Media, leisure and fashion – Britain in the 1930’s Essay

Reduced working hours and paid holidays for those in employment led to a great increase in the leisure industry. In 1931 only 1. 5 million people were entitled to paid holidays, but 1939, this had risen to 11 million. The media portrayed an idealistic lifestyle with sunshine and plenty of fresh air, and contemporary concern for public health meant that leisure was very important. Contraception meant that families were smaller and so had more available money, some of which was spent on leisure activities.

The 1937 Physical Training and Recreation Act, in response to continental development, led to the building of more leisure facilities, such as lidos, which provided the social and fitness aspects of leisure, as well as an air of exotic excitement and sophistication. A woman’s place was generally considered to be in the home, and so leisure was generally male orientated, however, some aspects of leisure were enjoyed by all. Sport was an aspect of leisure which appealed to many different people. Boxing was very popular with the lower class, and sports like cricket and football attracted the upper class.

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Whether playing or watching sport, it was fun and offered a way of escape from normal life. There were opportunities for physical and emotional expression and a sense of accomplishment. Essentially, they also gave a feeling of belonging, which was what people wanted at this time when unemployment and thus insecurity was prevalent. Sport clubs did not make great profits and so were accessible to a great range of people. Gambling was, according to ‘The Economist,’ Britain’s second biggest industry, and this added to the excitement of sport, particularly on the greyhound tracks.

For the working class men, drinking was an essential social pastime, providing a great source of comfort and relief from the mundane pressures of daily life, it was also a social place, providing a feeling of belonging which was crucial in a society with such little stability. Working men’s institutes and clubs were also popular. For the middle and upper classes, holidays became very important. Tourism expanded greatly, with many new hotels, boarding houses, entertainment and amenities. By the late 1930s, 20 million people visited the seaside annually, with 15 million of them staying for extended holidays.

In 1937, the Butlin holiday camps were first opened, this reflected the increase in holidays. There was also great development in caravans and camping equipment and so this type of holiday also became popular with many people. Outdoor recreation also increased in popularity, such as hiking, rambling, cycling etc. Industry meant the bicycles were cheaper to buy, and in many towns, new cycling clubs were founded. In 1930 the Youth Hostel Association was created, and by 1939, there were 400 hostels, used by over a million people. Rambling societies, and organised hikes, done by the railways, were popular.

A new culture emerged, shown by songs such as “I’m happy when I’m hiking,” and people became fitter and healthier. This had a great effect on fashion as people needed different clothes in which to enjoy their new hobbies. The Christian religion was very important in Britain at this time, particularly in the rural areas, and this criticised many aspects of leisure, particularly gambling, drinking and even the cinema. However, this did not a great effect on the working and middle classes. The chapel itself was an important centre of leisure, providing day trips, clubs, games and choirs.

For the working class, the chapel was often the only way they could afford to go on the popular seaside trips at this time, to place such as Barry Island and Porthcawl. These were on of the few family leisure pastimes, but most families could only afford to go annually. The transport revolution, due to new industries, of cheaper cars, motorcycles, buses and coaches, was what enabled this. It is important to note that commercialised leisure cost money. For those in employment this was not a problem because industry was developing, and overall, living standards were increasing because wages were falling at a slower rate than the cost of living.

However, for the unemployed, many leisure pursuits were too expensive. Although sports events offered cheaper admission for those on the dole, and some even had special clubs and teams for them, generally, the unemployed men spent their time talking to each other on the streets. The 1929 Wall Street Crash had a great impact on fashion less or no work meant little or no money to spend on clothing so the habit of changing clothes at different times in the day became less popular and prices were reduced.

As health and fitness became important aspects of the 1930s, fashions changed to suit the new lifestyles. The media played an important role in shaping these new ideals. American ideas became popular through the cinema, and fashion magazines having a big influence on many women. In 1930,the Women’s League of Health and Beauty was set up by Prunella Stack, this promoted the idea of a healthy mind and body through large displays in parks and other public venues. Magazines such as Vogue, published women’s fashions and raised awareness about them.

The 1929 Depression brought more practical clothes for women, previously the maids had done all the work in the upper and middle classes, however, many women were forced to have busier, more productive lives by the circumstances of the time and needed simple clothes to match this lifestyle. Late on in this period, living standards began to rise and industrial development increased. Consequently, man-made cheaper fabrics, such as rayon, which was known as artificial silk became available. Artificial, cheaper fibres, meant that the poorer people could wear the same as the rich, but made from cheaper fabrics.

They also allowed for a greater versatility in styles and effects. Cotton was used by Chanel and gained new status as a fabric not just reserved for work clothes. The entertainment industry had a strong influence over fashion, as through the movies people could escape from the harsh reality of the Depression. People followed movie star’s styles and accessories particularly with evening wear such as an empire-waisted gown, with ties at the back. Dresses often had decorations such as a butterfly, large, puffy sleeves, trains, bows, or fabric flowers. Fur was popular for capes, coats, wraps, accessories and trimmings.

