Reforming Women's Fashion, 1850-1920: Politics, Health, and Art

Reforming Women's Fashion, 1850-1920: Politics, Health, and Art

Reforming Women's Fashion, 1850-1920: Politics, Health, and Art

Reforming Women's Fashion, 1850-1920: Politics, Health, and Art

Synopsis

This first comprehensive study of women's dress reform considers the many advocates for reform and thoroughly examines their motives, their arguments for change, and how they promoted improvements in women's fashion. Drawing on a broad variety of primary and secondary sources, this volume will make a significant contribution to costume studies, social history, and women's studies.

Excerpt

This book began as a project on aesthetic dress in America for a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar at Yale University and metamorphosed into a broader investigation of women's dress reform in Europe and America. It became evident that not only was the dress reform movement diverse geographically but its major proponents had multifaceted interests, backgrounds, and solutions to what they perceived to be problems with women's clothing. In addition, the period that the various movements were active covered a time span of more than fifty years. In some respects, the broader study came about as a response to claims in costume history literature that dress reformers had no effect on fashion. Primary sources read during the initial investigation of aesthetic dress suggested otherwise.

This book offers the views of women and men who believed that fashion was either unhealthy or unaesthetic, or both. They had differing motivations. Some took a political view, believing that fashion had effectively limited women's roles and thus their potential for any real impact on society. Others firmly believed that women's fashionable dress had become a detriment to good health. Not a few thought that fashion went against true ideals of natural beauty. While various and sometimes opposing viewpoints are represented here, the over- arching goal of this study is to reveal the many ways in which people sought to improve women's clothing from the mid—nineteenth century to the early twentieth century and to examine the impact they had on fashion at the time and on dress of the future. This book is arranged according to the types of garments that were promoted to correct or replace fashionable dress. Hence, it focuses on women wearing trousers, altering their underwear, and adopting aesthetic or artistic clothing.

As much as possible, I have sought to allow the ideas of the reformers to come through, to keep the text true to their voices. Although I have offered theory regarding the meanings of dress, I have chosen not to interpret the text from a late- twentieth-century feminist or postmodern perspective. While the construction . . .

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