In the thirties dancing to the sound of the big bands spirited swing music which took people's minds off the grimness of the Depression. Dance became a means of cutting loose from the hardships of reality and for working class people became an established form of escapism.
Dance marathons became incredibly popular with literally many people dancing until they dropped. The decade’s beat was lively but smooth, and lovingly called swing. Swing steps were more athletic than its predecessor, the Charleston. Dancers were younger and dancing was more physical. Inspiration for the new steps came from many sources including the Lindy or Lindy Hop which was a dance rendition of Charles Lindberg's solo struggle across the Atlantic in 1927.
Partners faced each other and the male tossed the woman in a blizzard of solo turns and supported leaps. With hemlines becoming shorter than ever before underwear became a serious dress consideration.
The Big Apple was the next craze and took its origins from country folk dances. Dancers would parade in a circle hands joined together and a caller chose which pair was to move to the centre. The dance incorporated elements of four other popular styles i.e. the Shag, Suzi Q, Truckin' and Hokey Pokey. Most of the dances were North American but the UK, Lambeth Walk enjoyed intense popularity for a short time.
The sensuous Samba originated in Rio de Janeiro and was introduced at the 1939 New York World's Fair, Carmen Miranda danced the Samba to stardom. The Samba led the way for Latin American dance and was soon joined with the Paso Doble, Mambo, Cha Cha, and Merengue.
Amplification meant the new automatic phonographs could be heard even in a crowd. The developing plastics industry meant castings could be made in an array of attractive ways and combined with water effects and light shows, the jukebox was invented.
For the price of a nickel, the host could entertain friends. Prior to the Depression it was important to have shoes for both daytime as well as evening wear. After 1929 most women preferred to wear styles which could be worn during the day as well as at night. Skirt lengths had come down to mid-calf and remained there until 1939 (Van Zendt, 1999). As hemlines dropped shoes took on high vamps and hugging heels. Toes became rounded in this more conservative look and the borderlines between different types of shoes began to blur. Court shoes became broader, toes less pointed and heels were lowered to around 4 cm, although high heels remained in vogue for dancing. According to Trasko, (1989) rounded toes even affected the styling of fetish shoes.
There were many variations on the T strap with cutaway sides and open toes.
Evening shoes had to be hard wearing and the luxurious silks, satins and suede and kid replaced velvets of the beginning of the decade. Exotic hides, such as python and lizard remained chic. As the decade progressed, although black was the most popular colour for daywear, gold and silver were discretely piped on evening shoes. Wine, maroon, and navy were the colours of choice until in 1935 when pastel colours replaced them. Just before the Second World War, bright coloured footwear made reappearance. (Pattison & Cawthorne, 1997).
Fashionable footwear of the thirties was draped in silk bands and decorated with soft bows or ornamental buckles on high fronted town shoes. Alternatively, the shoes were laced over the arch of the foot with silk or fancy cord laces. Small cuts like stencil patterns or tiny perforated dots decorated the fronts and sides of some styles. Other features included rows of top stitching or very narrow strips of leather on suede as decorative effects on toe boxes and heel caps.
As the world’s economy recovered a mark of success was the tailored suit (referred to as the English Look). This became popular daytime wear for both male and female and suits were cut comfortably to highlight the waist. A fashion accessory was the business shoe broader more angular and with a lowered heel.
Walking shoes for women were introduced during the economically depressed years of the early 30's. These were worn with tweed suits or tailored dress (Pattison & Cawthorne, 1997). Adverts of the time tried to capture the style conscious consumer with practical items such as Quarter tips to protect heels from wear. This is the origin of the sensible shoe, oft cited as good advice to the foot challenged of today. The brogue fashion became popular in ladies’ style. The Sahara sandal was introduced for women in 1931 but despite its name, it had a moccasin construction and the new fabric, rayon was used as shoe uppers. A new fad for outdoors meant boots were briefly fashionable i.e. short ankle boots. Although these disappeared after 1934 as sandals became prominent.
Sandals started as beachwear but were eventually worn for eveningwear. The sandals of the thirties were made with sturdy soles for dancing while the open toes kept the foot cool (O'Keeffe, 1996).
By the end of the decade sandals were worn during the day.
In the absence of nylon stockings, legs were made up with cosmetics. When open toed shoes and sling backs were introduced they became an instant success (Pattison & Cawthorne 1997).
Italian women continued to wear long, slender high heeled shoes made in black leather and decorated with metal buckles or jewels. 1937 gradually eclipsed court shoes by wedges, platform shoes and sandals. In 1938, shoes with cork platforms appeared covered in cloth or leather and decorated with sequins for eveningwear. By the end of the decade dark grey stockings and black shoes were popular.
Elsa Schiaparelli (aka Scap ) was a major influence on fashion in the 30's and let shoe designer Perugia produced shoes with twisted metal heels, fish shapes and golden globes. Schiapelli even produced yellow bootees with gold toenails painted on them.
She also collaborated with Salvador Dali to produce the famous, shoe hat (Pattison & Cawthorne, 1997).
Adrian Adolf Greenberg (Adrian) was a designed for MGM film studios and was credited for creating the slim & long image of the thirties. This definitely influenced Elisa Schiaparelli and other Paris designers.
Carmen Miranda wore six-inch-high platforms studded with diamante or nail heads. High wedges were often cut out in different shapes like modern sculpture. As war began shoes began to narrow and heel initially increased in height.
Later war shortages and rationing restricted the height of heels to an inch and three quarters. Philip Magnone was commissioned to design the new uniforms for the US Women’s Army Service. Even war had its glamorous side with the 1939 uniform for women including beige stockings, brown shoes and matching shoulder bag. (Cassin-Scott J, 1997).
Cassin-Scott J 1997 The illustrated encyclopaedia of costume and fashion from 1066 to the present London: Studio Vista
O'Keeffe L 1996 Shoes: A celebration of pumps, sandals, slippers & more New York: Workman Publishing
Pattison A & Cawthorne N 1997 A century of shoes: Icons of style in the 20th century Australia: Universal International
Royal Vintage Shoes
Trasko M 1989 Heavenly soles: Extraordinary twentieth-century shoes New York: Abbeville Press
Van Zandt E 1988 20th century fashion Hove: Wayland Publishers.