Fashion in the 1930s: Gretchen Reid

Miss Gretchen Reid seemingly resided in Dundas all her life. In 1940, she registered to vote at 4 Brentwood Drive and continued to register at that address up until 1963. Gretchen was a school teacher for decades and this royal blue velvet dress was worn by her in the 1930s. These shoes were not worn or owned by Gretchen, but are from the 1930s, made in Paris. Both artifacts hold an interesting history.

In the midst of the Great Depression, many were gripped by hard times, yet Gretchen wore this seemingly extravagant dress. However, this dress follows fashion trends of the era exactly. The economic instability of the Depression instigated an era of traditionalism as many turned to traditional values. This was expressed in women’s magazines where advertisements capitalized on women’s insecurities of being potentially offensive with their attire. If the economy was in turmoil, these women would not stir the pot. Even the flapper grew out her bob and wore it in more conventional sculpted waves. In comparison to the preceding decade, the hemline of this dress is significantly longer and more modest.  The sleeves reach the wrist, the hemline touches the floor and the fabric is much thicker than the sheer material typical of flappers.

The royal blue colour of this dress reflects the sombre feelings of the decade where women tended to favour darker, more sensible colours. Patterns were toned down and remained in  classic designs like small florals, polka dots or fine stripes. Romantic evening gowns like this one became increasingly popular as it re-established conventional relationships between women and men. No longer were sequins and bead-work the methods of seduction, rather it was the subtly of modest evening gowns that dominated the dating scene. Velvet was one of the most desirable fabrics in this decade as it was harder to come by. The dress remains in immaculate condition and was clearly well cared for.

The shoes were made in Paris in the 1930s “expressly for the Robert Simpson Company Limited” in Toronto, as per the label.  The company was colloquially referred to as Simpsons and was a popular Canadian department store that would later become Sears Canada in 1950. Department stores played a large part in making high-end fashion affordable to most middle-class women. Before stores like these, buying shoes from Paris would have been extremely expensive and available only to wealthy women.

Share your Story