October 30, 2012 Shifts in Women’s Fashion Trend

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Hyesu Shin

Professor Rood


October 30, 2012

Shifts in Women’s Fashion Trend

Women always have endeavored to look “in-trend”. Social expectation for society members to follow the mainstream affects the women to follow the current fashion trend at that time. Women think that they have to dress themselves as “in-trend” to be accepted into the society and to look beautiful. As the results from research demonstrate, factors other than new fashion style, fashion icons, and fashion items affected the shifts; the underlying factors such as invention, immigration, social movements, and war attributed to the shifts in women’s fashion trend.

Invention of typewriter, immigration, and war affected the shift in women’s fashion trend in 1900’s and 1910’s. These following three paragraphs address the factors that affected the shift from the elaborate fashion trend to a simple fashion trend which includes the ready-to-wear clothing called shirtwaist.

Aided by the invention of typewriter in 1870, the pink-collar sector of the economy boomed in the first decade of the twentieth century. These young women called “pink-collar” workers managed the growing paperwork generated by American businesses. Pink-collar work was much more appealing than the factory work to many women: In an office a woman could earn ten dollars or more a week, twice what she could make in a clothing sweatshop (American Decades 1900-1909 P. 3). The following research from the Michigan State University shows how much the occupation as a typewriter became popular for women near the early twentieth century: “In 1870, only 4.5 percent of the "stenographers" in the US were occupied by women. In 1880, there were an estimated 2,000 women out of a total of 5,000 such employees, 40 percent female. In 1889, 63.8 percent of the 33,418 clerical workers classified as ‘stenographers and typists’ were women” (H-net P. 77). But the popular elaborate women’s wear including complicated undergarments, skirts and over-skirts, high lace necklines, lace-up shoes, and elaborate hats were inefficient for these jobs that required women to be in their seats for many hours. Also, these fashion items were time-consuming to create, to put on, and to take care for (American Decades 1910-1919 P. 2). So when the large number of Jewish immigrants moved to the State, the idea of efficient clothing suggested them to use their tailoring skills to create simple, ready-to-wear clothes.

During the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, over two million Eastern Europeans immigrated to the United States, creating a great Jewish center there. Since a large proportion of the Jews were tailors and many who formerly had no profession joined their ranks, the Eastern European immigration brought the tailoring skills into America’s mass-produced clothing businesses (Encyclopedia P. 736). With the status as immigrants, the Eastern Europeans were unable to obtain jobs that offered high wages. So the immigrants took jobs that only require their tailoring skills. With their tailoring skills, the Jewish immigrants innovated well-made and ready-to-wear clothes called shirtwaists in the mass-production businesses.

Also, the popularity of shirtwaist spread throughout the 1910’s as the war affected the women’s occupation field. During the 1910’s, World War I brought more job opportunities to women. When more than two million young men departed for military service in 1917 and 1918, the labor shortage that resulted brought more than a million women to better-paying industrial occupations (eNotes P. 1). Also, as the military needed personnel to type letters, answer phones, and perform other tasks, the military hired many women for the jobs that required employees to be in their seats for many hours. Women with these better-paying industrial occupations attributed to the popularity of shirtwaist; women realized that shirtwaists were more comfortable to wear than the time-consuming, elaborate clothes.

During the 1900’s and 1910’s, the preference for more comfortable women clothes was followed after the new cultural value of women’s professions. The fashion trend shifted as the society at the time provided more occupations that required women to work in seats for many hours. Women realized that wearing corsets and tight clothes, which needed much time to put on and take care for, were inefficient for their new occupations. All things considered, the three factors, invention of typewriter, immigration, and war, affected the shift in the women’s fashion trend during the 1900’s and 1910’s.

During the 1940’s, World War II affected the women’s fashion trend. The war required many women to be physically and emotionally strong. And the fashion trend at that time depicted these expectations: The padded, broad shoulders lent women an air of strength and authority, traits valued in women in the 1940’s, and seen as crucial to surviving the war (American Decades 1940-1949 P. 1). The society’s emphasis on the women’s position and strength as worker and mother not only changed the women’s thoughts, but also changed their outer looks.

After the World War II, a dramatic shift in women’s fashion trend occurred in the 1950’s. When the women came back to the domestic life from the workforce, the main key for the fashion trend shifted from masculine to feminine. Women were long gone from the factory jobs of World War II and were back home usually in the kitchen, wearing aprons; women wore wasp waists, voluminous skirts, and pearls by day to emphasize their femininity (American Decades 1950-1959 P. 1). Even the designers such as Dior emphasized the femininity in their designs; Dior’s design of the hourglass figure reigned popular in the postwar United States. As sociologists noted, sexuality and maternity were the way to restore the emotionally hurt population (American Decades 1950-1959 P. 1). The soft, feminine physical look of the women calmed the suffering society back from the war.

The women’s liberation movements, which emphasized political, economic, and social equality for women in 1960’s, affected the fashion trend in 1970’s. Women wanting the political, economic, and social freedom in the society expressed their feelings and thoughts through fashion. Women were no longer willing to follow the fashion designers who designed conservative clothes; women wanted more than one look and they seemed to thrive on choice. By selecting from a variety of fashion styles, women expressed their hope for independence and liberation (American Decades 1970-1979 P. 1). The attitude “do your own thing” depicted women’s personality, independence of mind, and spirit of experimentation. Women at this time wore hot pants, short shorts, and miniskirts. Also, women depicted their independence through the expression of their ethnic group; women at that time expressed styles such as the American Indian, the Tirolean peasant, the Spanish gypsy, the frontier woman, and the Victorian lady (American Decades 1970-1979 P. 2).

In the 1980’s, women’s higher status could be seen in their fashion. By the 1980’s, many women were in the workforce, holding powerful positions in the society and making much money to spend on their fashion luxuries. Women’s fashion styles intensified as they achieved higher status and growing salaries. Luxurious styles using glossy leather of alligator and lizard, elaborate ruffles, ribbons, and bows became popular in the women’s fashion. Also, hair and makeup became more elaborate (American Decades 1980-1989 P. 2). Women’s economic success in the society could be seen in their luxurious fashion styles.

All things considered, factors such as war, invention, social movements, and immigration affected the shifts in women’s fashion trend. Each fashion trend originated from factors that affected the women in some way. Women’s fashion contains more than just women’s expression of their beauty; women’s fashion depicts the society’s underlying values and attitudes.

Works Cited

"American Women's Fashion." American Decades. Ed. Judith S. Baughman, et al. Vol. 1: 1900-1909. Detroit: Gale, 2001. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 24 Oct. 2012.

"Attire for Women." American Decades. Ed. Judith S. Baughman, et al. Vol. 9: 1980-1989. Detroit: Gale, 2001. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 26 Oct. 2012.

"Clothes for Women." American Decades. Ed. Judith S. Baughman, et al. Vol. 5: 1940-1949. Detroit: Gale, 2001. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 25 Oct. 2012.

Encyclopaedia Judaica: History, vol. 8, col. 729-730

"Fashion for Women." American Decades. Ed. Judith S. Baughman, et al. Vol. 2: 1910-1919. Detroit: Gale, 2001. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 25 Oct. 2012. P. 2)

"Women's Fashion." American Decades. Ed. Judith S. Baughman, et al. Vol. 8: 1970-1979. Detroit: Gale, 2001. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 26 Oct. 2012.

"Women's Fashion: Femininity is the Key." American Decades. Ed. Judith S. Baughman, et al. Vol. 6: 1950-1959. Detroit: Gale, 2001. 152-154. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 26 Oct. 2012.

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