Hats, such as berets, were always worn at an angle, pill box and brimmed hats became popular. Traditional fabrics, like silk and pure wool, combined with modern materials and sequins and beads created beautiful evening wear for upper class women. With the increase in popularity for sport, sportswear became much more practical with Tyrolean styles from Austria and Germany becoming important. For women, the increase in their rights, and the increase in sport, allowed for practical, shorter skirts in skating. In 1933, Alice Marble was the first woman to wear shorts at Wimbledon.

The beach became a popular social place and new styles were released in bathing wear, including beach wraps, hold-alls, soft hats and knitted bathing suits! Swimwear was designed to give a good suntan, which could be shown off in backless and low-backed evening wear. Colours such as navy, white, cream, grey, black and buff were popular as they were ‘beach coloured. ‘ Pyjamas, originally introduced as nightwear and informal dinner dress, became popular as a beach outfit made of draping heavy crep-de-chine, in sailor style, with wide flares, flat-fronted with buttons.

These were the beachwear of the rich on the beach, however, with the new fabrics, there were cheaper versions available. Women’s sportswear was influenced by masculine styles, such as sport suits, leather jackets and short trousers became popular. The fashion for a suntan resulted in a change in eveningwear fashions, as women wanted full length, backless evening dresses, moulded to the body. As more women were educated in contraception, and it was becoming more sociably acceptable, it was easier for them to keep their slim figures as they did not have to have a baby unless they wanted to.

Consequently, slimmer styles increased in popularity, showing off the female figure. The Hollywood ideal was of a glamorous and seductive female, and draped and clinging fabrics were used to achieve this effect. Technological developments such as Marcel Permanent Waves, meant that women’s hairstyles were longer and fuller also making them look more feminine. Men’s suits were modified to create the image of a large torso as if to give men some ego at a time of great insecurity. Shoulder pads and sleeves tapered to the wrist, with peaked lapels showing a v-shaped chest were used to do this.

This time was when the double-breasted suit became popular. Stripes were popular for suits, as well as ‘plaid’ patterns. As those in employment became richer, the ‘London cut’ designed by Frederick Scholte sleeves tapering slightly from shoulder to wrist, high pockets and buttons, wide, pointed lapels flaring from the top. Shoulder pads and additional fabric filled out the armhole, creating drape in the shoulder area. This suit was meant to show the status of the successful. Hollywood stars such as Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, Fred Astaire and Cary Grant made it very popular.

Fashion in the 1930s was the opposite of the 1930s, as if it was felt that the lifestyle of the 1920s had brought the Great Depression and that only a change from the fast times and youth culture could deal with the situation. However, by 1936, for the middle and upper classes, it was generally a time of prosperity. In the late 1930s, a tense atmosphere with the possibility of war was evident and had a marked effect on clothing fashions. Designers created clothing of a military style with square shoulders for all, and low heels for women. These were designed to stay in fashion and remain functional.

Simple clothes such as trousers, sweaters and classic shirt waisters were popular. Sound also meant that the subject matter and style of films could range ever wider. In addition to the romances, historical epics and melodramas of the silent era, there were now other possibilities: the comedies of Howard Hawks, like BRINGING UP BABY the socially-conscious lines of MR DEEDS GOES TO TOWN, the musical extravaganzas of Nelson Eddy and Jeanette Macdonald, of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, the farces of the Marx Brothers, and the full-length colour fantasy of Disney’s SNOW WHITE.

But one more technological breakthrough was still to come. In the late 30’s, colour transformed the second-rate into something eminently watchable. It provided the potential for films to become not just works of cinema but of art — as exemplified by the legendary GONE WITH THE WIND of 1939. The rise of affluence and urbanisation caused an expansion in the media. As media became more important, its political value was realised; the media could be used to form people’s opinions. People were eager to control it, they came under three categories.

There were people who wanted to control it entirely for their own political and financial interests, such as the Beaverbook press. There were also people like Sir John Reith, head of the BBC, who wanted to do things in the best interests of the people, their society and their coutnry. There were also people who’s sole aim was to please the people to get financial gain. Newspapers became very important in the 1930s, particularly from a political perspective. From 1930-1 Stanley Baldwin ran a campaign against the newspapers of having power without responsibility.

This campaign increased the popularity of the newspaper, and by 1937, the sale of daily newspapers had reached 10 million copies. The newspapers contained some advertisements which increased commercialism. Mass production meant that goods were cheaper than they had been before and technological developments meant many new products were available, the newspapers and magazines were used to advertise these. They also affected public opinion and were thus an important tool for anyone who wanted to manipulate public opinion.

