Pantaloons and Power: Nineteenth-Century Dress Reform in the United States

Pantaloons and Power: Nineteenth-Century Dress Reform in the United States

Pantaloons and Power: Nineteenth-Century Dress Reform in the United States

Pantaloons and Power: Nineteenth-Century Dress Reform in the United States

Synopsis

"By the early nineteenth century clear definitions had developed regarding how American women and men were supposed to appear in public and how they were meant to lead their lives. As men's style of dress moved from the ornate to the moderate, women's fashions continued to be decorative and physically restrictive. This visible separation of the sexes was paralleled in other arenas - social, cultural, and religious. Some women defied this convention and cut their skirts short, abandoned their corset, and put on trousers. In Pantaloons and Power Gayle V. Fischer depicts how the reformers' denouncement of conventional dress highlighted the role of clothing in the struggle of power relations between the sexes. Wearing pantaloons was considered a subversive act and was often met with social ostracism. Fischer contends that while it was not the goal of many reformers to alter gender relations, as women adopted pantaloons the perception of male and female power relationships blurred, and the boundaries of social roles for women began to shift. This carefully researched interdisciplinary study successfully combines the fields of costume history, women's history, material culture, and social history to tell the story of one highly charged dress reform and its resonance in nineteenth-century society." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

Advocates of pantaloons dress reform promoted a specific outfit for women —a dress with a shortened skirt and pantaloons. This reform had its roots in the antebellum period in the United States and continued in one guise or another until the last decades of the nineteenth century. The basic silhouette of the outfit remained unchanged from the 1820s, even as the details of the design and those who supported the outfit came and went. For a variety of reformers who identified fashion (and its attendant evils) as one of the ills facing nineteenth-century American society, the shortened skirt and pantaloons seemed a practical solution. However, like most nineteenthcentury American reforms, the pantaloons dress failed to accomplish its mission or to leave a tradition on which later generations could build.

President Thomas Jefferson opened the century on horseback; President William McKinley closed it riding in an automobile. Tremendous changes—political, social, economic, and cultural—marked the nineteenth century and affected dress reform. Industrialization swept the country; factories and canals grew in the East, while in the South the cotton gin made cotton a more profitable crop. Inventions such as the telegraph, the . . .

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