Night and Day - 1930s Fashion and Photographs at the London Fashion & Textile Museum
'Night and Day: the 1930s in Fashion and Photographs' - was an inspiring exhibition I was lucky enough to catch at London's fabulous Fashion and Textile Museum before it closed for a fresh exhibit in the spring.
Focussing on a decade of design that stemmed from the heady Jazz era and transpired into the uniform styles of WW2, here the flapper girl came of age. Evening wear influences from Art Deco, surrealism and silver screen Hollywood sirens created the liquid silhouette of the 1930s woman.
The social changes of the 1930s and the realisation of ready-to-wear in department stores brought women greater social freedoms and new ways to shop, having a great impact on the daytime fashions of the era.
From Day to Night, the exhibition presented this fascinating period in fashion history with a series of sumptuous tableaus that really brought the clothing to life.
Accompanying the exhibition was this gorgeous Deco style pamphlet (pictured) which referenced all the dresses on display and presented in a way that felt like reading a real 1930s fashion mag.
A fabulously dressed 1930s night club scene
Though there were exhibits to the left and right as you walked in, you couldn't help but be taken with the romance of the main display, frothing with an extravagant energy of 1930s evening frocks. In the era of the dancehall, here you could almost feel the cocktails flowing, the big bands playing and hips swaying in these slinky, bias cut numbers made from fluid satins and lush crepes.
Satin and bias cut gowns of all colours and styles were de rigueur in the night clubs and dancehalls of the 1930s
Floor skimming dresses in luxurious lamé fabrics were widely copied from 1930s Hollywood era actresses
The rise of the cinema opened a window into a new world of glitz and glamour for many. Magazines encouraged readers to copy the style of their favourite actresses and indeed many fashion houses adapted silver screen wardrobes, both for the masses and for the stay-at-home seamstress.
Anna May Wong photographed by Paul Tanqueray in 1933
1930s lamé dress detail from the back
Despite the hardships in this post-depresion era, for some, things were on the up. New homes were being built out in the suburbs for a burgeoning middle class who found time for new pursuits such as holidays, sports and shopping. Big department stores began selling accessible ready-to wear fashion which incorporated the concept of universal sizing for the first time.
Fabric innovations such as artificial silk and printed dress fabrics became more readily available and helped to popularlise the printed daytime tea dress, both for its practicality and as a cheap equivalent to densely embroidered fabrics.
Patterned day dresses from the 1930s
What I love most about the 1930s clothing displayed here are those little details that just seem so ahead of their time. Off shoulder ruffles with cold shoulder designs here; extravagant back twists and cut-outs there; laid on decorative ruffle details as well as a careful attention to delicate print and pattern like no other era.
Linen coat and bathing suit from the early 1930s
Which brings me to my my favourite part of this exhibition. While a trip to the glamorous shores of the French Riviera was out of reach for many, the creation of paid holidays, investment in huge beach resorts and the use of iconic travel posters drew many crowds to the British coastline.
Beach pyjamas and resort wear from the 1930s
Casual, wide-leg trousers made popular by designer Elsa Schiaperelli saw many women adopt so-called beach pajamas as elegant resort daywear. Some pieces were convertible and adaptable, often in two pieces, giving the wearer the ability to combine with swimwear or to wear for different occasions.
I love this versatility of 1930s clothing, it's something I try to consider in my designs now.
'For holiday wear, "slacks" cut like a flared skirt are are Jaeger's newest idea. 13 inches from the ground...You can get these in sailcloth coloured linen with a spot scarf and sash.'
- From Fashions Afoot, Lilley & Skinner, July 1936
Nautical printed sundress, mid 1930s
With suntans now becoming officially the height of chic, designs were carefully crafted in halter neck styles and with cut-outs to highlight this popular asset. Novelty printed designs as pictured here were perfect for seaside retreats and outdoor leisure activities.
Beach resort and leisure fashions from the 1930s
With thanks to the London Fashion and Textile Museum for curating this fabulous and informative exhibition, these were my personal highlights. Look forward to catching another exhibition there soon!