class lectures

Fashion at the edge:   haunting, spectacle, glamour, cruelty, disconnection, and trauma, in the 1980’s and 90’s these designers explored it all


Leigh Bowery


Thierry Mugler  1997 S/S Haute Couture



Vivenne Westwood  Biography

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Worlds end fashion show – Pirate collection


Boy George


Adam Ant

Punkature Pairs, 1982

A/W 1993-94


Alexander McQueen

Nihilism 1994  Nihilism: “Life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value.”


For his first staged runway show, Lee McQueen presented models that appeared to have been victims of a car wreck, or in the eyes of some reviewers, abuse. They walk down the runway spattered in what appears to be blood or dirt, and wear pants cut so low on the hip that they reveal the top of the models’ bottoms

Highland Rape 1995   info Highland Rape,” which introduced the world not only to the designer’s trademark bumster pants, but also to his fierce national pride. The models’ torn garments and bloodied bodies ignited a fury, but this was no endorsement of rape, it was an exploration of Scotland’s turbulent history with England.

McQ.215a, b_mcq.202.AV0

Dante 1996 Dante was shown in a candle-lit church in Spitalfields, London with a skeleton seated front row. Beauty and blasphemy were woven throughout this wide-ranging collection  AMcQ experimented with denim and Victoriana, tropes that he would return to again and again.


La Poupee 1997 The Doll. Inspired by the artist Hans Bellmer, who fetishistically rearranged toy dolls, McQueen experimented with proportion and, more disturbingly, trussed the models in various metal restraints.

McQ 'SS '97

Creating an art piece 1999 This show was inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement, and it ended with the model Shalom Harlow rotating on a turntable, wearing a white dress, being spray-painted by two industrial robots. Shalom Harlow trained as a ballerina. It is often said that the inspiration behind the collection was the dying swan



Martin Margiela Bio documentary 


FW 1992



Maison Martin Margiela - S-S 1997 Margielaform_semicouture



Hussein Chalayan

Wood Bodice



Fall/Winter 1998

Spring 1998


Spring 1999


Autumn / Winter 2000



Democratic vs. communist / socialist

Space Race

Space suit  


Frank Horvat, American Man and woman in spacesuits.  1963. Photograph 

2001 a Space Odyssey, Sir Hardy Amies Designer

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SOURCE CREDIT – “British Film Institute”
Reproduction of this image requires the appropriate copyright clearance. In making this image available, the bfi confers no licence to use or copy the image. All copyright clearance is the responsibility of the user.
In consideration for making this image available, the user hereby agrees to indemnify the bfi against any claim or liability arising from the use of this image.
The information service of the bfi National Library may be able to carry out copyright ownership research on your behalf. Fax +44 (0) 20 7436 0165 for details of services and costs.
British Film Institute
21 Stephen Street
London W1T 1LN
Tel +44 (0) 20 7255 1444


Rudi Gernreich


clothing with Armor, 1960’s

1967 Fashion Show


Early 1970’s right after Apollo moon walk.


Paco Rabanne 

Fashion Show


1960’s metal dress


Casino Royale 1967


Barbarella costumes  Paco R and Jacques Fonteray  1968


Jane Fonda as Barbarella 1968


Roger Vadim preparing Jane Fonda’s outfit in Barbaarella 1967


Pierre Cardin – Cosmocorps





Fashion Show 1969

Fashion Show 1970


Alice Edeling: tunic and boots, metallic fabric, late 1960’s.  The Netherlands.

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Emilio Pucci “space bubble” 1965




Andre Courreges   inventor of the mini dress





André Courrèges - Space Age (2)

1970 Fashion Video  Space age video


Gijs Bakker


Polly Magoo



Diana Dew 1967


Haus Rucker co 1967












Against Fashion: Clothing as Art 1850-1930

Henry Van de Velde in Germany

“The evolution of ideas and of the conditions of social life cannot make do solely with painting and statues.  It is madness to consider only these for our material existence and it’s blindness to believe they can satisfy all  the art needs of our time”

“nothing will enter our home except what I have conceived and designed myself”

Gesamtkunstwerk: the total work of art.


Maria Sethe, Mrs. Van de Velde clothes were treated like any other object in the house.  Match her dresses with the vegetable puree served at dinner.

Van de Velde didn’t design his own clothing, as he believed men’s clothing was already far more rational than women’s.   “Fashion is flighty, unfaithful, coquettish, and naturally delusive.


His theories in his own  country have little impact, but he did inspire other artist, designers and architects to do the same: Frank Lloyd Wright designed his wife’s dresses.   When his career takes him to Germany, there is anti fashion theories are more favorably received.

  1. unified German nation, was experiencing an economic boom, and a great interest in Kunstgewerbe (applied arts) and it’s relationship to industry.
  2. Germany was a favorite place for dress reform that had been initiated by feminist and hygienists.

Kaiser Wilhelm-Museum hosted an exhibition of rational dress, Van de Velde show’s six of his wife’s dresses.  Exhibition was a great success and similar shows followed.  Exhibiting and spreading inspiration of the applied arts, of which fashion was one.

Last attempt to establish artistic dress in 1910’s  Germany was the Modehaus Alfred-Marie, a fashion house opened in 1914 by the painter and dress designer Otto Ludwig Haas-Heye.  Very successful but rejected by avant-garde because it was too commercially oriented.


Klimt and the Wiener Werkstatte

Founded in 1903 by Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser on the model of the Century Guild of Arthur Mackmurdo and the Guild of Handicraft of Charles Robert Ashbee, the Wiener Werkstatte, “a society for the production of craft”, any distinction between art and craft was abolished.



Like van de Velde, Hoffmann thought the artist had to consider every detail of his surroundings, it was the only way to achieve harmony.

Modeabteilung “architect of fashion”



Wiener Werkstatte fashion ablum 


Friederika Maria Beer in a Wiener-Werkstatte ensamble made from the fabric “maria” by Dagobert Peche.

Hoffman “as long as our cities, our homes, our rooms, our cupboards, our tools, our dress and finery, as long as our language and our feelings will not symbolize in a simple and beautiful way the spirit of our times, we will be relegated to an infinite distance from our ancestors, and no lie will ever be able to conceal these weaknesses”


Artist Gustav Klimt


Klimt and Emile Floge, 1905-10, dress probably designed by Klimt. 

Kunsterkleid artist dress.  Limited impact, created by an artist, such clothing is not primarily a practical object but rather a genuine work of art, whose foremost quality is beauty.  Radically opposed to that of his main rival, Adolf Loos, who believed that talking about the beauty of clothing in art was a sort of heresy:  “a painting by Botticelli, a melody by Burns, these are beautiful things.  But a pair of trousers?…A jacket must have two or three buttons? The cut of the collar should be high or low? I am seized by anxiety when i hear people discussing the beauty of such things.  I become nervous when one asks me about a garment, “is this not beautiful?”

Eduard Wimmer-Wisgrill, lead the Mode-abteilung from 1911-22, and he followed the line of kunsterkleid (art dress), he favored a style halfway between the Reformkleid (reform dress) and the orientalizing costume.


Wimmer-Wisgrill: project for a dress with “harem pants” 1914


Futurism and Dress

“Today’s woman loves luxury more than love.  A visit to a great dressmaker’s establishment, escorted by a paunch, gouty banker friend who pays the bills, is a perfect substitute for the most amorous rendezvous with an adored young man.  The woman finds all the mystery of love in the selection of an amazing ensemble, the latest model, which her friends still do not have.”


Futurist Manifesto.  Futurism wanted to reconstruction of the universe.  Fascism and Futurism


Marinetti: fashion is evil, it corrupts women, who are too weak to resist the temptation of the latest garment.

Giacomo Balla: in 1912 Balla first futurist to design clothes.

20 May 1914, Balla published the Futurist Manifesto on clothing, “Male Futurist Dress”.  To escape from the depressing established approach to clothing, Balla wanted to completely abolish mourning dress; dark or faded colors; striped, checked, or spotted fabrics; symmetry in cut; uniformity of lapels; useless buttons; and the detachable collar and starched  cuffs.  Futurist Dress would be dynamic, asymmetrical, nimble, simple and comfortable, hygienic, joyful, illuminating, willful, flying and most of all, variable.



Modifiers applique pieces of cloth (of different size, thickness or color) that can be attached at will to any part of the dress with pneumatic buttons.  Not limited to color and texture as some of them were perfumed. Thus anyone could invent a new dress at any time depending on the mood.  The wearer is given control over the changes in dress.

The futurist reconstruction of the universe  French “transformable clothes” made using “mechanical trimmings surprises, tricks, disappearance of individuals”

“light-giving” quality of clothes, requirenment to use phosphorescent cloth.



Balla: projects for futurist ties.  1925-1930


Balla-projects for scarves. 1919


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Balla – projects for Futurist jacket 1914


Balla-Futurist shoes 1916-1918, 1929, and Dress 1930




Balla – projects for blouses and sweaters 1930


1914 The Antineutral Dress Bella, Italian verison.  “we will glorify war, the world’s only hygiene” favored Italy’s entry into WWII

Futurist Clothes had to:  main qualities became aggressiveness, “to increase the flexibility of the body and to favor its surge to fight” and dynamism, “to inspire the love of danger, of speed and assault and the hatred of peace and immobility”  First manifesto promoted comfort, the second was associated with military practicalities such as rifle shooting.

The heroic dead should not be mourned, but celebrated by  wearing red clothes.   Modifiers were illustrated like those of the French manifesto, but were changed to be “warlike”

White Green Red Mourning suit for Marinetti

White red blue suit for Francesco Cangiullo

White red green suit for Umberto Boccioni

Red all piece suit for Cardo Carra

Green Pullover white and red jacket for Luigi Russolo

“living flags”





Balla – Projects for Suits and Fabrics 1914

“this intrinsic provocation in Futurist dress is not only based on imagination, it also involves behavior…a behavioral input aimed at the achievement of great ability and nonchalance in everyday actions and social relations.  This type of behavioral induction is an integral part of Futurist ideological writing, for which the garment  is a visible sign.  It is not possible to be Futurist without acting in the real world in a Futurist manner, and the correct dress is the visible sign of this intention.


Balla- project for a house dress. 1925


Balla- embroidered waistcoat worn by the artist. 1924


Balla – project for a dress 1929


Balla- project for a swim suit, 1930.

Second generation of Futurist Artist:

1932 Tullio Crali “eliminating what is superfluous”


Grey Flannel jacket with no details or pockets and only one lapel. Tie is banished from the suit.


Crali- Project for a dress. 1932

The Tuta: comfort, simplicity, and hygiene.  It could be made by oneself.  1000 patterns were sold in a few days.  Gave birth to a new group called i tutisti.  Motivated by the economic precariousness postwar period, responding to scarcity and a protest against the cost of traditional clothes.   Variations on the american overalls.



Enresto Michahelles, aka Thayaht Tuta Jumpsuit for men

The Russian Avant-Garde and Dress

No other country in which fashion was so attacked as in revolutionary Russia.  The reproaches of the dress reformers who has accused fashion of being unhealthy and immoral were replaced by an ideological stance:  fashion was essentially a bourgeois phenomenon and, as such, it was expected to die together with the social class that produced it.

Productivism the most radical group of Russian avant-garde  “the last painting has been painted”

Painting had lost it’s social phenomenon.  Elitist and strongly individualistic form of art that was too closely connected with decoration and museums.   No impact on the masses.


Constructive life is the art of the future.

Art that fails to become a part of life will be catalogued in the museum of archeological antiquities.

It is time for art to organize itself and become part of life.

In order to accomplish this ambitious project of changing the world and replacing the creation of art with the “construction of life”, artist had to abandon their personal aesthetic goals and dedicate themselves to the collective aim of building a new communist lifestyle.   Reshaping the world of objects.


Varvara Stepanova- caricature of Alexei Gan, 1922.

Clothing was part of the large family of everyday objects.

The social importance of dress was a common theme in the libertarian tradition, Pyotro Kropotkin had called for the abolition of fashion and “the communalization of clothing”

“But every on will want a sable-lined coat or a velvet gown” exclaim our adversaries.  Frankly, we do not believe it.  Every woman does not dote on velvet, no does every man dream of sable linings.  Even no, if we were to ask each woman to choose her gown, we should find some prefer a simple, practical garment to all fantastic trimmings the fashionable world affects.

Dress symbolically preserved class distinction, in the new revolutionary world class wasn’t supposed to exist.

Dress down, to dress up, to dress equally, and not to dress at all.

Major function of clothes was to express revolutionary change symbolically.

the word “fashion” was an insult.

Vladimir Tatlin, founder of Constructivsim, “anti fashion” “constructed clothes”   Not a subject to draw but a constructed thing.


Vladimir Tatlin – Man’s suit and overcoat 1924

Comfortable, long lasting, easy to clean, freedom of movement, accommodate all body positions.


Tatlin – Project for a dress 1924., Project for an overcoat. 1924 detail.

Designed as prototypes for the textile industry, and the ideas of “normalization” and “standardization” were key concepts.

Varvara Stepanova  Liubov Popova.  Worked for the first cotton printing factory in Moscow.


Stepanova wearing a Constructivist dress.  1924



Popova and Stepanova, caricatures 1924

1923: Stepanova “present day dress – production and clothing, should be replaced by a conception of dress based on use.

Three types of dress:

Prozodezhda (production dress)  adapated to the wearers profession, maximum comfort

Stepanova’s husband made his own version of Prozodezhda of wool and leather on a singer sewing machine.   Artist working suit




spetsodezhda – a specialized garment with a specific productive function.  Protective clothing needed by surgeons, pilots, firefighters, workers in acid factories, or arctic explorers. 

sportodezhda – dress for sport.  Sport is the soul of the citizens. 


Stepanova – Projects for sport clothing.

