Objective: To understand several different viewpoints about how fashion can be a form of self-expression, but can also be interpreted as restrictive or oppressive, especially when it comes to gender roles, and to understand historical examples that can support each viewpoint.
Some people see fashion as a form of self-expression, while others see it as an oppressive socializing force – especially for women, who the critics of fashion claim must always follow gender codes in their dress. The Content Guides for this module provide a historical perspective on the ways fashion reflected women’s roles in American history. Your task for this discussion is to conduct research to find examples of men’s fashion in American history. How has mens’ fashion been reflective of men’s freedom of self expression, or lack of freedom? Do you think fashion has liberating or oppressive for men? Please remember, this is your chance to reference material in the online Content Guides or reading to support your answer, and you must provide the source of your research as well. In their zeal to discuss fashion, students sometimes forget this is a history course, so please remember historical examples and examples from the course material, including the Content Guides, help make a strong discussion posts!
•Read Chapter 1 of the Valerie Steele book (Valerie Steele, Fifty Years of Fashion: The New Look to Now (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997).
Changes After the Civil War
The struggle for women’s suffrage began in earnest after the Civil War. Although it took decades for women to win the right to vote, it took just as long for them to be free from what some might call the tyranny of fashion. In the 1800s, many women wore corsets with bone or steel stays to create a slim silhouette. Although it was debated how harmful corsets were to women’s health, “tight lacers” choose a fashionable look over comfort and health. During certain time periods, men also wore corsets to achieve a slim look. Women in the 1800s also wore a heavy load of clothing that included layers of petticoats that reached to the floor.
In the mid-1800s, women’s rights activist Amelia Bloomer wanted more freedom of movement. She wanted women’s clothing to be comfortable and functional and she promoted a pair of pantaloons (full-legged pants) to wear under a shorter skirt, which had been designed by another women’s rights proponent, Elizabeth Smith Miller. Although actress Fanny Kemble wore the style in public, the campaign to promote these “Turkish trousers” or bloomers was ridiculed.
Women continued to wear full skirts, although eventually a hoop skirt was invented that made the layers of petticoats unnecessary. The hoop skirt was a frame that held the skirts ballooning out from the woman’s body. Although lighter and more comfortable for women, it took up a great deal more space and inhibited movement through doorways. Finally, a foldable hoop skirt was invented that could be collapsed so the wearer could pass through doorways comfortably.
The shirtwaist dress was not known as “dress reform,” but it was a major innovation in women’s dress and became incredibly popular. It was specifically adapted for women working in factories who had little time for the arduous task of cleaning clothes. The outfit included an overblouse that could be cleaned separately from the rest of the clothing. It was also shorter than previous skirts (above the ankle) and the skirt was slimmer to allow greater movement. Shirtwaist dresses were mass-produced and affordable for working women and popularized by images of the Gibson Girl drawn by Charles Dana Gibson.
The New Woman
Gibson was an illustrator for many popular magazines in the 1890s and early 1900s, including Colliers, Harpers Monthly, and The Century. His delicate, beautiful Gibson girl almost always wore a shirtwaist, indicating that she was self-supporting and self-sufficient. She was often drawn biking or sporting golfing clothes, or enjoying the presence of a young man. Although this New Woman appeared sophisticated and firmly middle class, she made the shirtwaist popular for all classes. Ironically, although she was depicted with very Anglo features, even though most working women were immigrants.
Ibis Publications, Inc., “The Gibson Girl” http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/gibson.htm, accessed November 26, 2008.
Woloch, Nancy, Women and the American Experience: A Concise History, McGraw Hill, 2001.
The objective of this discussion is to get you thinking creatively about how clothes create messages and meaning.
Most of you are probably familiar with the children’s story Little Red Riding Hood. You can review it here: http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/type0333.html
In order to develop an understanding of the ways clothes can communicate messages, this creative discussion allows you to use your imagination to develop a costume for the main character of the little girl in the story. We know the story as describing the girl as wearing a “little red riding hood” made by her grandmother for her. If you were a costume designer, able to costume the girl in any way you wished to convey any message you wished, how would you outfit her? You can use any colors, fabrics, styles, or accessories you wish! Here’s the catch for the outfit however: You need to specify what time period (or time periods!) the outfit refers to and you must explain your choices and what you are trying to convey with your choices for the little girls outfit. In other words, your choices will convey messages that may change the characterization of the girl, the moral of the story and the message conveyed by the story and, you must provide an explanation of what messages the outfit conveys and how it communicates them. Please be historically accurate in the details you choose and your explanation of them.
NOTE: Because there is no right or wrong answer in this project, the ongoing discussion is important, and the ways in which you explain how messages are conveyed by the clothing is important. It isn’t important whether you choose X color or Y color, or A style or B style. What is important is WHY you made that decision. How will these decisions help convey the message you are trying to convey?
Read Chapter 1 of the Valerie Steele book (Valerie Steele,