The Look of the 500: 1930s

Published On September 26, 2014 » 4233 Views» By Heather Lloyd » Blogs, IMS, IMS History, Indy 500, The Look of the 500

Even The Great Depression couldn’t stop the ‘Greatest Spectacle in Racing’. Though the crowds were smaller, even with reduced ticket prices, the Indianapolis 500 rolled on in the 1930s and so did the cars, competing on limited fuel and for a smaller purse.

Helmets were a growing trend among drivers and with increased scrutiny on safety, the Speedway opted to make them mandatory in 1935.


1931 – Louis Schneider

Thankfully, this didn’t become a trend because it doesn’t look safe at all.


1931 – Joe Russo

Always glamorous and fashionable, the wives of the Indy 500 drivers set the bar on style even back in the 1930s.


1933 – Drivers’ Wives

Though suits with hats and gloves were still popular, the style for female spectators was more casual and practical in the 30s, as were the fabrics they were made from. Cotton and rayon replaced silk and satin and the result was feminine and fun.


1936 – Female Spectators

Lighter, flowing dresses also came into style, emphasizing curves and offering comfort and, coincidentally, smiles from those pictured wearing them. Just like the fashion, the women of the 1930s appear more relaxed and less guarded.


1932 – Mr. and Mrs. Billy Arnold

A wardrobe staple, the zipper, made its way into the American wardrobe during the depression as a cheaper alternative to the button. Sweaters with shirts and ties were still popular with men, as were fedora and newsboy hats. I bet these drivers would be surprised to see women wearing fedoras in 2014.


1931 – Drivers

And some things never change. Fast cars and beautiful women is a cliché that seems to hold true for the life of a race car driver. But if you thought James Hinchcliffe was a trendsetter when he showed up at the 2014 Indy 500 with a female entourage in tow, well…think again. There’s evidence that Dave Evans beat him to it back in 1935.


1935 – Dave Evans

It also appears that putting dogs in clothes is not a new thing.



While suffering through the depression, women were forced to make do with what they had. In doing so, they raided their husbands’ closets and another women’s fashion trend was born: trousers. The first photos of women in trousers at the Indy 500 appear in 1936.


1936 – Female spectators wearing trousers

That same year, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway unveiled what they had originally called the “Men of Motors” trophy. Renamed for its underwriters, the Borg-Warner Trophy is still the most iconic prize in auto racing and arguably in all of sports.


1938 – The Borg-Warner Trophy on Monument Circle

The 1930s were a decade that tested and changed American society. The same can be said for the Indianapolis 500, which continued to adjust and evolve during devastating financial times. But a looming war would challenge them further the next decade.


More in “The Look of the 500″ series: 1911-1920, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s , 1990s, 2000s, Today, The Best of The Look of the 500


About The Author

Heather Lloyd

Heather Lloyd is an Indy sports blogger who grew up in Minneapolis, graduated from the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, worked as a news anchor, then moved to Indianapolis where she became a professional fan. A die-hard Colts, Pacers, IndyCar, and Big Ten fan, when she’s not watching her teams, she’s either talking about them, writing about them, or tweeting about them. You can find her at and follow her on twitter @TheBlueMare. Ms. Lloyd has been known to blow off barbecues, birthday parties, and baby showers to watch sports. And she isn’t sorry.