The designs of Popova and Stepanova were in complete discrepancy with the social and economic conditions of the times and hardly ever got beyond prototype.

Less radical, Nadezhda Lamonova was  also opposed to the tyranny of fashion.

Lamanova had a successful career in haute couture before the revolution and was a friend of Paul Poiret, evolved towards a hybrid position.  She mixed dress reform with Russian folk costume.


Lamanova- Pioneer’s attire. 1925, Projects for sport clothes, 1925.

Outfits adapted to the individual figure. Eigenkleid “personalized dress”



Lamanova- Projects for a dress 1925


Lamanova- Project for a caftan.


Lamanova – Project for a dress


Sonia Delaunay 

Simultaneism – style of painting based on contrasts of color.    Simultane is an art of depth that technically expresses in the raw material – painting, music, dresses, posters, books, furniture, color and the universal matter.

As an expansion of painting, simultaneous clothes were clearly antifashion, using painterly techniques to attach traditional fashion.  The combination of colors destroyed any well-defined shape of the cut, and the association of different fabrics with varied textures contributed to the breaking up of form.


Delaunay – Jacket 1923.


Delaunay – Projects for dresses, 1924-1925


Delaunay – Project for a swimming suit. 1928


Fashion and Surrealism 

Metaphor and Metamorphosis Fashion and its instruments were at the heart of Surrealist metaphor, touching on the imagery of women and the correlation between the world of real objects and the life of objects in the mind.


Man Ray, Gift 1921

As the Surrealists would have it, beauty comes by chance because of the innately superior conditions of the subconscious to those that are controlled and regulated by reason.


Oscar Dominguez (French, born Spain 1906-1957)  Electrosexual Sewing Machine 1934

Sewing machine is a surrogate for a woman.


Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-72)

Untitled, 1931  Reproduced under the rubric “the pulse of fashion” Cornell’s collage was the embodiment of women as garment and of the sewing machine as creative enterprise.

Addressing “the embodiment of woman as the garment and the sewing machine as creative enterprise”

The object provides an important harmony, suggesting that all things, even those achieved by chance or presented in new associations or radical dissociations could have meaning.




Max Ernst (1891-1976) Plates from Fiat Modes, Pereat ars (let there be fashion, down with art) 1919

Working in Cologne, in 1919 Ernst pronounced the dressmakers art to be the equal of, it not superior to the fine arts. Fiat Modes, adopts the mannequin figures of Chirico’s and transforms them into creations that are uniquely Ernst’s own.


Man Ray, Le Violon d’ingres, 1924. Man Ray’s vision of woman as musical instrument satirizes the cubist obsession with the  guitar.

Dominique Lacoustille Window Dress, 1985


Photographed next to a real window, this witty dress realizes the Surrealist metaphor.  As a window conceals as well as reveals, so the garment conceals and reveals the body, affirming the visual congruity of the window and dress.


Bodies and Parts


Giorgio De Chirico. The disquieting Muses, 1917.  The altered dress form is a metaphor combing mechanistic and personal elements to create a symbol of the human.  Like a puppet, the mannequin clearly refers to the figure, and the assemblage of parts is a mechanical equivalent to anatomy.


Marisol (Venezuelan, born France) Body Coat (painted on a design by Jacques Kaplan) 1960.  Audaciously feigning nudity through the coat, Marisol recapitulates the concept of Man Ray’s Coat Stand.



Salvador Dali. Night and Day Clothes of the Body, 1936.  Dali’s ingenious antipodes of night and day, revelation and concealment, stiffness and softness, and light and dark give form to the concept of clothing as possessing its own life.  The mystery that Dali offers is the essential paradox of clothing.


George Platt Lynes.  Elizabeth Gibbons with Umbrella and Mask. 1940

The scrim like transparency of  the garment, more cocoon than clothing, softens the figure to an elegant nudity while the mask and umbrella accompany such idealism with prurient mischief.


Rene Magritte.  Homage to Mack Sennett. 1934.  Magritte explores the intimate eroticism of clothing and the undeniable sense of the individual within the garment. Both the memory of the body and the anticipation of its presence obtain even as the clothing may hang in a wardrobe.

Elsa Schiaparelli – Shocking 


Elsa 1936 / Chanel 1929






Sportswear 1925




Sweaters, 1925


Divided skirt patten 1931








Shoe Hat







Lobster Dress


Dali collaboration


Collaboration with Jean Cocteau



Butterfly dress collaboration with Man Ray


Man Ray collaboration


















Wearing Propaganda: 1931-45 Textiles and apparel on the home front in Japan, Britain and United States.

As well as casting new light on wartime propaganda methods, it provides fascinating insights into the divergent attitudes towards patriotism and war in the three countries in question

The contrast between the personal, intimate nature of these garments, including various types of kimono, obi (sash) and haori (jacket) and their strident nationalistic imagery was startling

Whereas all the British and American textiles were either roller-printed by machine, or screen-printed or block-printed by hand, the Japanese employed a variety of techniques, including kasuri, where the warp is printed, rather than the cloth, resulting in blurred effects. Many kimonos were produced as one-offs. Some were hand-painted rather than printed; many were decorated using stencils, paste-resists and dyes, a process known as yüzen.

Part 1: Setting the Context 1931-1945

Asia Pacific War begins with Manchurian Incident in 1931  Japan gains power, sees itself a modern

Hitler on the Rise in Germany

Britain 1939 declares war on Germany

US Pearl Harbor 1941

Propaganda on the Home Fronts:

Visual Propaganda, appeals to emotions vs. intellect



Homefront: morale and motivation are lost, commitment to battle soon follows.

Propaganda involves: a sender, a message, a receiver, a purpose, a medium and an effect.

Includes: national visual culture, popular, and material culture: posters, cartoons, leaflets, advertising, cinema, radio and news media to get the message across.

Agitation propaganda – call to action

Integration propaganda – substituting one framework for another war to peace, moral, social, and intellectual indoctrination.

V is for Victory

V4victory 004

Propaganda textiles were worn in Japan by adults and children, and used for traditional clothing such as kimono, obi, nagajuban, haori, and in accessories haneri, furoshiki, tenugui, and furoshiki.


Furoshiki were favored as military mementos’ and were made with designs referencing specific military units or events.

Tenugui were made for household use, zabuton and futon.

Represent traditional masculine attributes: power, bravery and loyalty.

Koinobori – carp banner flown for boy’s holidays


Kobuto – samurai helmets


Gosho ningyo – doll figure



American and British propaganda textiles were made into dress goods for women’s accessories, such as handkerchiefs and scarves.  For men ties were the logical place.

Propaganda Precedents – pre 1930’s


Bedcover, “the apotheosis of Benjamin Franklin and George Washington” Britain ca. 1785


Handkerchief, “Playing Soldiers” Britain 1880.


Dress yardage “the Union Forever” 1861-65. Printed cotton.


Kerchief. “remember the Maine” 1898.


Japan, 1894 war board game.


Short Silk Juban, 1905.


Russo-Japanese War Surrender, Japan 1905.  Kimono Fabric, early 20th century.



Part 2: Visual Culture of War

Japan’s Beautiful Modern War


Childs Kimono detail. 1937

IMG_2247 (1)

1930’s Japanese government posters


Potatoes are Protective, Too


Textile: Battle of Britain. 1940.

Ministry of Food Ad. 1943.

Cover of Boo-Boo barrage Balloon.  1940.

Barrage balloons used the largest stretches of textiles in Britain during WWII.  Riveting home front icon.  Lowly potatoes come into play as a stand in balloon.


Dress.  Happy Landings.  Designed by Arnold Lever 1940.

Woman versus man became enemy versus ally.


Kerchief “keep it dark” 1940

Dress detail: mosaic of “you never know who’s listening” 1940’s.


An American Vision Doing our part.




Broadside and poster


Pincushion “hotzi notzi” 1941


Part 3: Wearing Propaganda: fashion, textiles and morale on the home front.

Extravagance is the enemy


Woman’s Haori.  “the thrill of the flight” late 1920’s – early 1930’s

Narrow width weaving


Childs Haregi. “images of war” late 1930’s

Meisen Kimono

Give up dresses and kimono and wear a Monpe, make up and permanent waves were banned in 1939.


Cotton shortage, wool requisitioned for military clothing and blankets, silk only textile not imported and was also channeled into war good.

National guidelines for dress –  the committee for reform of national dress, from ministries of army, commerce, agriculture and imperial household affairs.

Outline for Implementing Simplified Wartime Clothing Habits. Greater regulation of styles and created a new mode know as “reformed western dress”  Monpe only garment generally adapted.

1942 High fashion non-existent due to shortages.


boy’s summer kimono “running soldiers” 1940’s.

Design and War: Kimono as “Parlor Performance” Propaganda.

Japans military might is projected toward Korea and China.


Furoshiki “war in china”  Kimono fabric 1930’s.

Children’s Kimono’s appeal to the child as well as the adults who see them and require less material than an adults Kimono.

Modern design in clothing was manifested in two ways during wartime:  the kimono with war-promoting designs and the designs for standardized clothing.  Civilian uniforms for men (kokuminfuku) and women (hyojunfuku) represent propaganda on a grander scale because they were sanctioned and promoted by the government.

Principe motifs of the Kimono:

Armaments (battleships, airplanes, tanks, sabers, bayonets, bombs, artillery)


The national flag, military flags, army and navy badges, golden kite medal


Battlefield scenes


Victory celebrations

Manchukuo themes

Axis-Alliance celebration


Rich nation, strong army and industrial development


Man’s Nagujuban, 1939-41

Military deities


Keeping up on the home front morale: beauty and duty in wartime Britain

“the peoples war”

Austerity and appearances – downplay the instabilities and paradoxes thrown up by the changing definition of a woman.    Show solidarity by adopting a more austere look.


It’s a women’s duty to keep themselves looking their best.  “Looking good” lifts spirits.

Utility clothing scheme: state regulated program for the production, pricing, and rational of clothes, entitled everyone to basic but limited amounts of clothing at fair prices through ha coupon system of payment.


Utility Suit gray harringbone wool. Britain 1942


Utility clothing was regarded as fashionable as clothing produced outside the systems looked like that produced with in.

Making do and Making over




Berketex Utility range of dresses. Britain 1942

Beauty a duty – for women who joined the women’s services between 1939-1945.



Make up







Propaganda prints



Dress Fabric and jacket. Britain 1940




London Squares: the scarves of wartime Britain.



Showing the colors of America:

Fashion Center shifts to US.

Uncle Sam assumed roll of fashion designer.


Sweeping restrictions aim to save 15% of the yardage now used in women’s and girl’s apparel.  Restricted hems and belts. Dresses shorter and tighter.  Men’s suits made without vests and pockets. Wool, metal zippers, rubber, leather (cork wedges)


two-toned clothing, make with patched together clothing

Production of Hemp is encouraged.

Nylon was missed, women stood in line for hours.

Feed sack fabric






Propaganda Textiles 


Aeroplane Kimono 1930’s


Kimono and Obi 1930’s


Modern Military, 1930’s


Childs Vest, Printed muslin. 1930’s.


woman’s haori. 1930’s


Boy’s Kimono 1938-40


Military Man Kimono 1930’s


Obi.  Marching soldiers. 1930’s


Baby’s haori. “fighting machines” 1930’s.


Girls Naregi.  1941


boy’s haori. 1940’s


boys haori. 1940’s.

Scarves – United States





Victory Yardage 1940’s.

Our Kimono Mind: Reflections on “Japanese Design: A survey sense 1950”

Arguments in the article:

Could not imagine the contemporary phenomenon of oversizing in apparel from sportswear to tailored styles without the Japanese role in Western dress.

would not have achieved the relative deconstruction of tailored clothing in menswear and womenswear without the example of Japanese dress.

This is not to say that Kenzo, Kawakubo, Miyake, and others cannot employ tailoring to a purpose, but the ethos of their clothing is about the piling on of layers, a construction of continuous tissues on the body.

Kawakubo’s 1982-3 ‘lace’ sweater with its fragile, moth eaten character is, of course, indicative of this economic equivocation, so clearly invoking the most rarefied.

T.167-1985; T.167A-1985 Hand knitted 'lace' sweater over a jersey top and cotton jersey skirt with irregular horizontal pleats Rei Kawakubo (Comme des Garçons), Paris 1982

T.167-1985; T.167A-1985
Hand knitted ‘lace’ sweater over a jersey top and cotton jersey skirt with irregular horizontal pleats
Rei Kawakubo (Comme des Garçons), Paris 1982

The West assumes that ‘street’ and couture are antipodes; Japanese design begins with no such assumption and Japanese fashion proceeds from no such dialectic. Rather, we realize a reconciliation and resolution between social and economic extremes. Issey Miyake’s recent pleats are a utopian clothing of broad outreach and of social reformation, not a specialized fashion for an aristocracy or style elite.


It is impossible to describe and analyze late twentieth-century fashion in Europe and America without taking account of the substantive contribution of Japanese design

1972, Kenzo told Bernadine Morris of the New York Times, ‘Fashion is not for the few-it is for all the people’.


in the West relinquish only reluctantly our ancient regime of the couture’s hegemony and of fashion’s status, though fashion’s cultural status in the West is ironically lower than elsewhere because of our culture’s particular repudiation of women and of the discourse of the body

in the final third of the century, Western fashion struggled to find a new sign system that recognized fashion as a quotidian phenomenon more than as a function of an elitist couture, that observed richness in the propagation of imagery and cognate advertising, and that appreciated invention of both product and the application of garment artefacts to styling.

As an intellectual system, Western dress yearned for a new universal. Why did Japanese designers offer the best new options from the 197os to the 199os? Japanese design offers the extant alternative that reconciles kimono ceremony and applied use for dress.

