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Clothing and Notions of Beauty

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Clothing and Notions of Beauty - Lesson Summary

The French Revolution ended the sumptuary laws but now, a person’s earnings determined what he could wear.  The poor still could not dress or eat like the rich.

During this time, the notion of what was beautiful or ugly, proper or improper, decent or vulgar differed. The clothing styles of men and women reflected what was expected out of them by society. While men presented themselves as serious, strong, independent and aggressive, women were expected to be docile, delicate, frivolous and passive.

Women in Victorian England were groomed accordingly since their childhood. As girls, they were dressed in stays that held their bodies straight. As they grew slightly older, they wore tight fitting corsets, which would make their waists appear smaller and give shape to their bodies. Although wearing stays and corsets was painful, women were compelled to do so.

The suffrage movement gathered momentum and women started campaigning for dress reforms in America and Europe. Several articles by the reformers were published in women’s magazines describing the ill-effects of corsets on bodily development.

The first dress reformer, Mrs. Amelia Bloomer, launched loose tunics that could be worn over ankle-length trousers. The trousers were known as ‘bloomers’ or ‘knickerbockers’. The National Woman Suffrage Association headed by Mrs. Stanton and the American Woman Suffrage Association commanded by Lucy Stone campaigned for the dress reform. 

They demanded simple dresses and short skirts, and the abandonment of corsets. By the end of the 19 th century, the notion of beauty and clothing changed.


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