Fashion Through the Decades

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Museum Report – Erin Bryn Terrell, FM114

19th century fashion was conservative, feminine, and lavish. Women’s dress was constricting and dictated by strict rules and traditions, echoing the constraints women of the era often felt in their limiting role in society. The ideal silhouette was an hourglass figure, nipped waist with rounded hips and bosom, which women attained through the use of corsets and structured undergarments. The dresses were floor length and often designed with long trains and high necklines to ensure maximum coverage. The fashions did not change significantly according to season, often causing fainting spells when the summer heat became overwhelming. Towards the end of the century, doctors began to warn against the use of corsets, which they discovered had the potential to mutilate the bodies of young girls and damage internal organs. The beginning of the 20th century welcomed a more lenient wardrobe for women as America entered the industrial revolution. The silhouette morphed into the mono-bosom with pigeon front dresses. The legendary Paul Poiret introduced the most notable design of the decade: the hobble skirt. Exceptionally wide at the hips and narrow at the ankles, the hobble skirt made walking nearly impossible, but fashionable women embraced it nonetheless. Poiret also supported the movement to liberate ladies from the corset; his designs, which often utilized draping techniques, were suitable for a less structured body type. Other influential designers of the time included Jeanne Paquin, Jacques Doucet, and Mariano Fortuny. The haute couture of the time always came from fashion houses in Paris. Rebellious defined the atmosphere of the roaring 20s. The new generation of young women and teenagers were prepared to reject all the restrictions that had been placed on their mothers. The Jazz Age and Prohibition movement, which led to the creation of speakeasies, heavily impacted the styles of the day. Girls sported bobbed haircuts,...
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