Japan offered an aesthetic and practical possibility beyond conventional Western tailoring.  In the West as in every culture, fashion has traditionally been associated with special occasions, whether collective ceremonies or individually fulfilled rites of passage. But the West had also associated dress with times of the day and occasions specific to daily life, thus a differentiated outfit for riding, separate apparel for other sports, particular dress for cocktails and early evening, and distinctive dress for the evening. This stratified dress-with its dogmatic coding-was in degeneration by the 196os due to changing social standards, but its vestiges remained. When the West sought an apparel that was less specific to place and function, Japanese design again offered a perfect, beckoning example. Western fashion was bound to a principle of differentiations by gender, class, value, and even specific occasion. Fashion in our time has instead demanded fashion that is detached from specific purpose to serve many options and existing in a free realm of intellectual and aesthetic postulation. Japan has pro- vided the model of adaptability that has been required for functions of dress and for reasons of modern simplicity in life.

Japanese designers such as Rei Kawakubo, Issey Miyake, and Kansai Yamamoto offer a wholly different view of clothing. The emotional and spiritual presence of the clothing takes no regard for the time of day, but only for the emotional and intellectual position of the designer and thereby the wearer.


hade, displaying the boisterous, un mitigated joyousness and celebration of life; others are of jinmi quietude and implied spiritualism just as much on the basis of personal proclivity and aesthetic, designing for the contemplative, almost introspective view of life

Both traditional and contemporary Japanese fashion has approached the human body differently than Western dress. Tailoring and the body penum- bra or body-shaping silhouette have been para- mount in Western culture, whereas layered cushioning and abstract shaping have been more characteristic of Japanese design, as evident in Issey Miyake’s work.8 Even today Western culture tends to hang clothing; Japanese culture tends to fold clothing. The erotic and feminine ideal of Western dress simulates the body, whereas the wrapping, geo- metric abstract, and cloaking of Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo have functioned in a completely opposite way.

Hanae Mori has brought the most refined crafts in subtly colored fields of beadwork and embroidery, as from ancient craft, to the modern vocabulary of dress. Issey Miyake has commanded virtuoso skills of textiles, dyeing, and decoration to the untailored garment.

conspicuous return of black to fashion in the 198os and 199os-eschewed since its last revival in Beat Generation black of the 195os-in the West has been chiefly sponsored by Japanese designers, especially Kawakubo. Its jimi spirit is justified in the history of black attire in the West, but fashion black of the contemporary era is primarily inspired by Japanese design.

Industrial Revolution


The Railroad = Industrial growth in USA


1891 counties

Carl Marx on Labor

“A Devil in Petticoats” and Just Cause: Patterns of Punishment in Two New England Textile Factories

Punishment has been ingrained in the social structure of the factory from the very beginning because the coordination of a complex division of labor entails exercise of authority, and where orders are given there is a potential for disobedience.

While studies on motivation of factory labor have focused predominantly on the use of rewards to elicit effort, the rewards of wage labor have never sufficed, without a backup system of punishment.

Hamilton Manufacturing Company 5 in Lowell for the period 1826-1838


The machine process requires rigid discipline, which makes itself felt in “schedules of time, place and circumstance” requiring “conformity to the canon of accurate quantitative measurement.”

The separation of home and work-place has served, especially since the abatement of child labor, to conceal factory routine from young people until they pass through the employment office to their first job.

“Punctuality, calculability, exactness are forced upon life by the complexity and extension of metropolitan existence,” as Georg Simmel argued. Parental concern for jobs, paychecks, and the vagaries of the labor market are communicated to children, but in many ways the world within the factory gates remains a mystery.

After changes with contradictory consequences are taken into account, what remains is the continuing problem of synchronizing humans and machines in hierarchic work organizations.

The Hamilton Manufacturing Company, one of the famous Lowell boarding house mills, was incorporated in 1825, and production at the first of three mills in the corporation began in May of the following year. The earliest payroll book documents a strong pre- occupation with the validation of newly-claimed authority through punitive controls. By the end of March 1827, 190 employees were at work in the new factory, yet already during the first ten months of operations there had been 119 separations from the labor force:

“regular notice” (two weeks’ notice) 42 (35.3%)

“short notice,” no notice, sickness  43 (36.1%)

“husband came for her,” etc. discharges 34 (28.6%)

One discharge entry bore the notation “overseer didn’t like.” expressing dissatisfaction over wages, hysteria and levity (!) were also cited as reasons for dismissal. (Surely if laughter is a defense against adversity, being fired from the mill for “levity” is an outrage)

While in later records the primary concern is for productivity and workmanship, during the first faltering steps of factory production, management seemed most interested in asserting dominance

Moral Police:

No distinction was made between what workers did on company time and what they did on their own. Being “reported” was grounds for dismissal even if the report had no bearing on work performance.

Lowell boarding house mills, the ten p.m. curfew and similar restrictions on personal behavior were an intrinsic part of the company rules with as much force as rules for heeding the starting bell or keeping looms clean.

No evidence that the 1837 dismissal of Mary Moses and Lucy Richardson for dancing in the spinning room of Mill A was connected with any loss of production. It is safe to infer that this incident flew in the face of the puritanical moral code advocated by the management and, as such, was defined as detrimental to the order and discipline of the mill.

Weavers and Watchmen:

275 discharges in the record having a plausible link to poor work performance, 176 (64 per cent) were against weavers.

The explanation of why weavers are more prone to dismissal on work-related charges has to do with the relative difficulty and complexity of weaving com- pared to other mill jobs. When more things can go wrong with a job, it is probable that there will be more disciplinary action in- volving faulty work than in classifications that are simpler and more fool-proof. It may be a corollary of Murphy’s Law that if something can go wrong it will be punished, or more precisely, the greater the probability of mistakes in a work classification, the greater the expected incidence of “bad work” penalties.Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 9.00.21 AM

Lest anyone think this a frivolous reason to quit, both these weavers averaged earnings of fifty-nine cents per day during the pay period ending April 18, 1835, and the deduction represented about three hours’ work for one, and two for the other. Overall, the workers against whom the 108 recorded fines were assessed averaged daily earnings of sixty cents, while the mean fine was eleven cents. For an estimated twelve-hour workday, that meant a loss of 2.2 hours in wages. This was no trivial loss, all the more so since the deduction was not accompanied by a -corresponding reduction of time and effort inputs by the penalized workers.

Absenteeism and Debt

In 1836, Betsy Pierce was discharged on the accusation that she had “pretended sickness to go to meeting.” Two years later, Charity West met a similar fate for “staying out on pretence of sickness.” The claim of sickness to validate absence from work and managerial rejection of that claim (a familiar confrontation in modem industry) is thus documented early on in American industrial practice.

Combinations, Turn outs and Blacklists

Early entrepreneurs treated unionism as a conspiracy to be rooted out. In March 1830, Dorothy Wyman was discharged from the winding room at Hamilton on the allegation that she had “combined to raise wages.”

Work stoppages and other expressions of discontent often preceded formal unionization, and there is evidence of suppression through discharge.

There is evidence of strikers from other Lowell mills being reported through the blacklist and quickly losing their jobs at Hamilton. The efficiency of this employer’s communications network was at its peak when Alice Steaves was hired as a weaver in Mill C on March 4, 1837, and was discharged on the same day for having participated in a strike at the Merrimack Manufacturing Company. For ten workers hired at Hamilton in this period and subsequently reported through the blacklist as turn outs from other companies, the median survival time between being hired and fired was 7.5 days.Deviant Behavior

Hysteria as grounds for discharge was cited from the first pay- roll records. Other labels bestowed by the mill diagnosticians on unwanted employees included: “non composmentis,” “mad,” and “crazy.” Another was deemed unsuitable because of “religious frenzy.” These designations seem to be attempts at imputing causes for unacceptable behavior, while the more straightforward charge of “not conforming to the rules” is simply descriptive.

The Defarge Knitting Mill, 1971-1972  Woonsocket RI


After they have passed through a probationary period, employees of the Defarge Knitting Mill are subject to discharge or other penal- ties only for “good and sufficient cause.” Appeals against such punishment can be processed through a grievance procedure culminating in arbitration.

During the period of January 1, 1971 through December 31, 1972, there were 125 disciplinary penalties for cause

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Charges linked directly to poor work performance and absenteeism accounted for 49 penalties each. Nearly four out of five cases thus involved one of these areas of noncompliance

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Absenteeism has been described as a kind of individual strike,27 and as such it may be perceived as aggression against authority.

At the Defarge Mill, forty-nine of the recorded penalties (thirty- six reprimands, twelve suspensions, and one discharge) were connected with poor work performance. Four of the reprimands referred to shortfalls below production standards, while the remainder dealt in large measure with defects in the quality of the product.These penalties were not randomly distributed among the workers, but fell predominantly upon workers in the knitting department.

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While discharges for cause were few at Defarge, and the constraints of a collective bargaining agreement protect the worker under the jurisdiction of the union from arbitrary or capricious treatment, there is one set of data, not previously alluded to, which puts supposedly dramatic advances in industrial justice into a some- what different light. While public law and contract at Defarge introduce an element of due process that the Hamilton workers could not imagine in their wildest dreams, there is a catch.  That can best be illuminated by examining what happens during the probationary period.

“No worker shall be discharged or disciplined without good and sufficient cause, except during his trial period, during which period the employer may discharge or discipline at will . . . without regard to cause”

legal requirement that employers bargain with unions chosen by their employees is accepted with such equanimity in the United States today.  Written in 1976, we are in a much different place today.

“Peacefully Working to Conquer the World:” The Singer Manufacturing Company in Foreign Markets, 1854-1889

With typical Yankee push, the American sewing machine of the 1850’s was publicized and quickly accepted as the great American labor-saving machine which people around the world could use for fun or profit. The industry was in the vanguard of America’s commercial and technological thrust into the world market.

The sewing machine industry owed its inception in the early 1850’s to a series of partnerships between inventors and capitalists. The business partnership of Isaac Merrit Singer and Edward Clark brought together a profligate whose natural mechanical genius enabled him not only to spot defects in existing machines, but to correct and improve upon their action.

Out of this thicket of litigation among the sewing machine companies came the Albany agreement of October 24, 1856, America’s first patent pool

At the London Crystal Palace in 1853, four American machines were exhibited and publicly demonstrated. Two were Singers, which were very noisy in operation, and two were made by Wheeler & Wilson, which drew “the greatest number of admirers.”



Undaunted by this experience, Singer moved to secure patents in France and England on recent improvements. Charles Louis Fleischmann, a patent agent living in Paris, was hired to handle the French negotiations. The company was successful in both countries in February 1854.

The Civil War strengthened the sewing machine industry’s concern for foreign markets. In their attempt to recoup the “immense sums” lost in shipments and consignments to the South, the northern sewing machine manufacturers turned with renewed interest to overseas markets. The rising premium on foreign gold also encouraged such sales. These two developments combined to prompt manufacturers to export to foreign countries “to many fold greater extent than they had ever done before, or could have done but for the war.” To better supply this market, the Americans established depots, sales rooms, and agencies in Europe. These investments were made despite the increased American tariff on pig iron (a prime material used in the machine), Howe’s private tariff ($1.00) on all machines exported, and “the abnormal state of exchange.”


At an informal meeting on June 6, 1863, the partnership between Isaac Singer and Edward Clark was dissolved. Incorporation proceedings were then initiated by Clark. Four employees from the factory and office were offered shares in the reorganized operation and became, along with Clark and Singer, the new board of trustees.

The Singer company made two major decisions in its foreign business between 1864 and 1867: the appointment of two general agents for Great Britain and Europe, and the construction of an assembly plant in Glasgow, Scotland. These decisions reinforced the underlying situation: the company’s exports were in 1864 over 40 per cent of total production.

Singer Sewing Machine Factory Kilbowie, Clydebank, Scotland

Singer Sewing Machine Factory Kilbowie, Clydebank, Scotland


An American trade journal reported in 1880 that of the five American sewing machine companies active in Great Britain, Singer had “made the greatest effort to perfect an organization.” This was true, but it discounted the real and persistent difficulties facing the management. Woodruff frequently posed the problem of how to push sales, maintain a large sales force, and keep down the cost of selling. His own answer was the “economic consolidation of our organization, but it is not easy to see just how it is to be done.

It was not easy to find honest men for this type of work. The “great problem” was “how to get better men and sell more sewing machines at less cost.” The company’s increasing use of its own sales personnel and its slow phasing out of consignment or purchasing agents, were a part of its effort to rationalize the marketing techniques of the sewing machine trade. The specialization of office and field functions, and the provisions for control, were illustrative of the process of centralization of routine work and the decentralization of decision making within specialized areas. The optimum goal was to provide for making enough low-level operational decisions to utilize personal initiative for the benefit of the firm while maintaining intact central office control.

In 1867 the Singer Company established its first factory in Europe. This move was a milestone in the overseas commercial expansion of American business. The company was not the first to build a factory in Europe, but it was one of the earliest (and perhaps the best known) American firm whose foreign operations had by the end of the American civil war reached a level where failure to get closer to the markets would have resulted in Singer’s diminution through the slow attrition of competition.


The construction of a foundry in Austria in 1883 illuminates the company’s desire to circumvent tariff barriers

During these post-bellum decades of seeking foreign markets, the Singer Company and possibly other firms did not solicit the aid of the American government nor its diplomatic personnel. Once a commercial foothold was established in Europe by its own efforts, both the agents and the New York office avoided official contacts except as they dealt with the company’s legal status or trade name.

Europe was clearly aware of the power and the threat of the early firms like Singer during the 1870’s and 1880’s. Singer’s expansion was part of an increasing American push into the world market. American machinery and hardware, including pianos, steam engines, and sewing machines, reported one journal in 1871, “have now a lasting reputation established.” A good deal of such talk and analysis was exaggerated, but it did bespeak a growing economic nationalism and a desire to cease being a colony of European industry.


