This post was originally submitted as a final essay on the history of women’s liberation through fashion throughout the progressive era (1900-1920). For questions on sources quoted or used ask Natalia!
In all societies the body is dressed and shaped to reflect a cultural understanding of what a body should look like and how it must be covered or left exposed. Clothing is so much a part of our living and our culture that we use it to define ourselves within the contexts of our society as a reflection of our agreement or dissent to cultural values, as reflected through dress.
It tends to be the rule, rather than the exception that forms of dress will change to reflect a culture’s value system at a slow, conservative pace. However, the Progressive Era is certainly an exception to this rule. Throughout the years of 1900 to 1920 women’s dress progressed at a greater pace than it had changed throughout the whole19th century. This essay explores the changes in women’s apparel throughout the Progressive Era, mainly focusing on the parallel relationship between women’s dress and their liberation during these years. Contrary to popular conception, I argue that women’s apparel reform throughout the progressive era moved mostly parallel to women’s progressive movements, meaning dress reform was not directly influenced by women’s movements so much as it was by three other social movements. Ultimately I propose that the changes in women’s dress reform during these years—largely influenced because of new artistic trends, urbanization, and scientific discoveries—allowed for increased control over a woman’s own body and her decision to decide what to wear on the basis of her judgments and preferences.