Modern US History

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Category: Mia Humphreys


Primary Sources:

Secondary Sources:

  1. Ewing, Elizabeth, and Alice Mackrell. History of 20th Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1997.
  2. Mason, Meghann. The Impact of World War II on Women ‘s Fashion in the United States and Britain. Digital Scholarship. 2011.
  3. Walford, Jonathan. Forties Fashion: From Siren Suits to the New Look. London: Thames & Hudson, 2008. Print.
  4. Goodson, Carl. Evolution of Fashion: Clothing of Upper Class American Women from 1865 to 1920. Scholarly Commons. 2014.
  5. Walford, Jonathan. Forties Fashion: From Siren Suits to the New Look. London: Thames & Hudson, 2008.
  6. Summers, Julie. Fashion on the Ration: Style in the Second World War. London: Profile Books, 2016.
  7. Mendes, Valerie, and Amy De La Haye. Fashion since 1900. London: Thames Hudson, 2010.
  8. Fiell, Charlotte, and Emmanuelle Dirix. 1920s Fashion: The Definitive Sourcebook. London: Goodman Fiell, 2015.
  9. Baudot, François. Fashion: The Twentieth Century. New York: Universe, 2006.

Secondary Sources:

  1. Gibson, Charles D. Gibson Girl: Life Cartoons. 1895. The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, New York Public Library, New York. (Accessed December 15, 2018.)
  2. H. Horwood & Co. “The “Shapely” Blouse Front Brassiere.” Advertisement. The Corset and Underwear Review, 1913. (Accessed December 15, 2018.)
  3. Reutlinger, C. H. Portrait of Henriette Henriot. 1910. Victoria and Albert Museum, England. (Accessed December 15, 2018.)
  4. Treidler, Adolph, b. 1886. For Every Fighter A Woman Worker. Care for her through the YWCA. 1917-1918. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America. (Accessed December 19, 2018)
  5. “MLLE. CHIC ON FASHIONS.” 1918. Town & Country. ProQuest (Accessed December 19, 2018)
  6. Bliven, Bruce. “Flapper Jane.” The New Republic (New York City), September 9, 1925. (Accessed December 18, 2018)
  7. Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. “Field Hockey Player, Ca. 1922.” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed November 21, 2018.
  8. “Stores Buy Skirts Long and Short.” BusinessWeek, no. 4 (September 28, 1929): 12.
  9. Office for Emergency Management. Office of War Information. Domestic Operations Branch. Bureau of Special Services. 3/9/1943-9/15/1945. “WOMEN IN WAR INDUSTRY”. 1941-01-01/1945-12-31. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America, (Accessed December 20, 2018.)
  10. Steichan, E. J. Fashion Photograph for Vogue Magazine. 1930. Victoria and Albert Museum, USA.
  11. Vincent, Nat, 1889-1979, Harris, Will J., 1900-1967, Dooley, Johnny, Starmer. Shorter they wear ’em, the longer they look. 1917. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America, (Accessed December 20, 2018.)
  12. Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. “Women’s 1932 fashion ensembles by Molyneux and Jenny.” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed December 20, 2018.
  13. Eastern Air Lines. Eleanor Roosevelt boarding an Eastern Air Transport Curtiss Condor, 1932. 1930/1939. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America, (Accessed December 20, 2018.)
  14. Mainbocher, 1890-1976 (designer); United States. Navy (maker). WAVES uniform. 1942-1946. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America, (Accessed December 20, 2018.)


This exhibit will be exploring how women’s fashion reflected the social, political, and economic themes of the time period. It will focus on the style ideal of the time; which includes predominantly the fashions of white, middle- to upper-class women. The exhibit will showcase how this fashion changed alongside five different eras: The Gilded Age, WWI, the 1920s, the Great Depression, and WWII. The exhibit will follow the most distinguished trends of the time and seek to explain what they meant for women’s social, political, and economic status. The exhibit will look to women’s fashion magazines, popular designers and their inspirations, and style icons of the time. These factors affect everything in fashion from type of materials used, to silhouettes and shapes of clothing, to hem and necklines, to sleeves, to the practicality of the outfit. The exploration of this theme is significant because it shows what roles women fulfilled, what they themselves desired, and how they were perceived by society. Reflecting on styles of the time will show how the treatment of women evolved over the years, and what economic trends meant for the gender. This subject will give us a unique insight into the lives of the women who lived during these periods.

