Pre 20th Century Costume Term Paper

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women's dress movement. The writer explores the movement and the progression of changes in women's dress through the years with the movement. The writer places an emphasis on the feminists of the era that created and continued the dress movement. There were five sources used to complete this paper.

For many years the 1960's have gotten all the credit for the women's movement in America. Many people believe that the movement began then and escalated until women were the equal partners that they are today. While many of the women's movements largest steps did indeed occur in the 1960's the actual movement began many years before that. The women's movement was alive and active in the 1800's and caused as many if not more changes for females than the more recent movement has caused. Today's women dress for success and comfort. The very fact that they can choose what to wear based on comfort and the image they want to portray can be traced to the women's movement as well. The movement that was active in the 1800's had many great names attached to it including Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Amelia Bloomer. These women as well as others were instrumental in changing the expectation that females had to suffer in discomfort when clothed and housewives, debutantes and career climbers alike enjoy today the benefits. The United States dress reform changed forever the attitude that society had about women's obligation to look good regardless of the cost to comfort and health.


Today society takes for granted the fact that women can dress the way they feel like dressing. It was many years ago that the dress reform movement got underway and the changes began that would last forever. One of the primary promoters of the movement was Elizabeth Smith Miller who was well-known for her rebellious nature when it came to the way she was willing to appear in public (Elizabeth Smith Miller collection of the New York Public Library provided many formal statements about her desire and actions in how she dressed. She believed that wearing garments that were more functional and more comfortable was her right and the right of every female in the nation. The long skirts got in her way in 1851 when she was trying to work in her garden and she decided to get rid of it and trade it in for a shorter skirt and some long trouser like under things. Her skirt was about four inches below the knee (Elizabeth Smith Miller collection of the New York Public Library those standards are something that society does not even notice, but in 1851 it was almost like being naked and walking down Main Street at rush hour. The reform movement may never have gotten underway except that Miller was cousins with another woman who was well-known for stirring the pot for women's rights. Miller went to visit her cousin, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Stanton was overjoyed at the idea and adopted similar dressing habits. Apparently Miller and Stanton had been talking for a long time about the discomfort and lack of functionality that the old method of female dress provided. This was the start of something big however because it snowballed into a permanent change (Elizabeth Smith Miller collection of the New York Public Library Miller and Stanton may not have been the first females to wear male type clothing in public, they were well-known as reformists and feminists, so they were able to start trends where others may have failed.

Miller later recounted the support she received from family members, and a quote that was heard about many aspects of females and the movement for equality. "I wore the short dress and trousers for many years, my husband, being at all times and in all places, my staunch supporter. My father, also gave the dress his full approval, and I was also blessed by the tonic of Mrs. Stanton's inspiring words: "The question is no longer how do you look, but woman, how do you feel (Elizabeth Smith Miller collection of the New York Public Library"

Miller returned to dresses seven following her fall from fashion grace but stated she had never worn a corset nor did she wear the heavy dresses of the day.


The move toward rationale dress was a slow one. It was a movement that was supported by many feminists but feminists at the time were not highly regarded in many circles of society, therefore they could affect the actions of other suffrage members but sometimes hurt their own cause with higher society.

The skirt began its ascent in size in the early 1800/2 Traditional garb worn by females at the time included heavy skirts, corsets and many petticoats. This ensemble could weigh many pounds and it did not matter what type of climate was in season. The women were to dress in these clothes even if it was hot and humid out. This had the potential to and did indeed cause several problems for the health and comfort level of the women (The Move Towards Rational Dress By Margie Knauff ( was a time where the female had to wear as many as nine pounds of petticoats to try and support the wide girth of the dresses that they wore. "Dress reform might have taken off at this point, had it not been for the invention of the crinoline. Crinoline is actually a material made of horsehair, originally used to keep the collars on men's shirts stiff. In the 1850's crinoline was used to create a wide under-skirt, which stood away from the body. The crinoline was sometimes reinforced with wood, wire (as much as 60 yards per skirt), whale bone or bamboo, and allowed women to wear exceedingly large skirts, without carrying as much weight. 1 The fashionable silhouette was now one in which the lower portion of the body resembled a bell (The Move Towards Rational Dress By Margie Knauff ("

In the 1890's corsets returned to fashion. A corset is a tight undergarment designed to make the waist appear smaller than it is (Sprinthall, 1986). One woman in Paris died because her corset was laced so tightly it pierced her ribs and caused them to pierce her liver and kill her. The fashion of the time was anything but rationale. "Although the unhealthy effects of corsets (displacement or prolapsed uterus; atrophy of abdominal muscles; displacement and damage to the liver; displacement of the stomach and intestines, causing extreme digestive difficulties; constriction of the chest and malformation of the ribs, affecting one's ability to breathe, they continued to be worn by trendy women. At this time, frailty was considered fashionable and feminine. It was a form of social status and one-upmanship to discuss one's latest illnesses and weaknesses with one's lady friends (The Move Towards Rational Dress By Margie Knauff ("


When Miller visited her cousin Stanton with Turkish trousers on and then went back to dresses she did not know she was about to start a national and forever change. Stanton began to wear the Turkish trousers and visited Amelia Bloomer who at the time was the editor of a feminist styled magazine called The Lily. Bloomer was also impressed with the trousers with the dress over them because it was stylish and allowed the freedom of movement for the person who wore them. Bloomer immediately began wearing the outfits as well and took the big step of promoting the look in her magazine. This was the true beginning of the start of the reform movement because of the publicity the magazine and its editor afforded it. The public named the outfit the Bloomer…[continue]

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