The sewing machine was in the vanguard of this American commercial and technological penetration of the world market. At the Vienna Exhibition of 1873, for example, sewing machines were displayed in one of the largest exhibits. There were about fifty European manufacturers represented (of which twenty-nine were German) but all imitated the American machines of Howe, Singer, and Wheeler & Wilson.


In the 1880’s, American sewing machine exports rose steadily from 12 per cent of all iron and steel-manufactured exports in 1881 to 16 per cent in 1885.67 These exports clearly affected Great Britain and Europe. Not only did English competitors adopt American business methods, but the trade “which has always been more or less American in character, is rapidly being completely Americanized.

The Triangle Fire: Tragedy, Trial, and Triumph

The 1911 Triangle Shirt Waist Factory Fire 


International Ladies Garment Workers Union  ILGWU


Pins and Needles 



Southern Textile Mill Villages on the Eve of World War II: The Courtenay Mill of South Carolina

The textile mill villages of the South were examples of company towns.

Courtenay Textile Mill of Newry, South Carolina.  Located in the rolling Appalachian foothills in the northwestern corner of the state, Newry is representative of a typical rural mill village of the southern Piedmont.  Southern mills overtook the traditional industry of New England by the start of the 1930s.


Whether the mill was urban or rural, the village served the same purpose: to attract a labor force to the mill from the predominately agricultural economy. Before 1900, the mills absorbed surplus local labor caused by declining prices for the staple cotton crop. But after the turn of the century, the supply of such farmers was depleted, and mill owners were pressed to find alternative sources. Brief thoughts of using foreign immigrants or black labor were abandoned when the Appalachian mountain folk were brought to the mills by hired labor recruiters.

The rapid industrialization of the Piedmont led to many social problems and growing calls for regulation. The reform movements of the Progressive Era generated the first external restraints on the labor force available to the mills, although the enactment of laws on child labor, minimal schooling, and sixty-hour work weeks often meant little through lack of enforcement.

Great Depression spawned the now familiar forty-hour work week, overtime pay, minimum wages, and social security.The only major upheaval of the labor market that southern mill owners successfully avoided was the growth of unionism.

The labor pool of the mill no longer consisted of poor farmers and uneducated mountain folk attracted from outside the village, but rather members of a rapidly growing mill class who had been raised in the mills. The mill village was no longer crucial for obtaining labor because the labor force was already there. The first wave of village housing sales began during the 1930s, and they resumed in even greater numbers once temporary wartime labor shortages passed.

paternalistic view that the mill town, complete with store, church, school, nurse, activity director, and emphasis on family life, was a voluntary cost borne by mill owners for the benefit and welfare of their employee.

company town is a blatant attempt to create employee dependence

human capital approach to the mill village system:

The workers were unprepared for the improvements possible in their new urban life. It was the mission of the owners,as they saw it, to show their employees how to raise their standard of living.


Once monopsony power has been developed, the company town can be used to lower wages. Similarly, the welfare activities of a mill town were in fact social exploitation designed to manipulate the views of the operatives to management’s advantag

Mill owners invested in the mill village, its family labor system, and its welfare activities in the anticipation that eventually a core of stable, dependable workers would be created who would acquire additional skill with their accumulated work experience.







Art and Industry: The Language of Modernization in the Production of Fashion

“The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Walter Benjamin worried that the “aura” of art was being lost as the masses sought to “overcome the uniqueness of every reality by accepting its reproduction.

Their discussion of art and industry is, by and large, a discussion about capital. Sweated labor has little place in their reflections on the state of (the) art, except insofar as it is further proof of the lowered standards of mass production. The “modernization” that economists and industrialists call for seeks to combine a rationalization of the production process with that “je ne sais quoi” supposed to define French goods. The ambiguities in their discourse show how attempts at synthesizing these concepts imply changing values concerning style and productivity.

The nineteenth-century French term for fashion goods was “nouveaute’s.” The art-industry split was never entirely consummated in the minds of garment industrialists. Manufacturers in the age of mass consumption became concerned with keeping art within their industrial discourse and their vision of production. Even with the advent of increasingly standardized garments, the importance of clothing’s value as a mark of individuality remained crucial to the industry’s representation of itself.

Clothes have generally attracted much more interest for their form than for their fabrication. Studies of costumes and changing styles abound, with little reference to how they are produced. Many fewer works have investigated the industry itself but usually ignored fashion.

Yet the very image of the garment industry, from the nineteenth century to the present, is based on a close link between form and function. Roland Barthes described the three-fold nature of garments as providing “protection, pudeur, parure.” 11 Clothes are functional, fashionable, and provide the figleaf. They cover the body to protect it from the elements,12 and they also cover the body for purposes of modesty, as represented in the Judeo-Christian imagination starting with Adam and Eve. In this respect the covering function has religious and societal implications that are fairly deeply ingrained in our civilization.

The ready-to-wear revolution of the nineteenth century and the growth of clothing as a widely distributed mass consumer item by the end of the century came about through the combined effects of a democratization of demand and of supply.

ready-to-wear transformed clothing “made for somebody” into clothing “made for anybody” and finally into cloth- ing “made for everybody.” Revolution, war, and the changing status of women all contributed to the changing nature of demand. A new organization of work and new technology allowed mass production to “take off.”

The wars that dotted the century also had a crucial part to play in developing the mass production of clothing. Orders for uniforms stimulated demand, but they also encouraged a reorganization of the production process that spread from military to civilian workshops. The mass measurement of soldiers put the concept of standardized sizes into wide use as a certain pattern to body shapes began to emerge.’ The new science of anthropometrics led to increasing experimentation with patterns, so that garments could now be made for anonymous bodies, according to a limited set of predetermined sizes. The real clothing revolution of the nineteenth century was serial production.

By the end of the nineteenth century, the growth of an industrious middle class of female employees and shop- keepers with a little more disposable income and more clothing needs fed the growing demand for women’s ready-made goods. A change in styles accompanied the transfer of technique. A certain masculinization of feminine styles in the late nineteenth century encouraged the transfer of ready-made methods to women’s wear.

Two particular innovations in the organization of work marked the first half of the nineteenth century: an increased division of labor and the production of garments in the absence of known, measurable customer.

The sewing machine raised productivity by encouraging a still greater division of labor and by increasing the number of stitches per minute. A first version of the sewing machine produced by Barthelemy Thimonnier in 1830 was never a commercial success and drew the ire of perhaps the only French Luddites, who broke into a military workshop using the machines in 1831 and threatened to destroy them.23 It was not until Singer-the “Napoleon of the sewing machine,” as he has been called in France-further perfected and mass-marketed the machines in the 1850s that the democratization of production took off.

Yet, as the made-to-measure crowd declined, the function of the custom tailor in the art-industry debate was taken over by the new haute couturiers. Haute couture (for women, not yet for men) emerged concomitant with the development of women’s ready- to-wear as a bastion of art-in-clothing. The art-industry dichotomy thus became crystallized at the end of the nineteenth century in this distinction between haute couture and ready-to-wear, and the haute couturiers became the inheritors and embellishers of the master tailors’ status and language.

Starting with Charles Worth, men became the new professionals of the upper end of the trade in women’s clothing, in spite of the fact that for the past two centuries, couturieres had per- formed the task of clothing the grandes dames. And just as the term tailor had been feminized, the term couturiere, previously designating the (female) makers of female clothing, became masculinized. The attributes of art were assigned accordingly to the new couturiers.

Confronting the dilemma between the unique and the reproducible, French industrialists and industry observers began to admit, with somewhat bitter resignation, that elegance was no longer enough to ensure sufficient sales.

American woman worker was perhaps not quite as successful as her husband in imitating her bourgeois counterpart, but he admitted that perhaps a female eye might have picked up the more subtle, American class distinctions. Citing an “indiscrete” corset survey and commenting that he himself had seen little under- wear on outdoor laundry lines, the wily investigator speculated that American class differences might not be visible on a walk through the park.

Impressed with the American democracy apparent in outerwear if not underwear, Levasseur was a great enthusiast for American manufacturing methods: faster, cheaper, producing greater quantities.

The standardization of clothing manufacture was thus not simply a result of poor taste but of the democratic process itself.






The History of Underclothes. C. Willett and Phillis Cunnington (through the British and a bit of French perspective)


  1. protect the body from cold
  2. to support the shape of the costume
  3. for cleanliness
  4. erotic use of underclothing
  5. class distinction

materials: Linen, cotton, woolen petticoats, silk for the leisure classes.
construction:  hand made, poor fit, better weaving, knitting closer fit.
methods of fastening: strings, ribbons, buttons, studs, snaps, hooks and eyes seldom used.


Medieval Period: protect garment from dirt and body from harsh fabrics.

the shirt  of all the undergarments worn by either sex this is the one which, if not the most ancient, has certainly preserved longer than any other.  Until a hundred years ago it was always worn next to the skin. made of wool and linen.

the drawers

saxon word – breechers or braies.  denoted the garment used to conceal the sexual region.  confusion for outer and inner.  second half of 12th century braies became and undergarment.

the smock (chemise)  flowing, ankle length garment with long straight sleeves and small round neck



the stays

uncertain if women worn something in the nature of a corset.  singular figure suggests the possibility.




New fashion for slashing men’s out clothes exposed the fine quality of what lay beneath, and immediately brought the shirt itself, to greater attention. The edge of the shirt was ruffled at the neck, a decoration which soon developed into a separate accessory. For women, underclothing took on  the new function of supporting the growing size and shape of the skirt.


the shirt: made of cambric or holland.  Very full, low necks, full sleeves into narrow bands at wrist.  Embroidery.


the ruff: put on separately from shirt and fastened by band strings. Ruffs were made of cambric, holland, lawn and the finest cloth that could be got. Embroidered with silk and edged with lace.


1533 sumptuary law: no one under the rank of knight might wear “plaited shirts or shirts garnished with silk, gold or silver”  Only undergarment which obtained the honour of an Act of Parliament.

the waistcoat: worn under the doublet.  Waist-length with our without sleeves, usually quilted or bombasted.  “vest” Made of velvet, silk, or linen and often embroidered.

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1700 waistcoat

the drawers: corresponded to modern pants, and were know as trousers or strosssers.  They were knee or ankle length, cut on the cross (bias) to give a close fit.

the night clothes: night shirts, caps



The Chemise: collar developed and opened at the top of the gown in a frilled border, becoming often a high collar, splayed open, and loosely tied at the neck with strings.  Made of cambric, holland and silk used occasionally.  Embroidery was common. It was acceptable compliment for courtier to present Queen Elizabeth with elaborate specimens of this garment. They were heavily perfumed, to cover smell of bodies and wood ash.



the wasitcoat. like the mans was slipped over the head and resembled a vest.  Materials were flannel, velvet, damask, sarcenet and linen.  Enriched with “wrought work” during Elizabeth’s reign.

the corset.  underbodice made of two parts called “a pair of bodies”, stiffened with busks of wood or whalebone inserted into casings in the “bodies” and tied there by “busk points”


the petticoat.  women of England wore three cloth gowns for petticoats one over the other.

the farthingale.  petticoat reinforced by a series of graduated hoops of cane, whalebone, or wire.  Shape of a cone, closely resembling that of the Victorian cage-crinoline.


the drawers.  Introduced by Catharine de Medici.  silk or linen breeches.

the nightclothes.  smocks, embroidery, openwork, were worn by all women of social pretension.  Heavily perfumed.



Romantic period, ceased being merely utilitarian in function, there were being exploited to indicate class distinction and sex attraction.   Antagonism to Puritanism which persistently disapproved of the display of underclothes for erotic purposes though it had no objection to class distinction in costume.


the day-shirt.  Shirt was conspicuously displayed.  Its neckband was narrow; to it the material was gathered, with a short centre-opening in front, edged with lace or a linen frill.  Opening was tied at the neck with strings and buttoned.  Sleeves were full and were caught in the wrist with ribbon ties. Materials were fine holland, linen, lace, frieze holland and course linen called lockeram.


The half shirt.  short under shirt about hip length, made of flannel in winter and linen in summer.

the drawers.  two types.  silk trunks 13″ long, cut full and square: they are fastened with ribbons in front, have a small slit behind, and are tied at the back.  second type consists of long drawers with stirrups, a band which passed under the instep to prevent the garment from slipping up the leg.

the nightclothes.  fine gentleman was an elaborate as the day-shirt, often with lace insertion at the neck and down the sides of the sleeves with ruffles at the wrist.  Sleeves were very full, collar laid flat.



the chemise or Smock.  made of holland and heavily perfumed. plain except for the frill, sometimes edged with lace, at the neck and sleeves.  Neck line was cut low, with a short V opening in front where it was tied by means of a threaded draw-strings.


the corset.  heavily boned, long bust in front and was laced up behind.

the petticoats. farthingale ceased to be fashionable about 1625, and as the skirt of the gown then became trained and flowing it would doubtless have required a number of under-petticoats to support it.   Little direct evidence.

the bustle.1690 overskirt became bunched up at the back, natural the bustle returned.

the waistcoat.  worn under the garment, maybe even next to the skin.

the drawers.  French women wore, but no evidence English women wore

the nightclothes.  hight ranks lavishly trimmed with lace.

the pocket.  detachable, in shape of narrow bag with a centre slit, fastened round the waist under the petticoats.




The whole of costume at this period was dominated by the hoop, which gave women’s skirt a special importance and underclothes a peculiar significance.

We associate this fashion with it’s predecessor, the farthingale of the 16th and 17th centuries, and with the Victorian crinoline which followed it a century later.  Although these types has primary function of expressing class distinction, their erotic associations differed.  As Englishwomen did not wear drawers until the 19th century, the thight were bare beneath the petticoats, so that, with the farthingale and the hoop, accidental exposures must happened.   The men in this period are strangely happy.  1712 – send ladies sky high on swings.

