20th Century, What I wear

Dressing Deco in modern clothes

As you may expect, I sewed most of my Art Deco Weekend wardrobe, but one thing I really wanted to do this year was to show that it is possible to wear amazing outfits that really capture the spirit of the early ’30s even if you can’t sew, and don’t have the budget for real vintage pieces.*

So I put together a quick little ’30s inspired outfit with items from my wardrobe and thrift shops.

I looked at a number of ’30s images for reference, particularly those of backless 1930s outfits.  The emphasis on the shoulders and back is such a characteristic of early-mid ’30s fashion, and it’s something you see both in beachwear and in evening wear (also, I rather like my shoulders).

McCall's Magazine, c. 1934

McCall’s Magazine, c. 1934

Auckland Star, 19 December 1936

Auckland Star, 19 December 1936

Beach pajamas for sailing, 1930s

Beach pajamas for sailing, 1930s

I was hoping my outfit would capture both the glamour of the evening dresses, and the effortless casual elegance of the daywear.

I was also inspired by 1930’s colour: rich but muted dark pastels.

McCalls Fashion By-Monthly, 1932

McCalls Fashion By-Monthly, 1932

1930s backless seaside frocks

1930s backless seaside frocks

The end result?

Modern 1930s outfit

I’m rather pleased!

Modern 1930s outfit

The parasols are both from an oriental shop, the hat is (obviously) my Little Bit of Ribbon hat, pre-ribbon.  The lemongrass yellow silk blouse is a modern halter from Nicholson.  The deco salmon linen-blend skirt and bone coloured leather sandals are both thrifted 1980s numbers, which I guess technically makes them vintage (depending on how you count it), but since I paid less than $10 for each of them, and see similar items in op-shops all the time, I don’t think anyone else (in NZ at least) would have too much trouble finding their own version.

Modern 1930s outfit

Rach is wearing her own modern 1930s outfit, inspired by later ’30s fashions, when the skirts become fuller.  Thrifted cotton blouse with lace inset,  skirt with deco inspired print (both recent High Street numbers), lace parasol from a Napier store, lacy ankle socks (Cotton On) and wrist length gloves (OK, those are vintage) for the slightly more formal ‘shopping day in town’ look.

Modern 1930s outfits

Quick, simple, easy, fun to wear, and I got the best compliment of the weekend out of this outfit.

Modern 1930s outfit

As I passed a couple on the waterfront I heard the man say to the woman – “Doesn’t she just look perfect?  Like she walked straight out of a ’30s poster”.  Yes!  Mission accomplished!

I think I’ve definitely proved that you can look very 1930s, without looking like a bad pastiche (and I’m afraid their is rather a lot of bad pastiche at Art Deco Weekend), in easily sourced modern or recent vintage clothing, with a little effort and a bit of research.

Modern '30s outfit
*Also, Art Deco Weekend is a terrible place to wear vintage – it’s hot and sunny and you walk around a lot, so you sweat in them and get sunscreen on them, which is NOT GOOD.  I have a very dim view of people who wear and use vintage in a way that will destroy it.


  1. That is certainly one of the best compliments of them all!
    And a lovely outfit. And thrifty, too, which I have a very, very soft spot for.

  2. Elise says

    Ok awkward question: What do you wear under backless clothes for 30s style so that you don’t…um…protrude out during colder snaps? Or did it matter then?

  3. I thought you had made all of it! How lovely! I would never have guessed that your clothes were actually rather modern–you would never have been able to tell it. Isn’t it fascinating how styles come back into fashion over and over again (though I do hope this ’80s flashback will stop and never see the light of day EVER AGAIN!!!!!!)?

    • Claire Payne says

      You said it Zach. Banish the eighties for crimes against style.

  4. Lynne says

    The outfit is a winner. But I was thinking that you are such a good model that you could make a sack look right! You strike the right attitude for the period you are re-creating. 🙂

  5. Brilliant! I had seen this outfit in some of the photos you posted earlier and thought it was gorgeous, but I didn’t guess the origin of the pieces. I assumed you had made it from 30s patterns.

  6. Claire Payne says

    Drool, drool. I want all the pretty clothes. I love your 1930’s posts and of course you know how to work the look. Time to make my nautical shorts from my Wearing History pattern me thinks.

  7. A great outfit, I had not realised it was modern, very cleverly put together. What a fantastic compliment to receive.

  8. Wonderful post! I simply love the 30’s. Your 30’s outfit is beautiful. Very well done indeed. =]

    Emaline Rose

  9. Love those striped beach pajamas — ahhh! Want!

    You looked fabulous, and I, too, thought it was something you’d made from vintage patterns. Maybe I’ll have to try to dress a little more 30s and show off my back more, too.

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