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Cara Cummings Cummings 1

Mrs. Rogers
English 11
22 November 2010
The Impact of Women’s Fashion in the Twentieth Century

Fashion has been an important aspect of women’s lives for thousands of years. Women

have always been concerned with their appearance and have been impacted by trends throughout

the centuries. Whether the current mode was to pluck the hairline to show a more exaggerated

forehead, or to bind feet so that they would not grow, women abided by the current fashions

whether good or bad. In addition to society, women have looked to movie stars, royalty, and

other celebrities and imitated the styles set by those individuals. Because people are always

adopting new styles, fashion has constantly been adapting to the world around it. Many people

have watched trends change throughout their lifetimes, but many do not realize the effect of

fashion on their lives. In the past century, fashion has impacted women’s lives as a form of self-

expression, entertainment, and liberation.

The first way women have used fashion is to express their individual and group identities

(Mendes, 8). The most lasting impression of a woman is often derived from her appearance,

therefore, a woman is delivering a message whether consciously or unconsciously, by the clothes

she chooses. When dressing for a specific occasion she sends a message. It may be that she

wants to be taken seriously, or that she just wants to have fun. A woman can alter the way she is

perceived simply by changing her outfit. Betsey Johnson, a popular American designer known

for her distinct style and loud personality, said, “I like personal dressing, anything and

everything as long as you’re happy.”(Hoobler, 141). On a certain level, happiness can be found

in an individual’s ensemble; many women instantly feel more confident and poised when

wearing a good pair of heels or a perfectly tailored dress. Women have learned to harness the

power of a first impression; after all, it may be the only chance they have to make an impact.

30). The second way fashion has impacted women’s lives is as a form of entertainment. or a school’s dress code. fashion was used to distinguish class protocols. a group of people often set themselves apart by their selection of apparel. Clothing can act as a unifier. 87). but more recently it has illustrated the erosion of the social hierarchy (Mendes. In the past. at least initially. have held considerable influence in the fashion world. An woman’s choice of apparel no longer signals her socioeconomic status. . Movies became more popular and many women began copying whichever movie star was currently in vogue. Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar began employing the most talented photographers for their illustrated spreads (Hoobler. allowing women to observe the way a garment could realistically be worn. It allows a group to be perceived as a single unit. many women began to buy popular weekly fashion magazines. The increasing obsession with the personal style of each star resulted in many women asking their hairdressers to imitate a celebrity’s popular hair style. such as Greta Garbo’s signature bob or Shirley Temple’s perfect ringlets. This is illustrated by a choir’s robes. such as Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Princess Diana. In addition to the impact of magazines and movies. This decision was the beginning of fashion as an art form. 8). in theory allowing everyone to be perceived. In the early 1900s. Towards the beginning of the public’s recognition of photography. Cummings 2 Similarly. political figures. as equal. instead of a collection of individuals. The editors of those magazines quickly recognized the power of photography and the impact it could have on the fashion industry. ushering in a decade of sophistication and glamour (Hoobler. 84). a sports team’s uniforms. Film gave fashion a life that was impossible to achieve on paper (Watson. but is a manifestation of her personal preferences. Movies first began to influence culture during the Great Depression.

timeless. 10). These women fought for both social and political reforms. Young girls were allowed to wear their hair down until they were considered to be of marrying age. In addition to the rules governing a woman’s visible adornment. American original. walked down Fifth Avenue in New York. she understood her body and chose the finest clothing to reflect her easy sophistication (Tauber. One of the most important impacts of fashion has been as a form of liberation. Women quickly became repulsed by how their lives were governed and began pushing for social reforms such as the right to work and vote. rallying for their right to vote. but molded her into the woman she became. par. 7).22). fashions were strictly followed and affected all women from birth to death. 58). These undergarments were used to manipulate a woman’s figure into the desired hourglass shape. (Menkes. During the Age of Opulence. is noted for developing her classic style under the scrutiny of the Western world. from 1900 to 1914. 3. the women were some of the first to proudly wear makeup. The rich required their servants to wear muted colors so they would not be perceived as a member of the upper class. both Jackie O and Princess Diana represent an elegance many women attempt to imitate. Princess of Wales. Consequently. from then on their hair would always be worn up when in public (Mendes. but the leaders of the demonstration associated their right to enhance their looks with their petition for political equality (Hoobler. woman’s suffrage became an increasingly prevalent political theme in the United States in which fashion played a major role. Cummings 3 Jackie was an elegant. beneath a woman’s outer clothing were required layers of cumbersome underwear. When suffragettes. eventually . Between 1912 and 1926. Diana. At the time wearing visible makeup was seen as vulgar. She was one of the first celebrities to embrace fashion designers as friends who did not simply design her dresses. par.

That American ease is one of the greatest impacts of fashion on women’s lives. By 1926 the genders had begun blending and continued to do so throughout the following decades. others choose to do so because it’s fun. and according to a TIME magazine article from 1967. 10). As society continues to transform itself. or as a form of social communication. fashion has impacted women’s lives as a form of self-expression. they related to their desire for an easy life. women were allowed the freedom to dress in ways they never had before. fashion will follow. Perhaps the most lasting image of the decade was that of the hippie. but regardless of why a woman chooses to follow fashion. being fashionable has its rewards when done right (Potts. . drug using hippies. The hippies of the 1960s paved the way for the kind of liberation often seen in Western culture today. Throughout the past century. Even though many American women did not agree with the free love preaching. and liberation. Women follow fashion for many reasons. there will always be women who challenge fashion. some do so for attention. entertainment. and subsequently. That ease is now seen in the very essence of our society. 1967). “[The hippie culture] has touched the imagination of the ‘straight’ society that gave it birth. Dresses were taken above the knee for the first time in Western history.” (Youth: The Hippies.”. Cummings 4 winning the fight on both fronts. the rest of the women will just have to “make it work. Similarly. and women’s fashion was no exception. the 1960s was an important time in American social history. and as American fashion consultant Tim Gunn would say.