There are several reasons why this month’s post will focus on the fascinating Inez Milholland. Not only did her efforts as part of the women’s suffrage movement inspire many, she also became a lawyer – a highly unlikely profession for a female — and was celebrated for her efforts during her lifetime as well as considered a martyr after her death! The interesting tie-in for fashion is in her stylish clothing and the change in attitude in Vogue‘s pages while covering the suffragette movement and Milholland.
In the early 1900s, thanks to a variety of social and technological factors (like the suffragette movement, dress reform, the safety bicycle, etc), it became more and more acceptable for women to take part in life outside of the home — albeit still in limited quantities and within certain parameters.
In honor of women’s history month I’d like to take a moment to appreciate women who have done difficult athletic activities while in a skirt in the late 19th century and early 1900s, besides the fact that these were also taking place before much physical activity was encouraged for women.
While, in some cases, a very wide skirt may be advantageous, in others layers, length, or decoration would have been more likely to cause her to stumble, especially considering that these garments were not designed specifically for athletic wear and were modified versions of regular day wear. Many women would likely have worn some form of pants or bloomers under her skirts, but these were not usually visible and her garments still appeared to be traditionally feminine with a full length skirt over top.
1. Hiking Alongside Male Counterparts
The length of the skirt in 1900 was still deemed necessary to cover the ankles, so while the width of the skirt would likely not have inhibited movement, the length would likely have made inclines a little difficult. To be fair, however, it probably wasn’t much easier in a suit.
A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Fashion and Beauty by Mimi Matthews covers the course of women’s fashion and beauty changes from the 1840s through the 1890s, basically the length of Queen Victoria’s reign and influence. The book speaks to a lot of what initially drew me into researching the period of 1880-1930 in terms of the dramatic changes from restrictive, complex clothing and social customs to riding bicycles and wearing looser, linear garments without even a corset for shaping (or at least without the appearance of one).
I like the opening dichotomy of the book, “Though a young and eventually transformative queen had ascended the British throne in 1837, ordinary women of the 1840s had very little freedom of their own” (Matthews, 3). This would largely remain true throughout the reign of Queen Victoria. Women at this time anticipated that they would need assistance just to put on their clothing (which is why the closures were typically in the back) let alone doing much of anything on their own without a chaperone.
Currently at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, there’s a lot of buzz surrounding the Fabulous Fashion: From Dior’s New Look to Now exhibit. Perhaps less known is Little Ladies: Victorian Fashion Dolls and the Feminine Ideal exhibit, on view now through March 3, 2019, curated by Kristina Haugland.
Little Ladies proved to be a hidden gem (and also more closely in line with the FFF timeline). Although most of the pieces date around the 1870s, many of the ideals and pieces themselves would have still been relevant and used in the 1880s, the beginning of the FFF area of study, though some of the silhouettes would have changed.
The exhibit makes the point that these dolls were instructional in the sense that they provided young girls with what to expect in marriage and coming years. Beautifully ornate and detailed, the dolls provided a counterpart to written materials on how a lady should act, what she should wear during very specific times of day (down to the handkerchief placed in her pocket and the bustle under her skirt), and the realms in which she should primarily occupy herself.