Fashion Trends and Women's Empowerment in the 20th Century: A More Masculine Upheaval.
This research proposal attempts to demonstrate that as women have historically made strides towards equality, women's fashion has adapted as well. With each step forward toward a more evolved society and one which makes more allowances towards women, women's fashion tends to become more masculine and/or androgynous. This paper will attempt to suggest a research proposal describing this trend as it connects to the female silhouette as well, and discusses the research methods used to prove this hypothesis. The research methods will rely heavily on intergenerational women and their participation.
How have fashion trends reflected the growing empowerment of women in the 20th century?
As society changes, reflections of that change cannot help but be seen clearly throughout society -- in the ways we live, the ways we communicate, the ways we travel, eat, socialize and dress. As the values of society change, these changes start to manifest in a variety of overt ways. Fashion is a tremendous way in which one can document and visualize the changes which have occurred in society. This makes perfect sense, as people dress in ways in which they see themselves, and in ways that they would like to see themselves. "The Queen of England is reported to have told Prince Charles, 'Dress gives one the outward sign from which people can judge the inward state of the mind. One they can see, the other they cannot'" (Ramsey, 2014, p.51). What one can conclude about this quote is that one's dress and sense of fashion reflects one's inner state of mind. This is true for both the individual and for society. Thus, as the expectations and values of society change and adapt, so too do the individual styles of dress and of fashion. This is particularly true for women and for all female styles of dress. With the evolution of society has come without a doubt, the steady empowerment of women and the development and growth of the role of women within society. As certain experts have attested, fashion is never created by a single individual, but by a collection of individuals: fashion is always a collective activity (Kawamura, 2004). Just as some authors have gone to great lengths to demonstrate that fashion is a manifestation of class struggle, no struggle could be quite as apparent through fashion as the struggle of women in society to receive equality.
This is in part because of the fact that "there exists an indisputable connection between American political culture and fashion. Through the ages this connection has most clearly been seen during times of extreme political and societal change. Where some groups and individuals have been compelled to conform, others have felt compelled to resist, and this has often been reflected in their dress" (Gilmore, 2009). For women it was more of a slow development of change: as women were able to gain increased rights and higher levels of autonomy that became reflected in their dress and within changes in their dress. This paper will describe a research proposal which seeks to examine both the historical events which have most profoundly shaped the struggle and process of women's liberation and examine how fashion reacted to these successes, through both theory and a formal research study.
Literature Review/Secondary Research
It is absolutely vital to examine cultural texts to determine the exact connection between political/societal change and women's fashion. This paper will attempt to demonstrate that as women gained more autonomy and more independence, the fashion styles that celebrated that new independence with a more masculine or a more androgynous style. Feminine styles were always considered acceptable, but traditional. As history reflects, each time a stride was made in the arena of women's liberation, that achievement was reflected via fashion. "In any era, fashion is a reflection of the times and what is going on...
That influence is very evident in how post World War II society and the way culture was reacting to the new world they were living in was reflected in 1920s fashions at all levels of society" (Nash, 2013).
This research paper will pay particular attention to the 1920s, which was a period of intense social change, reflected in fashion styles as well. For women, short haircuts known as bobs became fashionable as did shorter skirts and many fashion trends were borrowed liberally from men's standards. Maverick fashion designers like Coco Chanel and Jean Patou made sportswear fashionable as well as reasonable to wear as well (Munich, 2011).
This research will look closely at the historical trends during this remarkable time of women's fashion and see how those milestones were reflected in fashion. In the earlier 20th century, women were seen as the guardians of morality, made of more delicate materials than men, and thus expected to engage accordingly (umn.edu, 2009). While this may have been accepted in World War One, it was rejected in the 1920s: in rebelling against such standards roles as wife and mother, changes in fashion were made as well. Women wanted to be seen differently and so they began to dress differently: jazz clubs, dance halls and speakeasies all offered places where women could shrug off these traditional roles, and thus they needed to have the right outfits for such moves. These were the environments were women were allowed a greater freedom: not just in their clothing and language, but in their behavior (Molloy, 2008). Thus, this research intends to argue that from this great desire to be seen differently, came a manifestation of dressing differently, and that this phenomenon occurred throughout the ages, time and again. For instance, in the 1920s, this was most radical with the bob hairstyle that Coco Chanel pioneered: this was a dramatic change in fashion which celebrated the achievements that women had made via the 18th and 19th amendments through a more over embrace of more masculine styles and modes of dress.
A close examination of even dissenting scholarly texts needs to be examined as well, in order to take complete stock of the full body of opinions that exist regarding the relationship between women's fashions and social change. Other scholars have argued for the use of feminine clothing as a means of expressing power and that wearing high heels and rollers shouldn't be indicative of submission or a lack of desire for advancement (Scott, 2005). "This push for power has produced endless conflict from the movement's earliest days, hindering advances in women's rights by promoting exclusion. It is time for the 'plain Jane' dress code of the revolution to be lifted, allowing all women to lead, even those wearing makeup and Manolos" (Scott, 2005). Thus, even the scholarly opinions which go against the themes of this paper are important to examine, as they demonstrate thoughts and concepts about the exact connection between women's social change and fashion.
Body ideal emerges repeatedly in fashion and are thus important to remember (Klepp, 2005). In fact, this paper will examine the full gamut of women's fashion throughout the 20th century, including the woman's silhouette, arguing that the popularity of the super-thin ideal was something which was a reflection of greater successes of women in the professional sphere, and also a rejection of the softer, rounder silhouette (Brown & Dittmar, 2005). This makes sense, as fashion has always been an expression of a desire to align oneself with certain groups, and to deter oneself from being a part of other groups (Berger, 1998). This paper intends to demonstrate that along every historical milestone for feminism came a fashion trend that sought to more closely align women's fashion to be more evocative of men's fashion.
Methods: Primary Resource Methods
The bulk of this research will occur via intergenerational focus groups where participants will be asked to recount the fashion trends that they grew up with and how those trends changed. Group members will also be asked to answer a survey which will determine whether they naturally feel style which represent success and power are more masculine or more feminine. For example, a question on the survey would be something to the extent of: "What make you feel more powerful at work: A tailored pant suit and loafers or a tailored dress and heels?" Or "Do you feel as though you need to wear trousers in order to be taken more seriously at work?"
The intergenerational women will be professional civilians who work more 9-5 jobs and who represent the consumer base, along with industry insiders who have a more intensive and more nuanced background in fashion. For example, when compiling an inter-generational group of industry insiders it should not just be designers, but store owners, store managers, marketing managers, scholars and even fashion models. It's important to have all sectors and pillars of the industry involved (Sproles, 1981). Without a varied involvement the results and findings will like be imbalanced.
The respondents will be recruited on the street…
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