17th century the erotic center of attention was the breasts.   1710 erotic zone shifts to the legs when the hoop becomes fashionable.


the shirt.  shape remained unchanged, bottom cut square.  Back flap slightly longer than the back.  1710 the hanging cravat was commonly dispensed with so that the jabot or frilled border of the central opening becoming more elaborate, embroidered and exposed.   Neckband became higher and developed into a collar attached to the shirt, though concealed by the neckcloth.   The sleeves were voluminous, with carefully pressed pleats along the outer side.


the drawers.  short, tied in at the knees, closed by a string fastening round the waist.

the nightclothes.  linen nightshirt resembled the day-shirt except that it was slightly longer and fuller in the cut.

the artificial calves.  Introduced by the Macaronis, from 1770 on.  purpose to accentuate the shapeliness of the male calf of the leg.



the chemise.  reached just below the knees.  Top of the garment was edged with lace and threaded with a draw-string, scarcely on the shoulders and followed the line of the bodice.  full sleeves, gathered at the top, with lace frill.



habit-shirts. worn during riding, similar to mens costume, with ruffled jabot.


the corset.  worn from childhood. lower margin cut into tabs to fit over the hips.



the hooped petticoat.  is made to keep men at a distance.



the bustle.  large roll or pad, tapering at the ends and tied around the waist.


the under petticoat. narrow and tubular under skirt which did not reach the small of the leg.


nightclothes.  resembled the day-chemise except for being longer.  on the head was worn a night cap.



Has the historian pieces together the fragmentary finds of knowledge, they always remain conscious of the gaps in the story as well as of the conflicting accounts from which it is composed.

The fashion magazine becomes a new source of information.

Last quarter of the 18th century saw the introduction to two important changes:

  1. Prudery. Regards underwear in a more serious manner.
  2. Personal cleanness.  Introduced by the Macaronis 1770’s.  “no perfumes, very fine linen and country washing”


the shirt: Shirt-front became completely concealed under the immense wrapping of the voluminous neckcloth.  Frill was omitted.  Collar 5-6″ high was no longer visible.  Bottom of the shirt was cut square until 1850.  Evidence of machine stitching indicates a date after 1860, but many shirts continued to be sewn by hand.


the drawers.  two lengths, short when worn under breeches and “smallclothes; long when worn under pantaloons and trousers.


the braces.  useful addition added shortly before 1800. used to hold tight breeches.  working class wore loose fitting clothing and called the braces, gallows.

the corset.  Dandy’s frequently wore this aid to beauty.   “prinny has left off his stays and his belly now hangs over his knees.


the nightclothes. no important change.

the underwaistcoat.  made with stockenette with wool lining, and fastened down front by dorest  thread buttons.  sleeves have gap under the armpits and narrow wristband with one button.

Classical style of dress, accompanied by an extensive shedding of superfluous undergarments.   In the English spirit of moderation kept in check “near nudity’ movement except for a daring few.  For a few years stays were discarded by the “fashionables’, but returned early in the new century.

the chemise.  the old term “shift” has now become unfashionable.  The garment was made of cotton or linen, straight and ungathered, the shape being almost oblong.  Knee length, the neck opening was square and edged with a gathered muslin frill.  The short sleeves were set in with a gusset in the armpit.  Bing side, the chemise was often omitted if the dress was narrow.

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the petticoat.  made of cotton, cambric, linen or sometimes flannel.  was a bodice and skirt, with opened sides to get into the garment.  Cut known as a “low stomacher front”  1807 invisible petticoats, drawers and waistcoats all in one.  woven on a stocking-loom and drawn over the legs so that when walking you obliged to take short, and mincing steps.


the drawers.  1806 come into fashion, similar to men’s, come just below the knee.


the pantaloons.  1830’s, worn under garments by school girls when doing sports.  went to the mid calf.

the corset.  1794-1800 they were short and not worn universally. Corsettes about 6″ long, and a light buffon tucker of two inches hight, are now the only defensive paraphernalia of our fashionable belles, between the neckline and a apron strings.

the long corset was made jean or buckram, well stiffened with whalebone, extended down to cover the hips, and up wards to push the breasts.  Lower edge has no tabs.  laced up the back.


the short corset was equally rigid, and had back lacing.


“by the newly invented corsets we see, in eight women out of ten, the hips are squeezed into a circumference little fore than the waist; and the bosom shoved up to the chin, making a short of fleshy shelf disgusting to the beholders and certainly most uncomfortable to the wearer.

the divorce corset appeared in 1816.  Used to separate one bosom from the other, using a piece of iron or steel thrusting breasts apart to make the Grecian shape.


the pregnant stay, 1811 as completely enveloping the body from shoulder to hips and elaborately boned so as to compress and reduce the shape desired the natural prominence of the female figure in a state of fruitfulness.  Lucia belt for every lady expecting to hailed by the endearing title of mother.



the bustle.  1810 small rolls sewn into the back of the skirt.  1815 detached in the shape of a long sausage with tapes at each end.

the pockets.  replaced by handbag or reticule commonly called a ridicule.


the nightclothes remain the same.



Careful regulation of the forms of sex attraction especially in the apparel of the lady.  Increasing social importance of the middle class the spirit of prudery recovered from it’s war-time set back, and became the dominating influence over the costume of men and women.

High priestess of this moral cult was Mrs. Grundy.  eminent fictitious Victorian. 1830 onwards became the convenient censor of social morals and dress.  Refined language; with child, breeding, bowels, stomach.  Psychological “black out” affects parts of the body: legs become limbs, breasts become bosom, the lower back became the region that has baffled the descriptive fashion writer.  underclothes – linen, nether integuments



the shirt. Differences between day and evening styles came to be accentuated.  The man of fashion tended more and more to reserve ornamentation for his evening shirt.

“when traveling take three dozen cravats and at least three dozen shirt collars”  “the bosoms of the dress-fronts are invariably composed of lawn or worked cambric which is puckered and furbelowed with a variety of ruffled shapes.


the drawers. long called trouser drawers, short drawers.

the corset.  continue to be worn

the nightclothes.  plain turned downed collar, buttoned at the neck, the centre opening extending a considerable way down the front.



the chemise.  homespun linen, unshaped square neck edged with cambric frill.

the petticoat.  made with attached bodice, in the form of the stomacher-front.  evening petticoat would be ornamented.  the short petticoat IE without a bodice.  cotton, muslin, linen or cambric.  steadily expanding skirts.


the drawers.  end of 1830’s generally accepted by women of any social pretensions.  Garment of class distinction, not usually worn by lower classes.   Silk drawers worn when riding and bathing.

the pantalettes were sometimes worn.


the corset.  Tight-lacing became progressively more severe, partly to accentuate the much-admired ‘small waist” and partly as a moral restraint correcting the looser habits of the Regency


the demi-corset.  8-10 inches tall, with light whalebone were worn when performing domestic work by day.

the bustle.  1833 down stuffed. the diameter of the fashionable ladies at present is about 3 yards. Liable to slip out of place.


the nightclothes.  no material change.  plain unshaped and has a falling collar with frill, sleeves gathered into a cuff and fastened by a hand-made button.  1818-33 Night cap.



The art of costume seldom develops at a uniform rate of progress; it exhibits phases of activity interspersed with periods of apparent quiescence.  Such quiet interludes are, illusory, for changes, below the surface maybe ongoing, preparing for an upheaval of the visible landscape.  Outwardly the fashions paused.  It is more important to express class distinction than sex attraction, or rather the evidence of social rank and wealth was a sufficient form of attraction.


the shirt.  fine lines with vertical tucks or embroidery on each side of a narrow central panel.  Shirt exposure depended on the cut of the waist coat. Studs replace buttons, linked with gold chain.  Worn with large cravat.  Morning dress.  buttom cut with a deep curve.  “patent elliptic collar” cut higher in front then behind was introduced.



the drawers.  pink silk ankle length stockinette, 9″ front opening, closed by an overlap of 2″, waistband fastened by 2 pearl buttons.  4″ opening down center back is closed with two silk tapes in the waistband.


the under-vest.  Merino vests advertised in 1840’s but no description.  extra warmth.


the braces.


the nightclothes.  sometimes a shirt and sometimes long.


the chemise.  front square with a falling flap (to cover corset) and short full sleeves gusset in the armpit.  Evening wear, has lace.


the petticoat.  number from 4 to 6 were worn according to the season.  only the outermost would be decorative.  Width of petticoats steadily expanding.



the camisole.  New garment, appeared early in 1840’s.  spoken of as “waistcoat” made of long cloth and shaped to the waist by goring, covered the corset, and took the place of the flat front of the old type chemise.

the vest.  merino vests advertised 1847, but young women wouldn’t wear, as it increased their waist size.

the bust improvers.  “lemon bosoms and many other means of creating fictitious charms and improving the work of nature.

the drawers.  keep clean and healthy.  Long cloth drawers, drawers, full maids, ladies riding trousers, very plain.

the corset.  extends to hips.  Day corsets had shoulder strap.


the bustle.  no longer confined to back, spread around to the sides to help in throwing out the skirt into a domed shape.  “dress-improvers”

the nightclothes.  long cloth, frilled around neck and down front opening and at the cuffs.   1851 – ready made


1857 -1866

Ease and comfort must be sacrificed into order to express social rank.   the well-groomed gentleman, corseted and gasping in the tightest of surtouts and pegtop inexpressibles, and the lady, staggering under the burden of multitudinous petticoats, were the prisoners of etiquette.  Outside of confines of society there were the workers in clothes allowing freedom of movement. How simple to barrow from the people the principle that clothes should be the servants of their wearers and not the masters!

Novelty of colored undergarments, shocked the principles of prudery by their liberal exposure.  Chemical dyes introduced in 1860.  Sewing Machine arrives, abundance of ready-made under clothes in exuberant hues.  amount of embroidery is sinful.  a young lady spent a month in hem stitching and embroidering a garment which it was scarcely possible that any other human being, except her laundress would see.

Popular attention concentrated on the crinoline, that ingenious mechanism which in shape and size resembles Albert Hall or the Great Pyramids.  with three or four of these giantesses in a aroom a diminished man could not creep in beyond the door.




the shirt.  Day. Formal.  enough of shirt front was exposed to reveal the uppermost button or stud.  Large folded cravat.  Upright collar with gap between points. Necktie – band passed round the neck and tied in front either in a bow or knot with hanging ends.


Evening. show expansive front trucked on either side of a centre panel, or the centre panel might be slightly embroidered.


country and sporting shirts in a wide variety of styles.

the drawers and undervest.  no reliable account.

the braces.  worked by young ladies and given as gifts to the sterner sex.  at a time when prudery forbade the mention of the garments to which they were destined perhaps they were symbols of secret attachment.

the night shirts.  no change.


the chemise.  shape remains unchanged, 1864, sometimes trimmed with scarlet cotton designs.

the camisole.  continued to be worn over the corset.

the corset.  1860 waist shortened, corset shortens, and taste for colored corsets is rapidly increasing.


the crinoline.  “artificial crinoline” or “cage petticoat” strengthened by metal or whalebone hoops.




other petticoats.   worn over the crinoline.  Ornamental, muslin flounce.

the vests.  high in the neck with long or short sleeves of merino or flannel.

the drawers.  trimmed with frills. IN winter color flannel knickerbockers were worn in brilliant scarlet.  confined just below the knee with elastic.


the nightdress.  2.5 to 3 inch hem, collar, cuffs and front trimmed with embroidery.  night cap had become old fashion.


the pockets. old detachable pocket in the shape of a bag with a side slide opening was suspended around the waist and under the crinoline.  “safety railway pockets”.



City Dress: Fashions rigid control.  Country Dress: more comfortable and only worn in the country.

1875 fashion journal: the reason for the present extraordinary luxury in dress is that the surplus million of women are husband-hunting and resort to extra attractions to that end.  The pursuit had to be masked in prudery.  Crinoline no longer decent and was replaced by elaborate concealment made as alluring as possible.  The curves of nature enriched by corset and bustle become prominent features.  “a well-developed bust, a tapering waist, and large hips are the combination of a good figure”




the shirt.  day-shirt curved hem about and inch shorter in front than behind, plain white linen, with cuffs and front more starched than formerly.  one to two studs revvealed. Lounge suit.

the vest.  woolen, hip length, narrow neck band and center opening closed by four buttons.

the drawers.  woolen, ankle length, closed by four buttons at the front opening.

the night clothes.  no change.



the chemise.  now made of breast seams shaped to the figure so as not to take up more room than possible beneath the stays.


the drawers.  old form continued 1868 drawers have 5 or 6 tucks at the knee.

the combinations. new style of combining chemise and drawers. the function of the garment is betrayed in the comment: in the present day the object of dress is no longer to conceal but to display the female form divine.


the petticoats.  colors become less aggressive.  white day petticoat should have pleating 9″ deep; for evening goffered flounces are long as the dress.

the crinoline, crinolette and bustle.





the corset.  waist measurements of 17 to 21″ was the fashion.  Glove fitting corset.  1875 long corset and tight-lacing to give the long slender fashionable figure.



the camisole.  petticoat bodice, shaped to the figure with a heart shaped opening.

the vest.  1875, often of washing silk in various colors, made with long or short sleeves.

the night dress. stand- up collar and a yoke with front being tucked.



economic depression which overshadowed most of this period curbed the extravagance of dress.  In a more sober atmosphere was a growing appreciation of hygiene and a demand for sensible underclothing.  Experimentation with Rational Dress.

Both sexes were exploring the joys of outdoor sports, for which appropriate costume was needed.   Innovations in feminine costume, however, were checked by the prudish dread of arousing unwelcome sex interest; a horror of the human body seems to be been the hall-mark of gentility.  Conflicting impulses, some eager for progress, others shocked by the signs of the time, resulting in confusion.

