Fashion through the Great Depression at LSU

By Skylar Mays, Devin Levine, Anthony Kubeja and Myrika Mills

Great Depresssion
Men Looking for Work During the Great Depression

During the early 1920’s, or “Roaring Twenties,” the United States saw major economic prosperity. This financial boom stemmed from an increase in industrial production, reaching levels the nation had never seen before. As inventions and new efficient production methods flourished, the stock market raised to its peak. However, the market eventually fell by a great percentage in the Great Crash in 1929. The crash led directly to the Great Depression.

In 1928, the national income was $25 billion, equivalent to $363 billion in today’s economy. Unregulated expansion occurred a lot during this year, so the recession was inevitable. In 1932, the national income dropped all the way to $12 billion, or $205 billion today. On average, the national income reduced by 40 percent. The unemployment rate in the United States skyrocketed during the Depression era as well. Four percent of the country was unemployed in 1928. In just four years, that rate increased to 23.6 percent. In essence, twenty-four percent of the working population did not work, so only the upper class families had the time and money to stay fashionably updated. The general populous, on the other hand, had to use all of their money to cover the essentials and could not afford to splurge on pieces of fashion.

In the years following the Great Crash, LSU students were relatively unaffected fashion-wise. Although a large portion of the nation suffered a financial blow, it appears that uniforms on campus remained unchanged. College students during the early 1900’s mostly came from upper class families and, therefore, had the financial stability to maintain their fashion style during this era. Taking a look at the women in the LSU Baptist Student Union (BSU), they wore shin length dresses that generally had moderately low necklines. A belt around the waist supported the dress in form fitting their look. Many of these dresses had large lapels for added fashion. Women wore light-colored or white flat-soled shoes with low ankles that laced up the front. Men in the BSU club wore ether light or dark three-piece suit with a necktie and strictly white-collared, button-up shirt. Black round or square-toed dress shoes, like the white shirt, didn’t seem to vary either. Both men and women had their clothes well-pressed and ironed at all times.

LSU Baptist Student Union
LSU Baptist Student Union (1933)
non-student workers
Great Depression Non-Student Workers

Non-students, however, underwent more changes to their fashion than those in school; lack of income forced them to cut down their clothing options.

flour sack dress
Woman Wearing a Feed Sack Dress

Following the crash, the majority of non-students turned to more affordable textiles. Furthermore, students and non-students wore similar outfits, but there was a huge contrast in the quality of material between the two parties. This prompted both the people and the clothing industry to develop creative improvisations for fashion within a limited budget. Instead of silk dresses, women wore different grades of rayon. Stockings were reverted from nylon to rayon as well. Some women brought humility to a whole new level when they converted feed sacks into dresses.



Men out of school typically wore sweater vests and trousers or three-piece suits of a lower grade post-Depression. As shown in the image above (Great Depression Non-Student Workers), denim was the most popular choice instead of silk and other more elegant materials. Fedoras were a popular style of hat during this time, as well as berets and top hats.

The “ornamental side” of beauty also separated students from the general populous during the Depression Era. This refers to the aspects along the lines of how people did their hair or adorned themselves with jewelry. These changes in fashion sense directly correlate to the difference in income and opportunity between students and non-students. Women, non-student or student, wore their hair in the same way.  The vast majority of women at this time bobbed their chin-length hair, parted it on top, and the let the curly ends lay down the sides. Some women on and off campus wore earrings, painted their nails, and wore lipstick; others didn’t. It is reasonably assumed that students were able to apply and use these accessories and makeup more often than women who weren’t going to school. Non-student women would normally sell their jewelry for a quick penny.

members of omnicron delta kappa
Men of Omicron Delta Kappa (1933)

As shown in the picture above, short, combed hair was the style for men in the 1930’s. This was the case on and off the academic scene. Also, beards were rare in these times. Men were clean-shaven unless they sported a toothbrush mustache, much like the mustache Adolf Hitler wore.

To conclude, a select few of people were able to afford higher end pieces of fashion during the Great Depression. This small group included students, shown through their ability to continue to pay for college. The opposite goes for the rest of the population; all of the money had to go to the necessities. The difference in income had an almost direct correlation with the difference in fashion between students and non-students. There is something commendable to be said about the fashionable improvisations particularly non-students made during the Great Depression. Their attire embodies resilience and pride in the darkest of times: a fashion statement much deeper than the cloth.

Works Cited

“1930’s Fashions including Prices.” The People History, Steve Pearson. 2016. Web. 23 July 2017.

“Baptist Student Union (1933),” Gumbo Yearbook, 1933. 35.

“Great Depression Non-Student Workers,” Kuroski, John. “55 Harrowing Photos of New York City During The Great Depression.” All That Is Interesting. N.p., 30 Jan. 2017. Web. 23 July 2017.

Hulle, Ashish. “Silk vs. Viscose Rayon: Who Is Better?” Textile Centre. 10 September 2016. Web. 23 July 2017.

“Men Looking for Work During the Great Depression,” “The Great Depression Facts, Timeline, Causes, Pictures.” Stock System. Web. 23 July 2017.

“Men of Omicron Delta Kappa (1933),” Gumbo Yearbook, 1934. 36.

“Statistics of Income for 1928,” United States. US Treasury Department. Bureau of Internal Revenue.  Washinton: Government Printing Office, 1930. Print.

“Statistics of Income for 1932,” United States. US Treasury Department. Bureau of Internal Revenue. . Washinton: Government Printing Office, 1934. Print.

“Woman Wearing a Flour Sack Dress.” “Fashion of the 1930s,” Tanya Sherman. LoveToKnow. LoveToKnow Corp, Web. 23 July 2017.