The 1930s Lifestyles and Social Trends: Overview

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The 1930s Lifestyles and Social Trends: Overview

After the stock market crash of October 29, 1929, started the Great Depression of the 1930s, Americans cut back their spending on clothes, household items, and cars. Instead of seasonal changes of wardrobe, consumers bought clothes that could be worn for years. Old cars were patched up and kept running, while the used car market expanded. From clothing and automobiles to architecture and interior design, the aim was to "use it up, wear it out, make it do, or go without."

Although the 1930s began with consumers cutting back, the decade also saw a revolution in design. Everywhere the emphasis was on efficiency. Cars, trains, and airplanes were "streamlined," allowing them to cut through the air more easily. But the idea of "Streamline Moderne," as it was called, was also applied to radios, toasters, and even buildings. By the mid-1930s the elaborate patterns and ornament of Art Deco were out. Sleek lines and simple, rounded curves were in.

In clothing, too, efficiency and simplicity were key words. Americans began to buy low-cost copies of French fashions, or they made their own. In the late 1930s, this simplicity would emerge as a distinctively American style. Everyday clothes became simpler and more versatile. Dresses were designed to be worn with accessories. This made each dress suitable for more than one occasion and was an important way of saving money. Influences on the style of men's clothes ranged from Hollywood to the British royal family.

The Depression changed the way Americans lived their lives. Many had to get used to unemployment or low pay. In 1931, ninety-five people died from malnutrition in New York City. Farmers left their land and searched for work in the cities. In the early 1930s charities in the cities had to help the starving and homeless, many of them newly arrived from rural areas. But charities themselves were short of money. The New Deal (a set of government programs designed to ease the problems caused by the Depression) stepped in to provide federal help for the poor and homeless. The misery of the Depression was lifted for some by the movies, bingo nights, chain letters, and the Irish Sweepstakes. The board game Monopoly was a huge success in the 1930s.

Immigrants who arrived in the United States in the 1920s depended on charities, loan companies, and the banks. After 1929, many lost their entire means of support. For African Americans, the situation was also very bad. Many lost their jobs when employers decided to employ white workers instead. Many tenant farmers and sharecroppers (farmers who worked plots of land that they rented) lost their land and source of income. Unemployment for black workers was 48 percent in 1932. For the United States as a whole it was 25 percent.

As the Depression deepened, attendance at church declined. Many of the poor were ashamed of their new status. Others turned away in despair. The churches where numbers rose tended to be conservative in outlook, such as the Pentecostal and the Southern Baptist churches. Religion also took a political turn, with Jews and Roman Catholics siding with the Democrats and President Roosevelt's New Deal programs, and Protestants with the Republicans. Only African Americans bucked the trend. Black Protestants were nearly all in favor of the New Deal.

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The 1930s Lifestyles and Social Trends: Overview

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The 1930s Lifestyles and Social Trends: Overview