There is an old saying to the effect that Fashion does not lead, it follows. In other words, Fashion is the result of the environment around it.
The Suffragettes’ sense of fashion was characterized by the longing for freedom and equality, and their willingness to work for it.
In the 1900s and early 1910s, fashionable women’s clothing was gauzy, ornate, embroidered. They often wore large hats decorated with flowers and plumes and high heels. But as beautiful as the clothing was, it didn’t suit the suffragettes’ purpose nor offer the functionality they wanted. Rather, it emphasized femininity.
*photographs courtesy Library of Congress
Accordingly, the delicate dresses and long ornate trains gave way to sharp, tailored suits, and even pants–suitable for working or marching. This wasn’t only due to suffragist sympathies. During the Great War, the cost of material could be prohibitive. And, many women were obligated to work jobs that had previously belonged only to men, while their husbands and sons were fighting abroad. And the work often did not lend itself to embroidered silk, long trailing dresses, and high heels.
These changes could first be observed in the simplified lines, the shorter skirts, and the more subtle hats. At times, the lovely parasols were replaced by walking canes. This was a necessity for some women, particularly if they went in public without a man. There was a certain class of man, known as a Masher, who would terrorize women who appeared alone in public.
Another innovation came with the pantaloon skirts. They functioned like modern wide-leg pants and allowed far more freedom of movement, but they looked like a skirt and didn’t shock the sensibilities of the suffragettes’ more conservative male and female friends and family.
Eventually, the suffragette style became openly masculine, as these pictures show:
After the 19th amendment gave women the right to vote, the world never returned to the ornately fantastic costumes of the turn of the century, but it rather quickly fled back to the realm of skirts and dresses.
The suffragettes had made their mark on style for all time though, and it is certain the flappers’ short, beaded dresses of the 1920s and the bobbed haircuts could have never been acceptable had not the suffragette rebels led the way!