The Gilded Age, the period of the late 19th century to early 20th century, was defined by massive wealth disparities, rapid economic growth, immigration, and leg-o’-mutton sleeves (Goodson, 2014.) The rapid increase in wealth for certain people meant that wealthy, white women’s fashion became a way to express status (Ewing, 7.) The rigid Victorian shapes of the past century began to loosen slightly, as many white middle- and upper-class white women became involved in the “Public Sphere.” These women spearheaded reform movements and started to partake in activities such a bicycling, which demanded more practical outfits. The majority of fashion came from Parisian designers, imported to America by wealthy women who would travel to Paris and famous actresses such as Eva Moore or Maxine Elliot (Ewing 16.) Towards the end of the century, Victorian fashion of large skirts and frills began to give way to more Edwardian styles; practical shirtwaists, and smaller skirts. A major style icon of the time was the “Gibson Girl,” created by Charles Gibson. She represented the “New Woman,” a woman who was athletic, socially aware, politically activated. Her style was defined by her hair piled atop her head, and the S-shaped, hourglass figure, attained by a very tight corset that thrust the chest forward and the hips back (Ewing, 9). This corset style was designed by Frenchwoman Mme. Gaches-Sarraute, as the “health corset” meant to relieve pressure on the waist, but maintain the feminine shape. Around 1907, a new style arose. The “new-style corset” popularized by Paul Poiret Dior (Ewing 63) was paired with a straight “hobble-skirt” which was a column-like shape that forced women to hobble as they walked.

A year after the start of WWI in 1915, when women were allowed to enter the workforce, fashion changed overnight. As men went off to fight, women took jobs in factories, hospitals, and farms. They worked as drivers, nurses, administrators, laborers These responsibilities brought newfound independence, freedom, and a demand for more practical clothing. “Day suits”- two-piece skirt and jacket sets became popular (Lee, 12.) “Hobble-skirts” disappeared becoming shorter, and less structured, giving women greater ease of movement. (Ewing 84) They were dubbed “War Crinoline.” Fabric rationing also played a role in the styles of the times, as designs were simplified to accommodate shortages, meaning clothes were less frivolous and hemlines were shorter (Goodson, 2014.) War style began to creep into everyday fashion around this time, with pockets, khaki, trench coats, and corduroy showing up in women’s wardrobes (Mendes, 50.) Darker, more somber colors were popular, and a shortage of domestic services made elaborate clothing that required special care, and multiple daily outfit changes too impractical to maintain (Mendes, 51.) A major designer of the time was Coco Chanel, whose Parisian dress store remained open during the war, and featured “sporty” skirt and jacket sets (Mendes, 54.) This style would remain popular for many decades to come.

The end of WWI brought about a strong sentiment of women’s independence. In addition, the freedom women experienced during the war empowered them to break free of constricting social norms, and uncomfortable fashions. After a devastating war, people’s attitude towards modesty and strict social norms changed to allow more freedom for women (Ewing, 1997. 91.) This period is most defined by the “flapper” or “garçonne” look, in which dropped waists, androgynous hairstyles, and mid-calf hemlines were prevalent (Mendes 58.) This style embodied youthfulness, and a rebuke towards traditional styles which painfully and restrictively accentuated female curves. In fact, the ideal body shape was a thin, straight,  body with no curves. Corsets served to flatten the breasts and straighten out the figure (Ewing, 1996. 93.) The dresses of the era were loose, falling straight from the shoulders to the hips. Louise Brooks, an American actress, embodied this style with her bobbed hair and loose gowns.

