When I first set out to research women's fashions between 1910 and 1920, I had no idea what I was about to discover. I expected to put up some pretty pictures and report on easy concepts such as hemlines and gown shapes, but with my art history background, I should not have been surprised to find that fashion, like most other socially driven forms of artistic expression such as art and film, are heavily influenced by the surrounding cultural environment. Soon, I fell down the rabbit hole and was caught up in reading about the suffrage movement and efforts at labor and dress reform as well as learning about World War I which had a very surprising and pivotal role in the elimination of a major component of women's fashion, the corset.
|On the right, this shopping catalog page from 1902-1903 shows the different shape of the straight front corset. The corset still curves on the side, but the rigid front panel reduces overall constriction around the waist reducing the compression on the abdominal area. (If you right click and view the image, it will enlarge slightly so you can see more detail.)|
In 1917, in response to a shortage of steel, the War Industries Board asked women to stop buying corsets in order to support the war effort. It is said that this action freed up enough steel to build two battleships. Also, there was a large increase of women in the workforce as the men went off to fight in the war. Corsets, being rigid as they were, did not allow women to move as they needed to while working, so working women wore them less frequently. When the war was over, so was the heyday of the corset. From then on, the newly invented brassiere and girdle became the standard body shaping garments.
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