The Fashion of Suffrage

Women "vote" with their clothes.

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by Jenny Cobb, Exhibit Assistant

Women in Texas and throughout the country took great strides toward equality in the twentieth century. In the early decades that followed, women began abandoning their traditional roles along with the more restricting fashions of the past in search of greater opportunity and more comfortable clothing. While the 19th century woman was expected to restrict her interests to home and family, the "new woman" of the 20th century worked in an office, sought higher education, and participated in active sports. This contemporary archetype of the American woman was bolder, more active, and more outspoken than her mother’s generation, and ready for new options.

As women broke away from traditional expectations, fashion reflected her changing place in society. Daywear lost its frills and trimmings and became more tailored, similar to menswear. At the same time, fashion began revealing more of women's bodies. The shift in silhouette revealed freer, looser styles that allowed more freedom of movement. Corsets were out and hemlines rose above the ankle for the first time, though women opted for boots to cover their ankles.

Though they shared the same goal, suffragists disagreed when it came to women's clothing. Many women's rights activists were anti-fashion, claiming fashion was the acceptance of female oppression. Suffrage leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton believed fashion kept women from achieving their full potential and was a way to keep women subservient to men. Other suffragists followed the example of Susan B. Anthony, a stylish woman who followed the current trends in fashion and insisted on maintaining her femininity through dress. These women maintained that a woman did not have to mimic a man to achieve the same rights. No matter which side they stood on, this much is clear—suffragists used their clothing to communicate their message. Women were often encouraged to wear white in suffrage parades, suggesting the purity and high-mindedness of their goals. The dress and shoes featured here are prime examples of what a suffragist of the time might have worn.

See this and other artifacts on the Interactive Texas Map

The Fashion of Suffrage Artifact from Denton, Texas
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