The Rise of Fashion: A Reader

By Daniel Leonhard Purdy | Go to book overview

“Some Realizations in Dress Reform”
from Feminism in Germany and Scandinavia (1915)

KATHARINE ANTHONY

Despite the divisiveness of World War I, Katharine Anthony (1877-1965) makes clear in her preface to Feminism in Germany and Scandinavia that she believes women have more in common across enemy lines than they may realize. We have to take seriously the pressures that would have prevented her from seeing her book to press. Her preface is in part a rationalization for even publishing a book on Germany, but it is also a call for international solidarity among feminists. The problems confronted by feminism are the same in Germany and the United States. Moreover, as Anthony intends to show, American feminists can find inspiration in the successes of the German women's movements.

We now live in an era where it is difficult for many to remember that fashion was once an object of serious feminist critique. Even the arguments of “second-wave feminism” in the 1970s have lost their audience, yet Anthony argues that dress reform stands behind suffrage and equal pay for equal work as the third most important women's issue. Like the first feminists in the nineteenth century, she draws a direct line between political emancipation and the liberation of the female body from restrictive conventions. These arguments echo Rousseau's critique of luxury and urbane civilization at the French court in the eighteenth century. In many ways early feminists extended the progressive politics of Enlightenment to the lives of women. Rousseau's denunciation of ceremonies that confirm aristocratic privilege is transformed by feminism into an argument against bourgeois respectability. While Thorstein Veblen and other male cynics argued that upper-class women lived lives of confined luxury in order to represent publicly their husbands' wealth and prestige, feminists took the extra step of calling for the emancipation of women from their ostentatious confinement. Masculine arguments against fashion often ended in disparaging insinuations about women in general. They equated fashion's coercions with feminine nature, whereas Anthony and other dress reformers called for “the restoration of the normal female body.” By alluding

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