Boardwalk Empire: A 1930s Fashion Guide

4 Oct

When that twang of blues chords slides into the rocking bass beats, my heart races every single time. The saturated spindling clouds, the steely, relentless rolling waves and the crunch of salt-saturated sand …boardwalk-empire-no-one-goes-quietly-bullets-poster-11-x-17_500

It’s everything I ever felt growing up on the shores of the East Coast and it’s set against everything my old soul wishes it had been apart of as Nucky Thompson lumbers back to the boardwalk of Atlantic City. It’s year 1931, a turning point in history, and the series finale of Boardwalk Empire.

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As this finale season of Boardwalk Empire strolls toward conclusion, you will find a change in wardrobe to reflect the current events Nucky and the cast were facing.

Set between the bookends of two loud decades — the roaring 20s and swinging 40s — the 1930s often is overlooked in its sartorial beauty. The contrast of what the country was facing — a Dust Bowl, a Great Depression, growing domestic and global political turmoil, Repeal of Prohibition — and the gorgeous lines of the fashion was deliberate.

The country’s psyche needed a boost of softness with a healthy dose of renewed resolve which was reflected in the lines of women’s garments being more feminine than ever, while menswear took on a new strong lines of masculinity.

Mehringer-Sportscoats 1930s advert

What Men Wore in the Early 1930s

For menswear, gone were the gay, bold colors of the 1920s. Instead, the fashionable style went into deeper, more somber tones. Cuts went to broad-shoulder and double-breasted suits, away from the classic 1920s styles of slim-cut, single-breasted jackets.1931 Arrow Adver - Reverse Collar Style

But the flashy details were kept, as made popular by the gangsters who had a flair for gold buttons and cuff-links. Thus, many 1930s-double breasted suits had large buttons, none more evident than the “Broadway suit” which was the mainstream man’s comfortable answer to the flamboyant bootlegger’s style.

With 8 million Americans estimated to be unemployed by 1931, the economics shifted how the average household were sartorially outfitted.

From personalized tailoring in the 1920s, the majority of purchases became mass-manufactured garments in the 1930s. This created another impact on the decade’s fashion — the expanded importance on accessories and headwear, as well as how it was worn, to express individual style.

Dick Tracy 1931

Dick Tracy, in his 1931 debut, epitomized the new fashion of men wearing their hat brims low across their brow.

Men wore hat brims lower across the brow, picture the deep profile look of Dick Tracy who made his debut in 1931. It signaled he meant business and was shouldering exactly everything that was coming at him, and such was the spirit that the average man was channeling.

Under those hats, men started wearing their hair without the trendy roaring 20s Pomade, usually parted to the side, and of course in a short-clean cut. Mustaches were mostly worn at this time by older gentleman, yet, most all carried a cigarette case, wallet, a signet ring and two handkerchiefs — one as a decorative pocket square, and the other tucked in the inner suit pocket or sleeve for practical use.

As part of the Boardwalk Empire Style Challenge, here are a few sartorial menswear pieces from Paul Fredrick’s Fall Collection as inspired by the arrival of the 1930s in the finale “No One Goes Quietly” season. 

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Just as menswear highlighted the powerful physique of gentleman, ladies fashions in the 1930s evolved from the trending lines of the ’20s into a soften silhouette with an expansion of prominent accessories.

How Accessories Saved the Sartorial Lady

1931 womens accessories Sears Catalogue ad

A Sears & Roebuck catalogue advert from 1931 displaying the new fashionable way of buying accessories: in matching sets.

Ladies during the 1930s unfurled accessories like none other. While customized clothing became too costly, the rise of matching sets became the substitute such as the trifecta of suede gloves, shoes and handbag.

To glamorize off-the-rack garments, ladies would wear large rings, watches set with gems or ornate filigree, and depending on budget or occasion, batik scarves or a fox fur — red or gray — swooped across one shoulder.

Coming from the lines made popular by the flapper in the 1920s, the cloche continued into the early ’30s with both large and small brims, but deep, close-fitting crowns.

Often ladies would bring a wide brim to cover one eye — an element of being flirty and sexy but strong and aloof — mirroring the tenacity of the men’s low-brow Dick Tracy look.

Later in the 1930s, women’s hats completely discarded the cloche look for more high-crown, outdoor sporty looks achieved by the Pert hat which was worn at a jaunty angle, again, with a very flirtatious spirit.

1931 Nov womens hats

Women’s hats in November 1931.

Gone was the dark and moody, or strong and shocking makeup of the ’20s. Romance and innocence was beckoning from under those flirty brims.   

Women’s Hair & Makeup in the Early 1930s

Margaret, Season 5, Boardwalk Empire

Margaret Thompson, in Season 5 of Boardwalk Empire, shows the loosening hair trends of the early 1930s with these gentle finger waves. (Courtesy of HBO)

Like the gents, women also loosen up their locks in a more natural style with a longer length, side-part and loosely-waved look. When not worn down in coiffed pin-curl wave, hair was worn up.

The entirely polished look was completed with immaculate makeup worn with thin, high-arching eye-brows, very feminine gentle lashes with soft and pouty lips.

It was an era of extremes and women have never looked more stunning.

Women’s Dresses in the Early 1930s


Women’s dresses for holidays and event parties, circa 1933.

Designers shifted to bias-cut dresses to flatter the feminine curves of every woman in an ethereal effect. But also, it was the rise of the grown-up working woman’s suit.

The 1930s played with both these concepts in a way that was affordable for even the low-income woman hit hardest during the Great Depression.

Hollywood certainly set the tone for escapism in styles that were dream-like and filled with luxe, such as rich furs, dripping diamonds and shimmering silks. Yet, the sexy, billowing lines of these looks were emulated in the every-day-woman’s style with blouses that had a flounce-element, while even tailored skirts channeled lines to offer a whimsical and flirty flat as you walked. ((The ’30s also began the rise of women wearing menswear, but that’s for another post!))

Summer 1931 Womens VIntage Patterns

A sample of the biggest trends for women in the Summer of 1931.

For donning your own 1930s inspired womenswear, take a look at Prohibition Clothing which just launched its women’s collection for fall. Here’s a sneak peak:
Prohibition Clothing - Womens


One Response to “Boardwalk Empire: A 1930s Fashion Guide”

  1. TaylorCatProductions October 5, 2014 at 6:55 AM #

    Reblogged this on Pin Up! The Blog and commented:
    The 30s fashions were just gorgeous, as Boardwalk Avenue reminds us.

    Liked by 1 person

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