Hygienic rule of wool (to absorb perspiration) next to the skin, and wearing of underclothes that lacked charm.  1880’s every nice-minded girl was trained to be oblivious of a large area of her body, “how awful it must be, to be seen, by one’s husband – in one’s petticoats!


the shirt.  day-shirt for formal wear remained white and starched, with rectangular shaped cuffs.  Side slits with small gussets, curved in front and back.  Hight of collar was 3″.  Collars possessed the most elaborate and varied assortment of neckwear.

1894 fancy colors, in hot weather pale pink or blue stripes

the dress shirt.  one button on front. sometimes button in the back, while linen and fine pique.


the vest.  undershirt, ventilated undershirts of lambs wool with perforations in the armpits.

the drawers.  natural wool and lambs wool.  short pants of absorbent stockinette worn for exercise.

the braces. number of variations.

the nightclothes. Pajamas, replacing the nightshirt, in wool and silk.

the corset.  stiff band with ribs and is fastened to the pants.

dress accessories.  Flannel and leather chest protectors, sock suspenders, tie clips, metallic devices for holding down the tie round the upright collar, studs, and cufflinks.

ties:  Napoleons, black tied around neck.  twice-round scarf. derbies, oxfords, ascots, batswing, made up cravats.




The chemise.  worn until end 1880s, empire chemise appeared with a high waist and puffed shoulder sleeve.

the combinations.  woolen material, silk trimmed with lace.  New undergarment of fine muslin edged with lace combining low bodice, petticoat and drawers, worn over the corset which is worn over the vest, introduced by Marshall and Snelgrove 1892.





the drawers.  worn over the combinations, frilled at the knees and becoming extremely wide in the leg, so that by 1895 the garment was as wide as the petticoat.


the petticoats.  crinoline petticoats.


the bustle.  separate article from petticoat with back flouncing.


the corset.  continued to be long waisted, elegant materials of silk, satin and brocade and in a variety of colors.

the vest.  silk stockinette

the bust bodice.  device to support the breasts introduced in 1889, worn above the corset.


bust improvers.  1887, cup-shaped wire structures.



the camisole. high and close fitting for day wear, and with a low V neck for evening; plain or trimmed with lace.

the nightgown.  frilling around the neck, with lace ruffles and jabot.  White silk.  1887 becoming pretty.



The spirit of costume, anticipating the Edwardian period, changed in character, and the new epoch began in 1897.  The influence of sport spreads taste for more comfortable clothes in daily life, and the top hat and frock coat were becoming a specialized uniform for particular occasions.   Feminine underclothes developed a degree of eroticism never previously attempted.  They invented a silhouette of fictitious curves, massive above, with rivulets of lacy embroidery trickling over the surface down to a whirlpool of froth.


never a time in history when everybody was dressed so nearly alike. the badge of the working man as the white shirt was of the middle and professional classes.

the shirt.  Day, white shirt, linen cuffs, front; the attached collar was giving place to the detachable, and by 1900’s the colored shirt for day wear was accepted.

the dress shirt.  changes little.


the dress-shirt protector.  popular end 1890’s worn to protect the shirt when the overcoat or evening cloak was worn.


the undervest.  natural wool or in summer silk or cotton.

the drawers and pants. similar materials to undervest. pants were ankle-length or mid-calf, drawers were either just below the knee or just above.


the combinations.  vest and pants in one.

the pajamas.  replace the night shirt.


A wish for dainty underwear is a desire for cleanliness.

the chemise. for day fine linen, batiste or lawn.  For evening of lawn or silk.

the combinations.  knicker and camisole combinations with lace, made of wool and silk and wool.

the corset.  the stays are straight and forward but leave the figure graceful and supple; whilst narrowing the back in a most surprising manner.  Chest expands. Gibson Girl silhouette.



the petticoat.  always flimsy; not more than two were worn, the top one, particularly when colored was referred to as an underskirt.


the drawers.  nainsook knickers with frills of muslin embroidery; french drawers of mull muslin or washing silk, with flounce and three rows of insertion, threaded with baby ribbon, worn under lace or silk petticoat.



the camisole.  corset covers – petticoat bodices, under clothing becomes thinner and thinner.


bust improvers.  bust fashioned on Venus de Milo.  The Neena bust improver.



the bust bodice.  worn above the corset


the nightclothes.  flimsier materials and elaborately trimmed.


the trousseaux. ladies undergarments.


Simplification in dress. Underclothes were permitting freer movement, growing inclination to reduce the layers which covered the body.  Slowly realized that in the active life of the modern world so much clothing was unnecessary and a relic of obsolete ideas.


progressive increase in the variety of articles available.

the shirt.  long fronted white or printed shirt is now obsolete.

the business shirt stiff 10″ front, detachable cuffs, for day the white shirt was being steadily displaced by the soft-fronted, made of flannel in winter and of cambric in summer.  Pleated and tucked fronts.  Day tie, four-in-hand, or bow knot.

the vest.  long or short sleeves; made of unbleached cotton, white gauze or net for summer, and of meriono.

the drawers and pants.  unbleached cotton, calico, gauze and merino.

the combinations still being worn.

the nightclothes.  Longcloth shirts and pajama’s



the new silhouette, with a skirt of 1 1/2 yards round the hem, left little space for expansive underclothing.

the chemise.  square-cut with narrow shoulder straps.

the combination.  replaces the chemise and skirt-knickers by skin fitting combinations and silk pantalettes.


the corset.  corsets whether back or front lace, boning was all important, the strain on the garment was terrific. 1912 clock-spring steel covered with hard rubber or celluloid was adopted and whalebone never recovered.



the petticoat. Princess petticoat 1911.  1915 expands


the Brassiere.  1916 a new undergarment which takes place of camisole.


the chemi-knickers.  1917 new under slip, worn over the corset, helping to reduce the number of undergarments; a button and loop can be put at the lowest hem to catch the skirt together in divided skirt fashion.


the knickers.  french with wide frilled legs. skirt knickers.


the nightclothes. pre-war the nightdress.  Pajama suit has a growing interest.


new attitude of mind towards the function of clothing and underclothing.

“skin worship”  devotees tanned their bodies by sunlight, real or artificial, or by stains; women improve their faces with paints, lotions and skin foods containing hormones.  Focus on the face they cut off their hair.  glorification of youth.


Prince of Wales, publicly condemned “the boiled shirt” Garish colors in dress was the new spirit.

the shirt.  for day wear.  oxford shirt with white collar and cuffs. the dress-shirt single stud, white pleated front.  the sports shirt, cotton or wool taffeta, turn collar.


the combination. derived from America, one piece suit for underwear in place of a vest and pants.

the shorts and trunks.  made with lastex wasitbands, generally worn by 1930.


the singlet.  jersey necks and quarter sleeves, low neck, sleeveless displaced in vest in 1930’s.

the pajamas.  light weight in a wide choice of materials.




no period in history has presented a great variety of underclothes and though so much reduced in bulk, they developed a new importance and complexity.  Many materials employed, artificial silk in various forms dominated, and was available for all classes.

the garments were divided into two headings: single and composite.

Single –

the chemise.  “the vest”

the undervest. wool was unfashionable garment

the combinations.  close fitting woven garment, becoming almost tights during the 1930’s

vest combinations

the camisole. disappeared as a separate  garment towards end of 1920s


the brassiere.  becoming the bra in 1937.  Developed from the bust bodice and in the 1920’s becomes very tight, compressing the breasts to produce the straight, shapeless form then fashionable.


the corset.  wrap-around rubber corsets to compress the buttocks.  corsets to produce a slenderizing effect on the figure.





the belt.  substitute for the corset, varied from abdominal supports to light suspender belts with or without bones.



the knickers. french drawers with open legs, and closed knickers.  1924 shortened into panties.



the petticoat.  becomes the princess slip.



The Composite.

the corselette.


the cami-knickers .


the cami-bockers.





the nightclothes.  reflect the spirit of the dress of the period.


























The Art of Dress in the Victorian and Edwardian Eras

As concepts of beauty change, so does costume. This process is called fashion.

To be in fashion is to participate in and move along with the metamorphosis of culture; cultural changes eventually demand revision in ideas about beauty and ultimately in the clothing forms which both utilize and symbolize them. Costume is the most conspicuous element of our public persona and, in a manner of speaking, is our own portable art gallery.

Queen Victoria

In London early in February 1840, Queen Victoria married her prince, Albert.


Forty-five days later in Cincinnati, Ohio, Angeline Russell was married toJamesJ. Faran. She wore a wedding dress which featured a wide, low neckline with a bertha of silk lace, short sleeves trimmed with silk lace ruffles, a pointed bodice front, and extensive use of piping throughout the bodice.. All these elements echoed the styling of the dress worn by Queen Victoria. Both brides dressed in accordance with the fashionable taste for simplicity enhanced with lace. While the queen displayed a fortune in lace custom-made for her in England, Angeline Faran used a high-quality unbleached silk lace known as blonde. Her wedding dress -looking more like a very fashionable evening gown-anticipated the fashion of the 1840s with its tight sleeves and a bodice of extremely long and slender proportions.


second half of the 1840s, skirts began to blossom over the support of increasing numbers of starched and stiffened petticoats.



About 1856, the whalebone, cane, and horsehair which had been attached to the bottom of petticoats to make the skirt stand out were all replaced by the cage crinoline. This framework, resembling a bird cage, was made up of many concentric rows of thin, flexible, spring steel bands held in place by vertical cloth tapes. Light- weight and strong, it retained its shape no matter how large the skirt became.


The huge skirts, however, were not nearly as amusing to dressmakers since they had to devise ways of narrowing many yards of fabric to tiny waistbands. A ball gown from Boston presents an excellent example of dressmaker ingenuity. The skirt-made of nine full-width panels of silk taffeta-measures 180 inches at the hem and 22 inches at the waistband. The dressmaker solved the problem by folding the top of the skirt into deep triple box pleats.


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American publications: Godeys, Harpers, Petersons were exceedingly influential. Their hand-tinted illustrations presented up-to-the-minute taste which was then described in detail. Women throughout the United States could see and read about the latest developments on the East Coast and in Europe. For example, evening dresses illustrated in Petersons Magazine in 1861 showed a full, puffed, lightweight gauze sleeve under an elaborate cap sleeve of dress fabric. The esthetic purpose of this arrangement was to produce a wide horizontal line at the shoulders which visually balanced the width of the skirt.


After the end of the Civil War, the size of the cage crinoline diminished substantially, and by the conclusion of the 1860s, the fashionable silhouette had changed dramatically The circular volume of the skirt no longer centered on the wearer but sailed out behind her.


The Queen, another English periodical, informed its readers of 1868 that “there shall be an abundance of crinoline, or bustle, or pannier, or tournure (for the bunch at the back goes by a variety of names) just below the waist.” While fashionable women in England and on the Continent adopted the new fashion, Godeys Ladys Book still debated the comfort and economy of the hoop skirt and concluded that “they will be worn more than ever; and larger in size.


By 1870, the large crinoline was passe. Women with a wardrobe of full-cut skirts updated them by removing side panels or by pulling the fullness to the back of the skirt where it was caught up in a pouf over the bustle.

The undisputed capital of the nineteenth-century fashion world was Paris. At midcentury, the center of this world was the French Empress Eugenie, whose taste and whim set fashion. Correspondents for English and American fashion publications reported on elegant society gatherings as well as those society ladies promenading on fashionable boulevards, and each innovation of the important dressmakers was eagerly adopted.


Much of the complexity of fashion from 1870 through 1885 can be reduced to a combination of two elements: a tightly fitted machine-stitched bodice and a tightly fitted skirt shell upon which was tacked a collage of fabrics, trims, and ruffle

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The tightly fitted bodices deserve special attention. They were called the cuirasse bodice because they fit so closely, almost like armor. If the steel-boned corset wasn’t enough, an extra measure of uprightness was insured by attaching boning inside as well. After 1876, the long, fitted, coatlike bodice extended down over the hips and, in turn, skirts became narrow in the extreme

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The English Woman’s Domestic Magazine recommended in 1875 that “the bodice be as long-waisted and as tight fitting as possible, the skirt as scant and the train as full as maybe.”

The Paris correspondent for The Ladies’ Treasure, reported that “skirts are now so tight that our sitting and walking are seriously inconvenienced; and the sleeves of our bodices are so closely fitting to the arms that we can hardly raise them, even to half their usual height…. Unfortunately; also, these very tight dresses are more frequently disadvantageous to the greater portion of the ladies than they are becoming.

John Redfern is usually credited with developing the style in 1885 in its purest form-a straightforward blue serge coat and skirt. According to one anecdote, he created the style for the Princess of Wales-a simple outfit for outdoor duties such as military reviews.


1889 walking suit

After the death of Prince Albert in 1861, Queen Victoria withdrew from public view into years of private mourning, and the very stylish Empress Eugenie lost her pre-eminence with the fall of the French monarchy in 1871. Leadership emerged in new quarters.

Actresses such as Sarah Bernhardt and professional beauties like Lillie Langtry


exerted a tremendous influence on fashion. In the absence of royal tastemakers, important actresses especially dazzled the public with their wardrobes of the most forward-looking clothes-since at that time many of these women wore their own clothing on the stage. Mary Reed Bobbitt noted their influence when she wrote in 1879: “Sarah Bernhardt looked lovely… whatever I see her in, I always make up my mind to try and remember how it was made and to have one like it for myself.”


Her costumes cut in the Directoire and Empire styles influenced fashionable taste. Even Redfern’s restrained walking suits were not immune. Directoire details such as full, wide lapels and coat tails falling from the back of the bodice mark his suits from this date as being in the height of fashion.


