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HomeContentsThemes > Fashion 1930s

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The 1930's were a period of financial instability following the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the heady extravagance of the 1920's in Western Europe and America came to an abrupt end. Unemployment rose rapidly to devastating levels and in America the situation worsened with the social ravages bought about by the droughts and dust storms in the rural heartland. This was a time when optimism was difficult to justify and the exotic fashions of the 1920's were out of line with what was happening to the working population.
The Depression and the Dustbowl
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Dorothea Lange
Human Erosion in California (Migrant Mother) [Nipomo, California] 
1936
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Walker Evans
[Floyd and Lucille Burroughs on Porch, Hale County, Alabama] 
1936
  
As we examine the changing face of fashion photography that was being included in Vogue and Harper‘s Bazaar during the 1930's it is worth keeping in mind that other photographers were recording the social upheavals that were taking place in rural America.
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In 1918 the Representation of the People Act was passed in Great Britain and the USA the Presidential election of November 1920 was the first in which the women of America could vote. Through the 1920's women had gained some financial independence and increasing rights but the depression forced stark choices and as jobs became difficult to find there was social pressure for them to go to men. For the well-to-do and the Hollywood celebrities, who were the arbiters of fashion through numerous fan magazines, clothes became more feminine and romantic reflecting a woman's place was in the home. The evening gowns seen in the popular films of the era were far removed from everyday life but provided a much needed escapism.
 
The Hungarian photographer Martin Munkacsi (1896-1963) had been a sports photographer and a photojournalist before he was given a contract by 'Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung' to visit the USA in 1933. While in the USA Carmel Snow, the editor of 'Harper's Bazaar', gave him a fashion assignment. At the time fashion photography was static and staged but given his sports background he applied a revolutionary approach that is recognized as one of the seminal moments in fashion photography. He photographed the model and socialite Lucille Brokaw running on a beach with her clothes flowing behind - the shot was natural full of movement captured with a fast shutter speed - a motion snapshot of a beautiful and 'real' woman both obtainable but soon to run away. Martin Munkacsi had shown that fashion photography could include vignettes that a real person might see on a beach rather than a character on an over-dressed theatrical set. From 1940 to 1946 he worked for 'Ladies Home Journal' and carried out freelance projects.
Fashion photographers - 1930‘s
 
Martin Munkacsi
Martin Munkacsi: An Aperture Monograph 
  
Martin Munkacsi; & Morgan Susan
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1.   Surrealism and fashion
A further influence on fashion photography that commenced in the 1920's but continued through the 1930's and beyond was Surrealism.
 
Surrealism was founded by the French writer Andre Breton when he published his 'Surrealist Manifesto' in Paris in 1924. Defining surrealism is not easy but it was a creative movement that sought to use the imagination in unexpected, irrational and frequently bizarre ways to stimulate new ways of thinking about art and life. It included a disparate band of poets, authors, film makers, painters and photographers - and from its inception included a multi-national group including - German Max Ernst (1891-1976), the Frenchman Jean Arp, and the American painter and photographer Man Ray (1890-1976). Salvador Dali joined in 1930 but was denounced by most of the other surrealists for being too commercial - but the links between Elsa Schiaparelli, the French fashion designer, and Dali were highly influential in the popularity of Surrealism in the fashion world. Man Ray had used fashion photography to eek out an existence in Paris and his relationship with his model Lee Miller meant that he was in an ideal situation to link Surrealism and fashion.
 
Notable fashion photographers influenced by Dadaism and Surrealism include: These photographers used backgrounds and settings to delve into the inner world of the imagination and the sub-conscious - there were allusions to consumerism linked to strange juxtapositions and imaginary landscapes.
Fashion: Horst P. Horst (1906-1999)
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Horst
Lisa, V.O.G.U.E., New York 
1940
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Horst
H. Bennett (Spider Dress, NY) 
1939
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Horst
Dali Costumes for Chanel Ballet, Paris 
1939
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Horst
The Mainbocher Corset, Paris 
1939
Here I'd like to look at some photographs taken by Horst P. Horst between 1939 and 1941 as they clearly show the changes that were taking place in fashion photography.
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