The History of Women Told through Their Fashions; A New Exhibition Traces How Social Mobility Shaped Women's Clothes. Janet Tansley Reports
Byline: Janet Tansley
THE 20th century saw more changes in women's lives than at any other time past - and their clothes reflected this. Rising hemlines, functional fabrics and dynamic design followed the extraordinary alteration in attitudes and expectations, and it is this which is highlighted in a new exhibition 20th Century Chic at Sudley House Museum, Liverpool.
Curator, Alyson Pollard, says: "We look at the ladies of Downton Abbey and their lives would have revolved around social functions - they would have changed four times a day.
"That doesn't happen today. "Two world wars speeded up the process of change. But as women became more active outside the home, especially in the workplace, clothes became more practical and easier to look after.
"New materials and improvements in manufacturing methods made clothes less expensive, so women could buy good quality fashionable garments than ever before."
But while the revolution in the availability of clothing was taking place, so too was the way it was worn.
Adds Alyson: "Parts of the body which previously had to be covered could now be shown - in the 20s skirts went above the knee which would have caused quite a shock. Women were driving cars, smoking, dancing until all hours and social conventions were swept away..
"Undergarments became less restrictive and in some cases were not worn at all. By the year 2000, a woman could dress like a man if she wished and she could aspire to do the same things as a man on equal terms.
"She could use her clothing to express her personality, while still being fashionable, in a way which would have been unthinkable ten decades earlier."
The exhibition looks at how fashions have changed and comments on the period it reflects.
1910 - 1920: The Great War Garment: Evening dress, silk satin, lace and diamante decoration from about 1911-1913.
Style: By 1910 the waistline was higher. This led to the wearing of a brassiere or a lightly boned corset, giving a softer shape. Skirts were less full and shorter.
Upper class socialites still led fashion but the influence of actresses like Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish was growing. Women became more active in the workplace and everyday dress became more practical. Pockets, which had largely disappeared from women's clothing, made a come back. Highlight: December 1, 1919 - Lady Astor became the first woman to take her seat in parliament. Quote from the day: "Meek wifehood is no part of my profession; I am your friend, but never your possession" - Vera Brittain, author.
1920 - 1930: Anything Goes Garment: Evening dress, silver lame and silk satin with silver thread from about 1925-1928.
Style: After the Great War, women had proved they could successfully take on roles traditionally held by men. Women's clothing became simpler, more practical and even boyish. Chests and hips were flattened to give a straight body shape. For day wear, knitted fabrics became popular and Coco Chanel launched the two piece knitted suit, which became a fashion classic.
Highlight: May 7,1928 - all women over the age of 21 receive the vote. Quote from the day: "Everything was changing, and fast. …