How the Great Depression Shifted the Fashion Industry and Fashion Styles

How the Great Depression Shifted the Fashion Industry and Fashion Styles

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How the Great Depression Shifted the Fashion Industry and Fashion Styles

The stock market crashed on October 29, 1929. Panic erupted, and $10 billion in market value vanished in five hours (Foner, 2017). The US was suddenly in a state known as the Great Depression, the worst economic disaster in contemporary history. During this time, Germany failed on reparations payments to Britain and France, causing these countries to suspend repaying loans to the US. As depositors withdrew money, banks worldwide collapsed, and many families lost their savings. Stocks rose slightly before resuming their rapid slide. The economy struck rock bottom in 1932, with GNP declining by a third, prices fell by 40%, and over 11 million (25%) lost employment (Foner, 2017). Those who did have work faced lower pay and shorter hours. The great depression affected various industrial economies, including the fashion industry. This paper discusses how the great depression shifted the fashion industry and fashion style.

After the stock market crashed, the clothing manufacturers had to seek ways that conserve money and still put out the products. They began going for cheaper ways and materials to make clothing. For instance, before the 1930s, customers would acquire replicas of Parisian designs and market them in their nations. However, new high charges were levied on the cost of such copies during the Great Depression, whereas toiles (a muslin or other inexpensive clothing design) were left duty-free. The toiles come with full directions, which allowed for the sale of simplified reproductions of original expensive dresses for a fraction of the original prices (Thomas, 2021).

Additionally, the economic depression led to a shift in the shape or overall silhouette of clothing for both women and men. In the 1930s, men’s and women’s attire grew sleeker and more streamlined than the fashions of the 1920s (Reddy, 2020). Both women’s and men’s attires became simple, and women’s hemlines stretched down the leg. Fashion designers from France and Paris, actresses and actors from Hollywood, and affluent socialites nationwide were at the leading these transformations. Elsa Schiaparelli, Gabrielle Coco Chanel, and Madeleine Vionnet, all headquartered in Paris, were the leading designers (Reddy, 2020). Schiaparelli was renowned for her adventurous experimentation with wild colors, new fabrics, and patterns. Schiaparelli’s vibrant pink debut was so striking that it led to the coining of the term “shocking pink.” Starlets and stars from Hollywood, for instance, Marlene Dietrich, established fashion history with their radical fashion choices. Cooper was identified with the English drape suit for men and Dietrich with the trousers suit for women. Also, due to economic hardships, the rich jet-setters turned sportswear into daily wear, popularizing knit polo shirts.

Furthermore, the great depression left many people unemployed and reduced their wages (Foner, 2017). Therefore, the wealthy’s ambitious experiments and new fashions were not affordable by all people. However, several trends came together to allow the common people to enjoy the new fashion despite the economic downturn. Individuals were able to manufacture their clothes with less fabric and save money since the new fashions did not need a lot of fabric (Thomas, 2021). The ready-to-wear clothing business in the US, advanced in its capacity to manufacture and sell a broad range of designs and sizes at a lower cost. Also, clothing makers imitated the latest Parisian designs and manufactured cheaper imitations.

Also, after the great depression, people started saving money by making their clothes from the old materials they had at home (Kass, 2011). For the youngsters, there were a lot of hand-me-down clothes, and individuals would sew their old shirts together to make underpants. Farmers would repurpose their huge flour sacks or sacks of animal feed into outfits for the girls. Also, women turned to cotton bags and flour as materials for making clothing as things got increasingly difficult during the depression. They started producing clothes out of empty bags. When the flour manufacturers discovered this, they started putting designs on the sacks. Women made gowns for themselves and their children. Furthermore, during the recession, the poor would mend their clothes by patching up their clothing using the old socks or any materials they came across.

Overall, the Great Depression had an effect on fashion, leading to its democratization. After the crashing of the stock market, clothing manufacturers had to seek ways that conserve money and still put out the products. They started getting cheaper materials for making clothes. The shape of clothes also changed and became sleeker and more streamlined. Also, as many people became unemployed due to depression, people started making their own clothing from the old materials. Mothers also started making clothing for themselves and their children from the cotton flour sacks or sacks of animal feed. Although there was a little market for new clothing, fashion designs were nevertheless fashionable among those who could afford them. During the Great Depression, women’s fashion magazines were still published, and this was how they learned about the current fashion trends.


Foner, E. (2017). Give Me Liberty! An American History: One Volume. WW Norton & Company.

Kass, A. (2011). The 20th Century of American Fashion: 1900-2000. Connecticut: Western Connecticut State University.

Reddy, K. (2020). 1930-1939 | Fashion History Timeline. Retrieved 10 June 2022, from

Thomas, H. (2021). Women’s Fashion History Through Newspapers: 1921-1940 | Headlines and Heroes. Retrieved 10 June 2022, from

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