Women’s fashion of the Great Depression contrasted with the opulent styles of the 20s. The stock market crash of 1929 left everyone forced to simply “make do” with what they had (Mason 2011, 12.) As a result, styles became simpler, and reverted to “classic” styles like the puffy sleeves seen before during the era of the Gibson girls (Walford, 2008. 14.). The “boyish look” wen swiftly out of style; defined waists came back, and hemlines lowered once again. (Ewing, 1997. 108)

World War II fashion was affected by the loss of Paris as the fashion capital of the world, as well as material regulations (Walford 2008, 65.) Once Paris became occupied, New York rose to prominence as a leader in the fashion industry. For the first few years of the war, American fashion was not affected. Then in 1942, Limitation Order 85, which set forth a set of regulations for clothing manufactures, brought  “War Wise” style, stateside. L-85 dictated much of what women wore: patriotic colors, fabrics such as gingham, cotton, denim, and rayon (Walford 2008, 28.) Fabric rationing like in WWI gave the military first pick of any produced materials. Hemlines rose in an effort to ration materials (Mason 2011. 14). These shortages also contributed to styles cut close to the body, without embellishments or extra material like pleats or ruffles. Women who worked in factories often wore trousers, and they soon became an acceptable style for women to wear in the home (Ewing 1997, 87.) Women in the military were expected to keep up appearances, and uniforms were designed for women to look attractive to “keep up morale” (Walford, 2008. 92.)

Gilded Age

Gibson Girl- 1895

This source is an illustration of a “Gibson Girl” a young woman drawn by Charles D Gibson. She wears an ornate, floor-length embroidered gown with a full skirt. The sleeves are short and fall around her shoulders to show off her decollate and full bust. Her chest is pushed forward and her hips back. The woman in the illustration is a fictional character, inspired by one of three famous sisters, the Langhornes. Gibson married one of the sisters and drew his famous illustrations to represent the “New Woman,” an active, knowledgeable woman who played sports, talked about politics and worked on reform movements. This figure became an icon for women of the late Gilded age, inspiring them to dress in looser clothes which encouraged movement and suited their needs of moving around outside of the home.

Corset Advertisement- 1913

Corset and Underwear Review 1913

This source is an advertisement from The Corset and Underwear Review a book published in 1913, filled with advertisements and articles about corsets and underwear. This particular page advertises “The Shapley Blouse Front Brassiere” which boasts it unique “complete reinforced underarm section” and its suitability for transparent blouses. The page has illustrations of women wearing different versions of the brassiere. This source shows that women desired that full-bosom look in the 1930s, and in addition to that, it reinforces the popularity of blouses. The source explains that the brassiere gives “just the proper degree of restraint.” This is significant because it shows that the tide had not yet turned for women to reject restrained corsets. Advertisements such as these beg the question: were women dressing for the male gaze? As these articles seem to be uncomfortable, it would only make sense that women dressed this way to be seen as desirable by men. Further, were men making up these trends?

Henriette Henriot- 1910s

This source is a photo of Henriette Henriot, taken by C.H. Reutlinger in the 1910s. She represents a woman dressing in the Gibson girl style with her hair is piled atop her head, her chest thrust forward, while her hips are pushed back. She is shaped in the ideal “s-shaped” curve that was so desired by women and dubbed the “pouter pigeon.” Only her top-half is visible, and she sports a low neckline that shows off her chest. The garment is heavily beaded and very ornate, and the sleeves and the bodice are heavily draped in fabric. This photo was taken for her calling card, a small piece of paper that women would leave at the home of whoever they visited. Calling cards marked a shift in women’s lives when visiting friends and acquaintances outside of the home became the norm. This source is insightful because it shows us what a very sophisticated woman wore and proves that Edwardian women did indeed wear s-shaped corsets.


World War I

War Poster- 1917

This source is a wartime poster from 1917 of a young woman worker, holding up an artillery shell and an airplane. The poster is from WWI and is advertising the Young Woman’s Christian Association, similar to the better-known Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA.) The poster reads “For Every Fighter a Woman Worker. United War Work Campaign. Care for her through the YWCA.” The woman is wearing overalls and a collared shirt with the sleeves rolled up. She’s wearing practical lace-up shoes, high socks, and a hat. This poster was used to encourage women to join the war effort. The symbolism of the woman holding up the airplane and the shell mean that she is supporting the men at war, by working at home. Her outfit is an extreme departure from the Edwardian fashions of the period before. Gone the restrictive corsets and hobble skirts, replaced by menswear-inspired practical work clothes. This style was thought to be very scandalous and reflects how the war inspired a total breakdown of certain societal norms. This fashion, though disliked by traditionalists, was accepted as necessary to allow women to contribute to the war effort.