In the last twenty years of the nineteenth century fashion looked backward instead of forward. The 1880s witnessed the Pre-Raphaelite style inspired by medieval dress and the Directoire and Empire period influence inspired by Sarah Bernhardt’s costumes in La Tosca. In the 1890s, inspiration came from dress of the Tudor and Cavalier periods. None of these models were actually duplicated, but details were lifted, reworked, and incorporated into late nineteenth-century mainstream dress. For designers in the mid-1890s, however, the past was no mere inspiration.


The new century ushered in a new silhouette. The famous reverse S-shaped figure was the result of an innovative concept in corsets introduced about 1900 by Mme Gaches-Sarraute. This Frenchwoman, who studied medicine, designed a foundation garment aimed at relieving extreme pressure on the waist and diaphragm produced by typical late nineteenth-century corsets. Her idea caught on-in part. The new corset thrust the bosom forward and forced the hips
back in a graceful position, but one equally as uncomfortable as the form it replaced. Over this firm foundation, designers and dressmakers placed surprisingly delicate gowns lavish with lace, tulle, chiffon, ribbons, and a wide variety of other trimming.





by 1910, the mature junoesque figure with the well-annoucned reverse S-curve silhouette had passed from fashion.  In it’s place came a more youthful vertical lined based on a natural restatement of the female figure rather than one pushed and pulled in opposite directions by the corset.  The ideal woman’s body now became a long slender tube.





The hobble skirt – slowed walking to a rapid shuffle.


Between 1914 and 1918, women’s fashion changed dramatically. The reality of war quickly banished the hobble skirt as women demanded ease and comfort in their clothing. The necessity of greater mobility for women dictated shorter skirts and unfussy trims. The standard of extravagant dressing which marked the Victorian and Edwardian eras was gone forever.




The Exquisite Slave: The Role of Clothes in the Making of the Victorian Woman

For Thomas Carlyle in Sartor Resartus, clothes were not mere aesthetic ornament, but emblems of society’s hierarchy and symbols of the spirit. “Man’s earthly interests,” he observes, “are hooked and buttoned together and held up by clothes.” Not only could clothing transform a person’s appearance, it could influence the actions and attitudes of both the wearer and the viewer. As Thackeray demonstrates in his Paris Sketch Book of 1840, it is Louis XIV’s dress that transforms a “little lean, shrivelled, paunchy old man, of five feet two” into the magnificent, imposing Sun King.


The rather minimal differences between the physical anatomy of men and women were enormously exaggerated by clothed bodies. Samuel Butler describes two children looking at a picture of Adam and Eve in an illustrated Bible: “Which is Adam and which is Eve?” asks one child. “I don’t know,” answers the other, “but I could tell if they had their clothes on.”



clothing defined the role of each sex

Men were serious (they wore dark colors and little ornamentation), women were frivolous (they wore light pastel colors, ribbons, lace, and bows); men were active (their clothes allowed them movement), women inactive (their clothes inhibited movement); men were strong (their clothes emphasized broad chests and shoulders), women delicate (their clothing accentuated tiny waists, sloping shoulders, and a softly rounded silhouette); men were aggressive (their clothing had sharp definite lines and a clearly defined silhouette), women were submissive (their silhouette was indefinite, their clothing constricting).

Thackeray, in Vanity Fair, emphasized the appeal of a woman willing to bear mental suffering: “I know few things more affecting than that timorous debasement and self-humiliation of a woman. How she owns that it is she and not the man who is guilty: how she takes all the faults on her side: how she courts in a manner punishment for the wrongs she has not committed, and persists in shielding the real culprit.”


The sleeves of the late 1830s and 1840s were set so low over the shoulder and so tightly encased the arm that it was virtually impossible to raise the arm to shoulder height or make an aggressive or threatening gesture. Skirts also inhibited movement. “No one but a woman,” Mrs. Oliphant wrote in her book on Dress, “knows how her dress twists about her knees, doubles her fatigue, and arrests her locomotive powers.”


In the 1850s the floor-long petticoats that were worn to inflate the floor-sweeping skirt made rapid movement of legs difficult. By the mid- 1850s and through most of the 1860s the crinoline, or cage, as it actually was sometimes called, replaced the numerous petticoats. A helpful invention that eliminated the need for numerous heavy petticoats, the crinoline and its complicated paraphernalia also literally transformed women into caged birds surrounded by hoops of steel. The difficulties and inconveniences of moving with a crinoline (its circumference some- times exceeding five yards) were well documented in cartoons and caricatures.


More seriously, the light material of the crinoline posed the very real danger of inflammability. “Take what precautions we may against fire, so long as the hoop is worn, life is never safe,” warned the Illustrated News of the World in 1863; “all are living under a sentence of death which may occur unexpectedly in the most appalling form.” The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine of 1867 reported 3,000 women were burned to death annually and another 20,000 injured because they wore the crinoline.


Mrs. Oliphant, writing in the 1870s, deplores “the painful spectacle of the whole female race more or less tied into narrow bags,” but doubts that women will overturn the tyranny of fashion.

Beyond the incommodious encumbrances of crinolines and trains, the restraining fetters of tight skirts and sleeves, the item of clothing that directly and graphically disciplined women to their submissive-masochist role was the corset.


The wearing of the laced corset was almost universal in England and America throughout the nineteenth century. It was designed to change the configurations of the body to accord more closely with the feminine ideal of the small waist which haunted the period.  It exaggerated the differences in male and female anatomy by constricting the waist and enlarging the hips and bust. It also constricted the diaphragm, forcing women to breathe from the upper part of the chest; from this resulted the peculiarly feminine heaving of bosoms so lovingly described in popular novels. The degree of physical debility caused by the corset depended on the tightness to which it was laced. And this varied throughout the century according to the changing proportions of waist size, sleeves, and skirt that defined the fashionable silhouette.


women may have varied the tightness of lacing depending on the social occasion, their age, and marital status.


From baby stays the young girl progressed to an unboned, tight-fitting corset which did not provide adequate allowance for growth. A correspondent to The Queen describes lacing her daughters into such garments, with slight boning added: “At the age of seven I had them fitted with stays without much bone and a flexible busk, and these were made to meet from top to bottom when laced, and so as not to exercise the least pressure round the chest and beneath the waist, and only a very slight pressure at the waist just enough to show off the figure and give it a roundness.”

‘Domestic Magazine tell of similar or even more extreme experiences. A letter, which started the long discussion of tight-lacing, came from a mother complaining that she had left her “merry, romping girl” in a “large and fashionable boarding school near London” when she went abroad. On her return four years later she saw a “tall pale young lady glide slowly in with measured gait and languidly embrace me”; her absurdly small waist explained her change in demeanor: “She then told me how the most merciless system of tight-lacing was the rule of the establishment, and how she and her forty or fifty fellow-pupils had been daily imprisoned in vices of whalebone drawn tight by the muscular arms of sturdy waiting-maids, till the fashionable standard of tenuity was attained.

“28 Indeed, many doctors and dress reformers insisted that tight-lacing caused deformity and compared the practice with Chinese foot binding.


D. Edgar Flinn, in Our Dress and Our Food in Relation to Health, written in 1886, affirmed that every woman who tight-laced must be regarded as deformed and noted the many illnesses it caused, including a “general sense of languor and fatigue.”34 Ada Ballin, in Health and Beauty in Dress, also noted the weakness caused by tight-lacing and describes the many women going “through life uncomplaining with a sort of dull, negative suffering, the result of low vitality.”


The defenders of tight-lacing, and these included some doctors, frequently used the language of sadomasochism; they too speak of “discipline,” “confinement,” “submission,” and “bondage.” They refer to tight-lacing as “training the figure” and to the young girl as “being subjected to this discipline” or of the discipline being “rigidly inflicted and unflinchingly self-imposed.” An aura of cultism surrounds the “advocates of tight-lacing.” They speak of being “addicted” to the practice, “votaries of the corset,” or “a missionary in the cause of tight-lacing.” “Addiction” to the corset could go to absurd lengths. Several correspondents wrote of sleeping in their tightly laced corset.

Wearing corsets also came to be seen as a moral imperative. The uncorseted woman was in danger of being accused of loose morals. As one defender of tight-lacing said: “The corset is an ever-present monitor indirectly bidding its wearer to exercise self-restraint: it is evidence of a well-disciplined mind and well-regulated feelings.”41 The word “strait- laced” still operates to reflect the relationship between corsets and moral- ity. Mrs. Douglas, in the Gentlewoman’s Book of Dress, though she realized the dangers of tight-lacing, could not bring herself to condemn it. The tight-lacer “is a criminal,” she wrote, “but she wears her vice becomingly…. The tight-lacer is a person who respects herself and is careful in all departments.

In his Theory of the Leisure Class, the late-nineteenth-century sociologist and economist Thorstein Veblen observed that it became women’s function, almost their only function, to “put in evidence her economic unit’s ability to pay.” Her place “has come to be that of a means of conspicuously unproductive expenditure.”  Dress thus advertises the wearer’s ability to command that wealth and leisure so necessary to festoon oneself with clothing made from expensive fabrics, designed with exquisite taste, and requiring long hours of another’s labor to create


1880s and 1890s clothing became plainer and more masculine, and some women loosened their stays to engage in more active pursuits of careers and sports. The forces that led women out of the submissive, masochistic, and narcissistic cul-de-sac of ribbons, bows, and tight laces were as numerous as they were complex and can only be briefly touched upon. The dress-reform movement, which had been at work throughout the century, may have finally had some effect. Although they never advocated the rejection of the corset, such groups as The Rational Dress Society protested against tightly laced corsets, narrow-toed shoes, heavily weighted skirts, and more generally against fashionable dress. The dress of the aesthetic movement helped to provide an acceptable alternative to fashionable dress.


Moreover, the influence of sports in the 1890s was near revolution- ary. Some doctors and health experts had exhorted women to exercise all during the Victorian Era, but that exercise was for the most part limited to dancing, walking, riding in carriages, and lifting light dumb- bells. Horseback riding (sidesaddle) became fashionable in the 1860s; skating and a decorous form of lawn tennis in the 1870s; and walking, hiking, and touring in the eighties. But it was not until the nineties that women engaged in the more vigorous sports; basketball, rounders, cricket, hockey, lacrosse, and track events were a part of the activities of girls’ schools, and swimming, rowing, and sailing were enjoyed when the weather permitted


Even a dilettante interest in these sports required modifications in dress. Skirts were made slightly shorter and less full, sleeves less tight, stays were loosened an inch or two. But it was bicycling that proved to be the most popular and the most liberating sport. It gave women an independence of movement both in the use of their limbs and in the ability to transport themselves over distances. Considerable controversy ensued about the proper garment to wear while cycling. Divided skirts were generally acceptable but they did not really free the feet and legs for pedaling nor avoid the danger of flowing material caught in the spokes of the wheel.


cycling outfit 1894

The “Freedom Suit”: Feminism and Dress Reform in the United States, 1848-1

The dress-reform movement appears in most historical accounts of nineteenth-century feminism as a passing phase of the women’s rights movement-a colorful but brief moment in which Amelia Bloomer, Elizabeth Smith Miller, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and others donned what came to be known as the “bloomer” costume.

A more fundamental challenge to conventional feminine attire emerged from the interaction of three radical movements of the antebellum period: the Oneida Community, the health-reform movement, and the women’s rights movement. The early history of the reform dress illustrates the close social and political connections among these antebellum reforms.

In 1848, John Humphrey Noyes, founder of the Oneida Community, wrote in his first annual report:

Woman’s dress is a standing lie. It proclaims that she is not a two legged animal, but something like a churn standing on castors! When the distinction of the sexes is reduced to the bounds of nature and decency, a dress will be adopted that will be at the same time the most simple and the most beautiful; it will be the same, or nearly the same for both sexes. (cited in Robertson 1970, 294)


Later that year, three of the women of Oneida Community implemented Noyes’s suggestion, cutting their skirts to just below the knee and making trousers out of the discarded material (Robertson 1970; Tillotson 1885).

The tulip tree on the grounds of the Oneida Community Mansion House in 1870. It was recently named a champion tree of New York for its size.

The tulip tree on the grounds of the Oneida Community Mansion House in 1870. It was recently named a champion tree of New York for its size.

Fanny Kemble, the Shakespearean actress, appeared in a similar costume in Lenox, Massachusetts, in 1849 and, according to Amelia Bloomer’s news- paper, The Lily, was greeted with derisive sneers by the local press

The new costume, modeled after the dress of Moslem women,


met a particularly warm reception among practitioners and advocates of hydropathy or water cure, a health system that combined various forms of water therapy, such as baths, compresses, and wet sheets with an austere diet and temperance in all thing

They championed instead the “three physicians: water, exercise and diet” and preached self-help and preventive medical treatment.

The prescribed role of middle-class women was particularly discordant with water-cure philosophy. Hydropaths challenged the prevailing cult of ladylike delicacy and weakness and urged women to engage in physical labor and exercise in the open air.


dress-reform arguments, fashion plates, and exultant testimonials from women who had adopted the new costume, which they described with various names, such as the “short dress,” “the shorts,” “Turkish dress,” “the Camille costume,” the “American costume,” and, most frequently, “the reform dress”

Elizabeth Smith Miller was responsible for introducing the reform dress to the women’s rights community, and contemporaries generally agree that Miller was the first to wear it all the time (The Lily July 1851; Tillotson 1885). Miller’s own account recalls her resolution, in 1850-51, to adopt an alternative to the long, heavy skirts that “clung in fettering folds about her feet” as she worked in the garden, but she does not mention the source of the style she adopted (Miller n.d., in Smith Family Papers).1 Ida Husted Harper, Susan B. Anthony’s biographer, suggested that the women’s rights people learned about reform dress at water-cure establishments, while Mary Tillotson, a contemporary dress reformer, claimed that Miller saw the costume at Oneida, which was close to her home.


