Tuesday, 29 January 2013

British Fashion 1903-28

Tomorrow I have my first history exam on Britain in the early 20th century. As a break from revision, I've been thinking about the fashion of this era. I really do think that fashion changed a lot in this era and not in a pointless 'oh, look, new trend' kind of way but in a way that changed social attitudes. There really is heaps of historical and social context in the clothing worn by women at this time.

In the early 20th century Britain was one of the richest countries in the world and still possessed a pretty hefty empire. This wealth meant that a lot of people had a higher standard living than people in other countries over the world and it has somewhat stayed like that ever since. The time between the turn of the century and the First World War was known as the Golden Age to the more than a million people who earned at least £750 a year (that was a lot of money then.) It was the age where, for the wealthiest families, no expense was spared. The houses were luxurious with gigantic chandeliers hanging above the heads of the well dressed men and women dining lavishly together.

Women had few rights and their clothing reflected this. Restricting corsets were still viewed as a necessity and it was unacceptable to show any ankle underneath a heavy gown. It was difficult for women to move around let alone with ease. The clothing meant that they could not do much more than sit at home all day whilst the men took care of more important business. It was this era of fashion that Coco Chanel was eager to abolish. Although grossly impractical and uncomfortable, it is difficult not to admire the romance that comes with this one hundred year old fashion. The rich spared no expense when it came to getting well fitted clothes in the best fabrics and dyes that had been imported from Britain's many colonies. 

However, actions were being taken to give women more rights. The Suffragists were formed Millicent Fawcett in 1897. They believed in passive protest in the form of peaceful marches, the distribution of leaflets and attending meetings. In 1903, Emmeline Pankhurst decided that more extreme action needed to be taken in order for the campaign to get anywhere so she formed the Suffragettes who believed in 'deeds not words.' Their methods involved chaining themselves to railings outside 10 Downing Street or Buckingham Palace, acts of public disorder and heckling anti-suffrage politician. The Suffragette's colours were purple for dignity, white for purity and green for hope. Although women did not yet wear trousers, The Suffragettes did not dress themselves in such heavy, inhibiting clothing.

A lot of developments were made in women's rights during the First World War. The Suffragettes put down their posters that demanded the right to vote and started fighting for the right to serve. As more and more men were going off to fight on the Western Front, more workers were needed so women took on jobs from munitions workers to bus conductors as well as nurses at the Front.

In 1918 the Representation of the People Act gave women over 30 who owned property the right to vote. By 1928 women had the same voting rights as men. During this time, the fashions reflected the developments in women's rights. Before the War women wore skirts and dresses that hung below the ankles, no questions asked. However, during the War it was realised that dresses and skirts were wildly impractical for certain jobs and from this, opinions and fashions evolved to make it more acceptable for women to wear trousers. By 1928, women were wearing trousers and just below the knee dresses. Yay =)


  1. This was interesting! I was totes thinking about downton abbey the whole time haha :)

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