Television sets, although available in the 1930s, were very expensive, and so instead, children were kept entertained through comics. Paper making had undergone a technological revolution, with the use of wood pulp, this meant that newspapers were cheaper and more widely available. Younger children enjoyed comics such as Chick’s Own, Playbox, Rainbow and Puck. Older children enjoyed Gem and Magnet, by Charles Hamilton. The make-believe worlds portrayed in detective weekly, starring Sexton Blake, Champion, Thriller and Triumph appealed to children.

It was at this time that Charles Hamilton created Billy Bunter and Thomson created the ‘Big Five’ – Adventure, Rover, Wizard, Skipper and Hotspur. Then Thomson launched the Dandy (1937) and the Beano (1938. ) These are still popular today and thrilled children in the 1930s when there was little alternative entertainment. At this time, industrial development and new cheap materials, such as plastics, celluloid, casein and bakelite, allowed for large-scale production of radios at affordable prices. In an attempt to prevent commercialisation of the radio, the British Broadcasting Corporation took control, this was a state owned company.

In 1922, there were only 36,000 radio licenses, by 1938, there were 8. 97 million, these were mainly from the middle classes as this was who the BBC programmes were aimed at and also for an unskilled worker a radio would have cost two weeks wages. The radio had an important impact on many areas of society. For example, it meant that songs, such as by band leaders Henry Hall and Lew Stone, became widely known and so dance halls became more popular. It also helped maintain interest in football and cricket such as the World Cup. Penguin paperback books were another important development in the media.

Allan Lane believed that books should be available and affordable for all classes, not just the affluent middle class, who could afford hard-back books and so he created the penguin book series. These quickly became very popular, beginning in 1935 with the classic ‘Ariel’ by Andre Marois, costing only 6d. The series broadened to include books of many different genres, all colour-coded according to type. These made books available to a much wider range of people, including women, and so allowed for all the classes to be educated. Probably the most popular form of mass entertainment in the 1930s was the cinema.

Although initially films with sound, known as ‘talkies’ were not particularly popular, technological developments meant that they became very popular, and people, particularly from the ages of 11-25 years old, visited the ci nema two or more times a week. ‘Talkies’ allowed for a great variety of films including, romances, historical epics, melodramas, comedies, musical extravaganzas and many more, for example Bringing up Baby, Mr Deeds goes to town, Snow White and Gone with the Wind, these appealed to a great range of people to appeal to all. It was a normal activity, with family, lovers and friends.

People enjoyed the modernity and luxury of the cinemas in contrast with their daily lives, they also enjoyed the sense of belonging. The cinema was dominated by American films and so introduced American culture to Britain in a big way. Admission was only a few pence and so was affordable for many. People followed the screen stars in fashion and lifestyle and despite the British government’s efforts, through the 1927 Cinematograph Act, the most popular films were from Hollywood. These advertised an outdoor lifestyle, where sport and leisure were very important.

An example of the impact of the cinema on Britain was when in 1936 Clark Gable was shown not wearing a vest, vest sales dropped dramatically! In 1929 the Wall Street Crash brought great change to British society, including a great Depression for many. High unemployment meant that many people had very little money. Much of this unemployment was in the traditional industries such as coal mining, consequently it was very localised. At the same time as this, industrial development meant that there were many new jobs in some areas and many new products at reduced prices.

The cost of living increased at a lower rate than wages, this meant that for the upper-working classes and middle classes it was a period of great affluence. For the people in employment, higher wages and shorter working hours meant that they could enjoy the new leisure facilities and holiday destinations that were becoming very popular. The media, particularly the American-influence from the cinema encouraged people to spend more time outside. The radio helped to make sports more popular. Leisure was very important as it gave a sense of belonging and thus security at a time where society was insecure.

Although some aspects of leisure, for example, hiking, were available to most people, generally, commercialised leisure was inaccessible for the unemployed and lower classes. Fashion was also influenced by, and changed by, the instability of society. Clothes generally became more sober and practical than the clothes of the 1920s because people were poorer and had less money for needless extravagance. New fabrics meant that well fitting clothes were available for all but the poorest members of society. Women’s clothes became more practical as a response to changes in their social roles.

Clothes also reflected popular pastimes, for example, the increase in sport’s clothes. The motor industry meant people were able to take more holidays and so beachwear became important, and dresses were designed to show sun-tanned shoulders. Contraception meant that women could wear the new ‘clingy’ materials and show their femininity. In response to the changes in fashion, many new magazines became popular, including Vogue, which was about women’s fashion. These, and books like the Penguin paperbacks, meant that women and people from all classes were more informed and had independent opinions.

This brought better democracy because people knew more about the decisions they were making, it also meant that women wanted more rights. The cinema presented an idealistic lifestyle where women were glamorous, stylish and happy and men were rich and powerful, this was popular at a time of social instability through the Wall Street Crash, and then later on, through the threat of war. The 1930s was a time of great affluence, consumerism and development for some. However, for others, particularly the unemployed, it was a time of hardship and depression.

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