Written By: Eliza Berman

Henry Luce’s goal for LIFE Magazine was, according to its tagline, as much to cover news of lasting consequence (“to eyewitness great events”) as to marvel at cultural curiosities (“to see and be amazed; to see and be instructed”). As one of those curiosities, the world of fashion enjoyed extensive coverage across the five decades the weekly magazine witnessed.

Though LIFE only caught the tail end of the 1930s, its first issue was published in November 1936 the remaining years of that decade saw the confluence of a host of influences on fashion. The Depression years had seen a shift to more conservative hemlines than those of the looser 1920s. At the same time, the fashions favored in Hollywood were increasingly reflected in the everyday streetwear of the masses. And as the decade drew to a close, the shadow of war began to reach all the way into the wardrobe.

LIFE’s fashion covers of the 1930s, many by Alfred Eisenstaedt, capture a variety of trends, from the saddle shoes of schoolchildren to the continental influence on college students to the formal details that completed a gentleman’s look. And if the occasional strong brow or high-waisted swimsuit looks familiar well, as the saying goes, everything old is new again.

October 18, 1937 cover of LIFE magazine.

October 18, 1937 cover of LIFE magazine.

Alfred Eisenstaedt LIFE Magazine

June 7, 1937 cover of LIFE magazine.

June 7, 1937 cover of LIFE magazine.

Alfred Eisenstaedt LIFE Magazine

June 28, 1937 cover of LIFE magazine.

June 28, 1937 cover of LIFE magazine.

Herbert Matter LIFE Magazine

July 12, 1937 cover of LIFE magazine.

July 12, 1937 cover of LIFE magazine.

Alfred Eisenstaedt LIFE Magazine

April 11, 1938 cover of LIFE magazine.

April 11, 1938 cover of LIFE magazine.

Alfred Eisenstaedt LIFE Magazine

May 9, 1938 cover of LIFE magazine.

May 9, 1938 cover of LIFE magazine.

Alfred Eisenstaedt LIFE Magazine

July 18, 1938 cover of LIFE magazine.

July 18, 1938 cover of LIFE magazine.

Dmitri Kessel LIFE Magazine

September 5, 1938 cover of LIFE magazine.

September 5, 1938 cover of LIFE magazine.

Herbert Gehr LIFE Magazine

January 2, 1939 cover of LIFE magazine.

January 2, 1939 cover of LIFE magazine.

Alfred Eisenstaedt LIFE Magazine

January 16, 1939 cover of LIFE magazine.

January 16, 1939 cover of LIFE magazine.

Rex Hardy Jr. LIFE Magazine

March 27, 1939 cover of LIFE magazine.

March 27, 1939 cover of LIFE magazine.

Alfred Eisenstaedt LIFE Magazine

May 8, 1939 cover of LIFE magazine.

May 8, 1939 cover of LIFE magazine.

Alfred Eisenstaedt LIFE Magazine

June 26, 1939 cover of LIFE magazine.

June 26, 1939 cover of LIFE magazine.

Walter Sanders LIFE Magazine

July 3, 1939 cover of LIFE magazine.

July 3, 1939 cover of LIFE magazine.

George Strock LIFE Magazine

October 23, 1939 cover of LIFE magazine.

October 23, 1939 cover of LIFE magazine.

Fritz Henle LIFE Magazine

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