabrics were often patterned with floral designs, stripes, or geometric patterns of polka.

The Hollywood influence of popular films opened up new possibilities of dress, hairstyle and cosmetics. Dresses were available for purchase ready-to-wear or made-to-measure at shops, or fabrics and patterns could be bought and something made at home. Developments in textile technology and the production and marketing of clothes expanded choice and stimulated rapid fashion changes.

The decade ended with another war and thousands of men returned to military uniform as their everyday dress.

late 1930s day dressA late 1930s day dress showing the influence of the Duchess of Windsor's wedding dress in its shaping. Probably made by a local dressmaker. (Otago Settlers Museum Collection)

home-made dance or party dressA home-made dance or party dress, using recycled fabrics. (Otago Settlers Museum Collection)


men’s suits of the 1930sThis worsted cloth suit, typify men's suits of the 1930s. The garment has wider lapels than its 1920s equivalent and a slightly waisted shape. Its maker is unknown. (Otago Settlers Museum Collection)

1930s combination underwearA pair of 1930s combination underwear, making use of rayon or 'artificial silk', as it was popularly called at the time. (Otago Settlers Museum Collection)


French knickersFrench knickers, as their name suggests, were an item initially made popular in Paris fashion. They were much more suitable underwear for the fitted styles of the 1930s. These ones are silk, but cotton and rayon versions were also available. (Otago Settlers Museum Collection)

homemade braBrassieres had been developed in the 1920s. This was part of the move away from the corset to the less constricting combination of bra and knickers. This is an early example of a homemade bra using an underwire. (Otago Settlers Museum Collection)

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