1930’s fashions: Inspiration from movies, patterns, and fashion illustrations


A movie costume is created by a designer with a troupe of assistants and access to libraries full of period illustrations. But there are times  one would like to create a 1930’s style quickly without spending a great deal of money on a pattern from the 1930’s. Searching out sewing patterns from more recent decades can help expand the options. This 1950 documentary recently released by the Academy shows the process of Edith Head as she researches, designs, and sees a costume through to completion.


Movies have a big influence on the fashion industry. A movie set in September of 1936, “The Sting”, was released in December 1973 by Universal Productions. It won many Academy Awards in 1974, including Best Picture.  Edith Head, who designed the costumes for “The Sting”, accepted the Academy Award for Best Costume Design that year. The next year McCall was one of the pattern companies who capitalized on the public’s interest in the fashions of the 1930’s.

Other than the under bust ruffle  and the center front skirt godet of Sally Eller’s wedding dress (in the 1931 Pre-Code film “Bad Girl”), a pattern from 1974 with the same  basic silhouette  could be used and details added to it. For instance, a fold-back collar could easily be attached from the shoulder line to the V neckline. The collar in one 1974 pattern is attached separately to the bodice, it is not a folded back lapel attached to the bodice.

Here is another interesting design with the appearance of a cap sleeve in the front that morphs into a low hanging capelet that partially reveals the back. It might be a little more difficult to find a pattern that fits this one, however. I can imagine the lady in lilac listening to Peter Mintun’s rendition of the classic Ray Noble tune from 1934, “The Very Thought of You”.


Juvénile robe du soir en taffetas-moire changeant aux tons pastellisés très tendres.


A sarong-like glamorous dress pattern from 1994 could be used, calling to mind the sarong worn by Dorothy Lamour in “The Jungle Princess” released in 1936 by Paramount Pictures. A dress pattern of a draped sarong type is a Very Easy Very Vogue pattern from 1994. The draped front includes a separate attached drape that extends about half way down the left thigh The back is a separate un-draped piece with two long darts. A flower corsage accents the left waist. The  costumes for “The Jungle Princess” were also designed by Edith Head when she worked for Paramount. Here is a short documentary about Edith Head’s designs for Paramount Pictures.


Using a more current sewing pattern that fits the 1930’s silhouette while keeping in mind the color and textile pattern requirements of that time period could allow one to create a lovely costume. Incorporating 1930’s sewing details into the construction of the garment will lend a more authentic note to the over-all effect and add to the enjoyment of wearing the outfit.

Many thanks to EmilyAnn of retroglam.wordpress.com for the link to the Sally Eller movie and to Norma of shesewsyouknow.wordpress.com for starting up the no-stress 1930’s Sew-Along and sharing her experience and photos.

Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. (193-). Juvénile robe du soir en taffetas-moire changeant aux tons pastellisés très tendres.Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e3-f7e7-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

Sally Eller modeling a wedding dress in “Bad Girl”, 1931

“The Entertainer” by Scott Joplin theme for “The Sting” movie 1973

Scott Joplin House State Historic Site youtube video


4 thoughts on “1930’s fashions: Inspiration from movies, patterns, and fashion illustrations

  1. Carol, this posting supplements my pre-code fashion postings very well. Look at how the 1930s Sew-Along with Norma is expanding scope. I will definitely check out the documentary on Edith Head. I learn so much from your research. The French pattern is gorgeous and I think your musical selection is just right. You’ve successfully combined many elements into this posting and I just love it!


  2. I hadn’t thought of adapting 1970s patterns, but now you mention it I can see the connection. I shall be looking out for suitable patterns in the charity shops as I seem to have become obsessed by 1930s clothes.

    Liked by 1 person

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