Modern Ballroom Dancing and Fashion, 1930

One of the biggest delights of my local Goodwill Outlet Center is the book bin.  Or rather, bins, as there are usually three or more, all full of books and magazines of every sort for book lovers like myself to dig through.  I never fail to find something of interest, and my latest trip produced a 1974 copy of The Great Gatsby, complete with photos of Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, Roy Rogers and the Outlaws of Sundown Valley, a 1950 Whitman book, and the nondescript looking book pictured above, Modern Ballroom Dancing by Lillian Ray.

Published in 1930, the illustrations show that transitional period of clothing between what people think of the Roaring Twenties and the Depression Thirties.   Some skirts are still short, but others have moved downward to the calf, and still others are a combination of the two lengths.

People who study fashion history know that styles don’t abruptly end at the ending of a decade.  For matters of simplicity, it is often convenient to call a dress “1920s style” or “1930s style”  but in the real world of clothes it is not always that easy.  I’ve seen a lot of confusing clothes from the late 1920s and early 1930s.  It’s not always a cut and dried science.

I was intrigued to read the words of Catherine Martin (in interview with Fashionista), the costume designer of the soon to be released  The Great Gatsby film from her husband Baz Luhrmann:

One of the other rules Baz made at the very beginning of the project was that, because the book is set in the summer of ’22, published in ’25, and foreshadows the crash of ’29, we were actually allowed to use the whole decade as a reference base.

People are already talking about how the clothes in the film sure don’t look like the 1920s, and it occurred to me several weeks ago that it looked more like 1929 or 1930.  It’s interesting to note that was, in part, intentional.  Martin took the range of ten years and pulled what fit into what she wanted the character to portray.

I’ve already said this here, but I’m not in any way going to go to The Great Gatsby thinking it is an historical depiction of 1925.  It would drive me crazy.  Instead, like the life with Daisy that Gatsby has formed in his mind, this is a fantasy.

Looks easy, no?

All illustrations from Modern Ballroom Dancing by Lillian Ray, Franklin Publishing Company, 1930, illustrator not credited.

17 Comments

Filed under Curiosities, Proper Clothing

17 responses to “Modern Ballroom Dancing and Fashion, 1930

  1. Lillace Christianson

    What a fun book~~great find!

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  2. What an eye you have, Lizzie! I would love to see a photo of your library.

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  3. Oh what marvelous illustrations! How interesting to learn more about the Gatsby period from this ballroom book. I loved the cloche hat on the dancer. This book was meant to be found by you:)
    http://dividingmoments.blogspot.com/

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  4. I love the striped blazer! X

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  5. Christina

    Re: the latest “Gatsby” the Costume Designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis was quoted as saying in The Boston Globe, “When an audience sits down to watch a movie, they have to buy into a character from the very first frame. What we care about is what happens to them and not the clothes. Unless, it’s ‘Cinderella,’ the clothes alone will not make a movie, they’ll make a fashion show.” The soundtrack looks interesting though.

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    • I suspect that she is correct, but I know a lot of Gatsby fans who will be majorly distracted by both the costumes and the soundtrack. It won’t matter how good – or bad – the actors are in their portrayals of the characters.

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  6. Teresa

    I love that striped blazer. I’m sure I’d find dancing easier with a dapper partner like that. ;)

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  7. Many Cha Cha Michelle

    Great book and interesting post. I was puzzled while watching a film recently, trying to pinpoint when it was made (it was set in “the future”). The clothes looked like early to mid eighties but I was sure that it was made in the seventies. Yep, it turned out it was a 1979 film…. but I suspect that it influenced fashion that became mainstream a few years later. (Confession: the movie was Mad Max, with young Mel Gibson).

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    • It’s really interesting how even though a movie might not be a modern setting, if you know what people in that period looked like – makeup, hair, general body shape – you can still figure out when it was made.

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  8. What fabulous illustrations! I saw the trailer to The Great Gatsby and that was enough to put me off seeing the film.
    As a former decorative arts curator, I get annoyed when the furnishings in films are anachronistic.I remember watching the 1988 film, Dangerous Liaisons, set in the late 18th century, and thinking “That tea cup shape wasn’t used until the 1820s!”

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  9. I love the juxtaposition between your classical ballroom and the swing (or collegiate steps as they call them) from a fashion perspective. It looks like the fashion is starting to get a bit more liberal with the more relaxed dances.

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