Amelia Bloomer, Stanton’s friend and neighbor, soon decided to “lay aside her fetters and don the freedom suit” and in April 1851 advocated it enthusiastically in her newspaper, The Lily. Women’s rights activists saw conventional women’s dress as a “badge of degradation” and recognized its role in enforcing female passivity. “Depend upon it Lucretia,” wrote Stanton to Lucretia Mott, “that woman can never develop in her present drapery. She is a slave to her rags.


Satirical cartoons and comments abounded, abusive jingles were heard on the street, and on a number of occasions, women wearing reform dress were surrounded by hecklers. The women’s rights activists were somewhat stunned by the hostility, but for a while they stood fast, urging each other to “let the weal and woe of humanity be everything to us but their praise and their blame be of no account” (Stanton in The Lily April 1851, 12). “Having experienced the blessings of freedom,” wrote Bloomer, “we cannot rivet the chains upon ourself again, even to gain the good will, or to avoid the frowns of slavish conservatism” (The Lily July 1852, 11).


After a while, however, the costs of continuing to wear the new costume began to appear greater than the benefits. The women’s rights leaders, according to Stanton,soon found that the physical freedom enjoyed did not compensate for the persistent persecution and petty annoyances suffered at every turn. To be rudely gazed at in public and private, to be the conscious subjects of criticism, and to be followed by crowds of boys in the street, were all, to the last degree, exasperating. (quoted in Stanton and Blatch 1922, 1:172)

Susan B. Anthony recalled with irritation, “The attention of my audience was fixed upon my clothes instead of my words” (quoted in Harper 1899, 1:117), and Amelia Bloomer was forced to admit that “the reform dress is quite obnoxious to the public”

The American public recoiled in terror from the threat to gender distinctions represented by the combination of reform dress and women’s rights. The new costume, particularly its most controversial feature, trousers, stirred up the public’s deepest fears about femininity, masculinity, and the division of labor. The cartoons of John Leech in the London magazine Punch were reprinted widely in the United States and set the tone for the anti-bloomer ridicule. Almost all of these cartoons depicted women dressed in caricatures of the reform costume (usually featuring skirts much shorter than those of the typical reform dress) who were usurping various male prerogatives, from proposing marriage to smoking cigars. The “strong-minded American woman” of the Punch cartoons betrayed in her posture and activity, as well as her dress, a disdain for all the conventions of femininity. Critical comments about the bloomer costume frequently decried the “unsexing” of women

The reform dress became a symbol of everything that was threatening about feminism: women shaping their lives in accordance with their own needs, women declaring independence from male approval, women doing or wearing what had been traditionally reserved for men. “If the Bloomer costume had come from a Paris milliner,” wrote Angelina Grimke, one of the few women’s rights activists to wear the costume after 1854, “it would have been welcomed in Boston, New York and Philadelphia, but as it is the only dress which has ever been adopted from principle, from a desire in woman to fit herself for daily duty- as it is the outbirth of a state of mind which soars above the prevalent idea of the uses of woman, therefore it shocks the taste”


The Dress Reform Association was centered in central New York but drew significant support from the midwest frontier. The Dress Reform Association held annual conventions until 1864 and cheered each other on in the pages of The Sibyl, edited by Lydia Sayer Hasbrouck of Middletown, New York, and later in the Laws ofLife, edited by Harriet Austin of Dansville, New York. Water-cure practitioners figured prominently in the leadership of the association, and its ideology was a mixture of women’s rights and health reform fused by the perfectionist belief in the socially redemptive power of individual righteousness.


Dress reformers saw themselves as participants in a crusade to create an ideal society in which women and men lived in equality with each other, in harmony with nature and blessed by God.


Mary Tillotson organized the American Free Dress League to promote the science costume, but the organization lasted only three years and was plagued by internal dissension




Boundaries and the Victorian Body: Aesthetic Fashion in Gilded Age America

For the male artist/subject, the Victorian female body functioned as a model/object for the discerning and omnipotent male gaze. In popular iconology, too, historians find that the template of the ideal Victorian body followed a gendered separation: the male body (virile, soldierly, patrician, public) complemented the female form, one bounded by tight corseting and domestic confinement.


THE TWO DECADES OF THE AESTHETIC MOVEMENT witnessed the emergence of shifting gender boundaries. Most historians of women’s history have catalogued these shifts for women as the widening of the domestic sphere to include moral and social reform projects, the women’s exercise movement, entrance into higher education, and a tentative excursion into the professions. Studies of more radical feminist, temperance, and suffrage leaders also encase women’s reform ideology within the rubric of a moral domesticity widened to encompass the public sphere.


At this time, some women used their bodies and their dress as public art forms not only to defy the moral implications of domesticity but to assume cultural agency in their society at large.  By creating herself as both performing public self and individual work of art, the aesthetic woman changed traditional concepts of the female as artistic object to the female as artistic subject.

dante gabriel rossetti lady lilith core_0

Dante Gabriel Rossetti Lady Lilith 1866

Influenced by the philosophies of John Ruskin and William Morris, and then by the Henry Cole circle involved with the English exhibition tradition at the South Kensington museums (more specifically, by the exhibits of British handicrafts at the 1876 Centennial Exposition), this impetus for reform was labeled the Aesthetic Movement and heralded by critics in the United States as a new American art “craze. ”

The umbrella philosophy of Aestheticism maintained that the goals of life were “truth” and “beauty,” which should permeate every aspect of daily living, a reversal of earlier Romantic notions of art as a separate, transcendent aesthetic sphere indicative of the influence of the new “art for art’s sake” philosophy of Walter Pater and James McNeill Whistler.

Art education for women, communal workshops and studios, the artistic salons of women such as Helena de Kay, and commercial artistic ventures spearheaded by women exemplify the importance of the Aesthetic Movement for American women, both domestically and professionally

To these taste makers, aesthetic costume was not an anti-fashion statement, as was dress reform at mid-century, but was perceived as an individual expression of art and beauty. Fashion, for instance, was seen as “being . .. as direct an outcome of the love of beauty as schools of sculpture and painting.” Costume was the “legitimate province of the artist,” noted aesthetic critics. “To dress well is to make a picture of one’s self . .. to express beauty in every line of the dress, in the selection of color, and in every detail. . . as if the soul of the individual was revealed.


Self-expression and social drama were part of both the emergence of artistic costume and the transformation of the Victorian parlor into a theatrical environment


Aesthetic dress was compiled from a variety of sources and was not a careful replica of a past model with historically correct data.” Likewise, the aesthetic room might include a Turkish rug, a Japanese vase, a Gothic chair, and a reproduction of a Greek statue. Contemporaries were aware of the eclectic and symbiotic nature of dress and decor.

As appearance became an art form like architecture, clothing became part of the new public theatricality of the rising consumer culture of the 1870s and 1880s.


This acknowledged sense of an individual art form suggests that the adoption of aesthetic styles was a countercultural move, a significant break from the conventional French fashion commonly associated with Victorian culture (and a counter to historians who stress the conformity and anonymity associated with nineteenth-century women’s dress).

The aesthetic dress was derived from the wrapper, an earlier form of garment that was usually worn indoors, also known as the dressing gown or peignoir. The wrapper was a one-piece dress, adjustable and loose down the front, with many variations. By the 1880s, the tea gown emerged as the most closely fitted form of the wrapper. Generally worn in the afternoon, the tea gown was made of formal, elaborate materials and skimmed the uncorseted body. The “Marquise” style of tea gown was featured in Demorest’s, a fashion magazine.


The Mother Hubbard dress was another popular loose garment (“a round-yoke  wrapper”), with a yoke of gathered material that fell to the floor. Because of their lack of corsets, wrappers and tea gowns suggested intimacy and indeed were designated for the rituals of the private domestic world


Traditionally, such loose, one-piece costumes had been associated with the female worlds of sickness, maternity, or old age. By the 1880s, these forms had evolved into fashion statements but only within the confines of the Victorian parlor.

The aesthetic dress was an offshoot of the uncorseted wrapper, often with a puffed shoulder and loose sleeve that made use of elaborate fabrics in aesthetic colors (sage and Venetian green, brick red, blue-green, yellow, and dove gray). Medieval and Renaissance motifs such as a cuff, long train, or high collar marked each garment as individual, a melange of historical detail.  The aesthetic dress was not in any specific category, nor were there patterns available in the fashion press for women to purchase for home sewing. Most dresses at this time were home sewn by housewives or seamstresses from mail-order patterns, for it was not until 1900 that most articles of women’s clothing were on the market ready-to-wear.


The singular characteristic of aesthetic dress was that it was worn in public, in essence bringing an intimate garment into public view under the auspices of artistic innovation.

Thus in the 1870s and 1880s, the spectacle of a flowing intimate robe worn on the streets was shocking and to wear aesthetic dress in public was a way for women to break the boundaries of conventional propriety by recasting the body as a visible (and perhaps immoral) aesthetic icon

Elizabeth Crocker Lawrence (Clarke) (1862-1951) was one active and spirited woman of the 1880s who had her portrait painted wearing an aesthetic dress. She was a student at Smith College, where she won its first tennis tournament, held in 1882. After graduating from Smith in 1883, she studied at Radcliffe (1883-1884) and at the Boston Society of Natural History (1887); she received an M.A. from Smith in 1889 and a Ph.D. from the Boston Normal School of Gymnastics in 1891. In addition to teaching at Williams College, she was, for eleven years, secretary-treasurer of the Association of Collegiate Alumnae (fore- runner of the American Association of University Women) and, for twenty-one years, treasurer of the Association to Aid Scientific Research by Women (1900- 1921) .



Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935), the radical feminist. According to her autobiography, Gilman refused to wear a corseted dress: “Needless to say I never wore corsets,” she wrote. Gilman, like Lawrence, combined her interests in gymnastics and sport with an interest in art. Gilman attended the Rhode Island School of Design, married an artist, Charles Walter Stetson, and made a living tutoring girls in drawing, painting, and gymnastics. At the time Lawrence was attending Smith, Gilman remarked (1880), “Strong minded girls were going to college under criticism and ridicule.”



As both aesthetic dress and the aesthetic interior were reflecting Pre-Raphaelite paintings, a radical shift in fashion ideology occurred. Influenced by Wilde and Whistler, aesthetic women adopted an “art for art’s sake” philosophy that defied conventional formats (and departed from the English reformers Ruskin and Morris, who believed in “art for life’s sake.

The political visibility of women in the suffrage movement, in higher education, and in urban reform efforts attests to the re-making of both the masculine and feminine self.


The Bohemian Club in San Francisco remarked in their 1880s annals on the “slender young Bohemians, clad in economical bathing suits.” The visibility of the homosexual or the “invert” was contiguous with the Aesthetic Movement, as sexologists (led by Karl Ulrichs, a German, who had coined the congenital theory of homosexuality) used sexuality to define male identity. Feminine style, in both fashion and physical movement, was the nineteenth-century caricature of this “invert,” and Oscar Wilde, the “Apostle of Aestheticism,” became a celebrity in America during his 1882 lecture tour, due in part to his effeminate persona.



As aesthetic women abandoned the corseted dress for a loose-robed garment, so Wilde moved into marginal (and feminine) modes of fashion, creating himself, like the aesthetic woman who was part of the “assemble of the drawing-room,” as an objet d’art in aesthetic space.

The question of transvestite fashion is, as Marjorie Garber has noted, the essence of theater, role playing, costume, and boundary experimentation, the qualities so evident in the aesthetic celebrity, Wilde. Other eccentric figures associated with Aestheticism, men such as Fred Holland Day, habitually dressed in flowing Turkish robes.5fanny800



In 1882 at the time of Wilde’s visit, the highly praised and best-paid minstrel star was the female impersonator Francis Leon, who boasted that he owned three hundred dresses and a great deal of jewelry.


In vaudeville, female stars appeared as Oscar Wilde (“silk stockings, knee-breeches and a velvet coat”), an indication that the experiments within aesthetic iconography (theater, self-creation, and new personal presentations) were extending into an arena of popular entertainment.5′

Male control over aesthetic fashion extended to the design and production of decorative objects by men themselves. Some men embroidered works for the aesthetic parlor, often creating their own patterns. One critic reported that “wall hangings in bold outline work in crewels on unbleached cotton stuff were designed by Mr. Ames Van Wait and worked for his own home.”

For women by the 1890s, aesthetic fashion was no longer perceived as an unconventional and idiosyncratic art form. Uncorseted garments became main- stream fashion or were reformulated by dress reform groups, which often allied with conservative movements such as the American Woman Suffrage Association and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. Turn-of-the-century dress reformers had a product to market and used techniques identified with an emerging modern order-political lobbying, bureaucratic networking, and scientific professionalism. The dress reform ideology, unlike aesthetic fashion, lent itself to the consumer culture of women’s ready-to-wear, trade catalogs, and the fashion press, and to social reformers eager to socialize the working class to a respectable bourgeois model. The individual was measured by her “physical, intellectual or moral” qualities, and questions of group advocacy, women’s labor, and suffrage intersected with debate on costume.65 By the 1890s, influenced by the French system of bodily movement invented by Francois Delsarte, modern dance advocates such as Ruth St. Denis adopted for the stage and even commercialized the flowing costume of the 1870s and 1880s.

an aesthetic lifestyle became marginal and suspect by the turn of the century. In London, Oscar Wilde was convicted of sodomy in 1895 and imprisoned, while aesthetes in America became isolated as cult groups in universities and cities. The experimentation with boundaries and gender through aesthetic fashion that existed in the 1870s and 1880s for both men and women was over.

The Aesthetic Movement, which had set a distinct profile on the 1870s and 1880s in America, ceased after two decades, silencing the aesthetic woman’s assault on the Cult of True Womanhood. Gone, too, was the aesthetic ideology that had elevated “beauty” in everyday life, celebrated individual artistic production for both men and women, and extolled women as artist/subjects and men as artistic objects. Silenced as well was a possible alternative to the canons of aesthetic modernism.