Town & Country Article- 1918

This source is an article from Town and Country Magazine in 1918. It’s a column called “Mille-Chic on Fashions.” The article details encounter with several stylish women and explains what they were wearing. Mrs. Bob Cassation of Philadelphia was seen in a simple Georgette, gathered at the waist, while Ms. Dallas Pratt was seen in a strait-lined silhouette with wide sleeves and embroidery at the wide cuffs. Next, the article talks about the current state of affairs, writing “The government commandeering of all woolen necessitates using small quantities of these materials, and added to this the increased cost of labor makes simple dressing a foregone conclusion,” as the author’s prediction for the next season of designs. The author predicts non-voluminous, long skirts and sleek fabric with trim as a stylistic element. These simple designs are a reaction to the war, in which fabric regulations made elaborate costumes impractical. The author also writes that couturiers will be designing such costumes for women with busy lives. This article marks a shift from Edwardian fashion to more practical wartime fashions, which were simpler and more practical. In addition to being practical, these designs were also liberating for women, as they allowed them to move around outside the home.

Composition Cover- 1917

This source is the cover page for a composition called “The Shorter They Wear “Em, the Longer They Look.” It was written in 1917 by Johnny Dooley and the lyrics are in reference to women’s skirts getting shorter, and men not being able to stop looking. The lyrics are a man talking to his doctor about having trouble with his eyes because he is seeing “too much” of women. He talks about how men cannot peel their eyes off women. This source comes at a time when women’s skirts were rising in reaction war fabric rationing (Ewing 1997, 83) This is an interesting insight into how men of the time perceived new fashion trends as scandalous. It also shows how women were still very much percieved as sexual objects, despite new fashions being about liberation.


Flapper Jane- 1925

She is frankly, heavily made up, not to imitate nature, but for an altogether artificial effect—pallor mortis, poisonously scarlet lips, richly ringed eyes—the latter looking not so much debauched (which is the intention) as diabetic. Her walk duplicates the  swagger supposed by innocent America to go with the female half of a Paris Apache dance. And there are, finally, her clothes. These were estimated the other day by some statistician to weigh two pounds. Probably a libel; I doubt they come within half a pound of such bulk. Jane isn’t wearing much, this summer. If you’d like to know exactly, it is: one dress, one step-in, two stockings, two shoes.

Not since 1820 has feminine apparel been so frankly abbreviated as at present; and never, on this side of the Atlantic, until you go back to the little summer frocks of Pocahontas. This year’s styles have gone quite a long step toward genuine nudity. Nor is this merely the sensible half of the population dressing as everyone ought to, in hot weather. Last winter’s styles weren’t so dissimilar, except that they were covered up by fur coats and you got the full effect only indoors. And improper costumes never have their full force unless worn on the street. Next year’s styles, from all one hears, will be, as they already are on the continent, even More So.

“In a way,” says Jane, “it’s just honesty. Women have come down off the pedestal lately. They are tired of this mysterious feminine-charm stuff. Maybe it goes with independence, earning your own living and voting and all that. There was always a bit of the harem in that cover-up-your-arms-and-legs business, don’t you think?” “Women still want to be loved,” goes on Jane, warming to her theme, “but they want it on a 50-50 basis, which includes being admired for the qualities they really possess. Dragging in this strange-allurement stuff doesn’t seem sporting. It’s like cheating in games, or lying.”Flapper Jane, Bruce Bliven

This source is an article from the New Republic, an American magazine, written in 1925. It describes and analyzes the current flapper fashion trend. The article centers around a nineteen-year-old woman named Jane who dresses in this style. It includes a brief interview with Jane and lots of commentary on the part of the author. The tone of the article is dismissive of flapper fashion, and it’s clear that the author believes that dressing as a flapper is a declaration of both women’s liberation and loose morals. It concurs with the idea that women dressing in such a manner means that they are becoming less dependent on men. It was written in response to the trend of the time, and to inform and critique. This source was found on the Dickinson Library database. This article provides a valuable insight into the opinion of the older generation towards the new style. It shows that some people were against flapper fashion and believed it represented the downfall of society. I chose this source because it provides an interesting interpretation of the style of the times, and shows how it was perceived by many people. This source is important because it shows the cultural implications of the flapper style. I learned that many thought it represented women with loose sexual morals, but many women found that they were liberated by this style.

