Fashioning the New Woman: 1890-1925

October 5, 2012 - August 31, 2013

During the years historians call the Progressive Era, American women took on many new roles and activities, and fashion had to follow. Active lives required practical clothes. This exhibit examines the changes in women’s lives and clothing during this critical period in women’s history.

Fashion Timeline

The fashionable lady of the turn of the 20th century had many styles to choose from. Between following existing rules of occasion-specific dress (which dictated different styles for day and evening, at-home wear and different outings) and the new tailored styles and sports clothing, a woman could have quite a varied wardrobe.

And of course, the dress or suit was just the beginning of an outfit. From society lady to factory "girl," every woman wore a hat, stockings, shoes, and gloves in all seasons. Parasols by day and fans at night were optional pleasures; jewelry was an indulgence affordable at every price point. Each type of accessory had its place in the hierarchy of material and style appropriate to a certain time of day or occasion.

Brassiere, Patented 1907

Cotton with metal boning. Label: Spirella Styles.

Early brassieres have a very different look from what we know as a bra. This style would have performed more like a corset in shaping the bust into the fashionable "mono-bosom" shape of the early 1900s.

Friends of the Museum Purchase
Afternoon Dress, 1907-8

Black silk faille, cream raw silk, net, black and white lace.

From 1907-11, dresses with short sleeves over fitted, sheer, pleated ones, with sheer fabric at the neck, were all the rage. Enormous hats were popular until about 1912.

Gift of Cricket Bauer Messman
Hat courtesy of Shippensburg University Fashion Archives and Museum
Tailored Walking Suit, 1908

Wool herringbone twill.

Towards the end of the decade, skirts were more slender and were often paired with long jackets. Tailored suits like this were an important feature of every woman's wardrobe by this time.

Gift of Marjorie Fox
Graduation Dress, 1909

Cotton lawn with machine embroidery and Valenciennes lace inserts.

The white lawn "wash" (washable) dress embellished with pleats, embroidery, and lace was a summer favorite among younger women, often worn with colored slips. The "Princess line" panel at center front was popular about 1909-10.

Gift of Mary Lou Niemants
Hat courtesy of Shippensburg University Fashion Archives and Museum
Coral necklace and pin, early 20th century
Day Dress, about 1909-10

Blue silk, silk cord trim, cotton and metallic thread net.

Label: E Wilson, Philadelphia.
The raised "Empire" waist and slim silhouette were the new look at the turn of the decade. Sheer fabrics used at the neck were leading the way for daytime necklines that exposed the collarbone.

Gift of Sarah Trayer
Afternoon Dress, 1912-14

Blue and green silk satin, silk and metallic brocade trim

Label: Bowman & Co., Harrisburg (Pennsylvania).
In 1912, daytime dresses exposed the neck and collarbone for the first time in nearly a hundred years.

Corset, early 1910s

Cream cotton, silk satin and cotton lace trim, elastic and metal garters.

Label: W.T Corsets.
Unnaturally small, this may be a store sample. The long, slim line of the early 1910s provided a smoothing effect under the slender silhouette.

Friends of the Museum Purchase
Suit, 1913-14

Wool houndstooth twill, cotton faille (ribbed plainweave).

Label: Au Louvre, Paris.
This jacket's cutaway style was a hot trend in 1913-14. At this time, skirts begin to reveal the ankles, which had to be covered by boots in daytime for several more years.

Loan courtesy of: Shippensburg University Fashion Archives and Museum
"Russian" Suit, 1915-17

Wool flannel, fur trim, silk lining, synthetic (early plastic) buttons and belt buckles.

In 1915, skirts shortened further and began to widen again. With its fur trim and off-center opening (taken from Russian folk shirts), this would have been called a "Russian" suit.

Loan courtesy of: Shippensburg University Fashion Archives and Museum
Summer Day Dress, 1915-17

Fuller, tiered skirts can't stop fashion from beginning to look quite modern. It was also becoming acceptable to wear pumps instead of boots, showing a glimpse of stocking.

Evening Dress, 1916-18

Silk taffeta, silk crepe, lace, glass beads.

Using several fabrics in contrasting colors and textures was typical of evening dress throughout the 1910s.

Gift of Ellen Schwartz Roller and David S. Schwartz
Wool Suit, about 1918

Wool, silk braid trim.

Label: Bowman & Co., Harrisburg (Pennsylvania)

Courtesy of: Shippensburg University Fashion Archives and Museum
Hat, late 1910s, Friends of the Museum Purchase
Reproduction dickey
Evening Dress, 1925-26

Silk moiré, crepe, net, and lace; metallic lace; imitation pearl and rhinestone appliqué.

Worn by Mrs. Anthony Wayne Cook, President General, NSDAR, 1923-26.

The woman of the 1920s could achieve elegance without huge amounts of fabric hampering her movement. After decades of negotiation about what was proper, practical, and "attractive," women had finally entered a truly modern age for fashion.

Green Silk "Envelope Chemise" or "Step-in" Slip

Most of the Victorian undergarments have been abandoned, and silks and colors have entered underwear. The fashionable "boyish" shape of the 1920s, which minimized female curves, was no more natural than the earlier corseted shapes. With a "good" figure, by the mid-20s, this might be all you needed under your dress. Most women's figures required some support and shaping to eliminate and smooth bust, hips, waist, and behind. This could be achieved to greater or lesser extent with a brassiere and the new hip-level corset.

Loan courtesy of: Shippensburg University Fashion Archives and Museum
Brassiere, 1920s

Silk, lace, metal boning.

By the 1920s, brassieres had diminished in size from their earlier designs, and were often made in silk and lace.

Friends of the Museum Purchase
Day Dress, 1925-6

Printed silk velvet and cream silk faille top; ivory silk slip and black silk satin skirt; cotton grosgrain ribbon sash.

We think of the 20s as the age of knee-length dresses, but early 20s styles were longer than those of the later years. Fabric manufacturers complained to designers about the shorter styles, as they used less fabric, and by 1929, designers would bring skirts back almost to ankle level. Nevertheless, simpler lines, fewer layers, and comfortable construction were more or less permanently part of women's fashion.

Hat and shoes courtesy of Shippensburg University Fashion Archives and Museum