Field Hockey Player Illustration- 1920s

This is a very interesting source as it shows the prevalence of women’s sports in American culture in the 1920s. This source is an illustration of a young woman, dressed in a sports outfit or a short skirt, black stockings, and a sailor-style blouse, sitting crossed legged on the ground, holding a field hockey stick. Her hair is short. Women engaging in sports marked a cultural shift in which they entered the public sphere. This new cultural wave sparked a change in women’s fashion where they began dressing in clothing that was more practical for movement. The freedom they experienced in playing sports was reflected in the freedom in fashion. This “sporty” style of short, unstructured skirts, and loose blouses quickly became mainstream and contributed to the popular styles of the 1920s.

Business Week Article- 1929

This source is an excerpt from a newspaper, reporting that department store buyers will be purchasing both skirts in both long and short styles, meaning women in 1929-1930 will be wearing both long a short skirts. The article states that women will wear whatever they find most comfortable. It was created to inform women about the upcoming trends. This source marks a cultural shift in which women are starting to wear whatever they prefer, and not conform to patriarchal standards of fashion. This article was found in the database, “Bloomberg Businessweek Archive.” I chose this source because it was striking in that it very clearly stated that women will be wearing whatever they please. This is significant because it marked a point in which women choosing what to wear became commonplace. From this source I learned that towards the end of the 1920s, women became liberated enough to wear what they wanted, and it was accepted by society.

World War II

War Poster- 1940s

This is a war poster by the Office for Emergency Management, Office of War Information, Domestic Operations Branch, and the Bureau of Special Services from World War II. The poster depicts several photos of women working in munitions factories and calls to women to continue to join the war effort while men are away at war. It states that an additional four million women will be necessary before 1943 to continue the work. The women are pictured wearing collared shirts and turbans, which they needed to wear in factories. This source shows the prevalence of women working in factories and explains how it became acceptable for them to wear what was previously thought as menswear.

WAVES Uniform- 1940s

This source is a WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency) uniform. The uniform is a corduroy skirt and jacket. The skirt falls just below the knee, and the jacket is semi-fitted to the wearer a framed waist. WAVES was a branch of the US Navy that was trained to do secretarial and clerical functions. (Summers 2016, 43) This uniform had effects on fashion; as more and more women were seen in uniform it began to be reflected in the popular style. These uniforms paved the way for women to wear even shorter skirts, which allowed for greater ease of movement. This uniform also reflects the fabric rationing of the time, as frills and ruffles disappeared in an effort to preserve fabric.


Vogue Magazine Photograph- 1930

This source is a photo for Vogue magazine in 1930 of two models wearing stylish evening gowns. This photo showcases the style of the time for women to wear more feminine garments. The gowns are slinky and the hair is worn in finger waves. The message to be gleaned from this photo is that despite the stock market crash, glamour prevailed. This photo is a great source as it comes from Vogue magazine, which epitomized fashion of the time. These models represent what women aspired to look like, and how they were told to dress. The accentuated waist is a marker that fashion is evolving past the 1920’s era of shapeless dresses. This source reflects the swinging pendulum of style; following a decade of short, shift designs, feminine-cut dresses came back into fashion.

Fashion Illustration- 1932

This source is an illustration displaying the designs of Molyneux and Jenny in 1932. The women are all wearing long, slim-fitting skirts. The skirts, unlike hobble-skirts of the Gilded Age, allow for plenty of movement and fall to about mid-calf. There is very little boning, or corsetry required for such outfits, and they promote women walking around or doing activities like golfing. The far left outfit is described as a “sports dress.” The dresses reflect the economic distress of the time as they lack the extravagant embroidery and of the era before and are instead adorned with small accents. This source captures perfectly a moment between wars in the opulence of the 1920s faded, yet the easier looser silhouettes remained.

Eleanor Roosevelt- 1932

This source is a photo of First-Lady Eleanor Roosevelt boarding an airplane in 1932. She’s wearing a wool suit, with a matching skirt, jacket, and overcoat. Around her neck is a mink stole to dress up the outfit. Her outfit shows that the economic deficit of the time affected even those who could afford to dress more lavishly. The need to dress in clothes that were cheaper simply became stylish. Roosevelt’s loose and short mid-calf skirt is also representative of the easier standards for women.

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