Class 9 History

Clothing: Social History

Reforms for Clothing

However, things were changing over the nineteenth century. By the 1830s, the English women began their agitation for democratic rights. When the movement for voting rights gained momentum, many also began a campaign for dress reform. Women's magazines described the problems associated with tight dresses and corsets.

A similar movement developed amongst the white settlers in America. Traditional feminine clothes were criticized on various grounds. It was argued that long skirts swept the grounds and collected filth and dirt, which was not good for hygiene. The skirts were voluminous and restricted movement. They prevented the women at workplace. Women felt that comfortable and convenient clothes would allow them to work and to earn.

The reformers had to face lot of ridicule and hostility in the beginning. It was argued that the women were losing their beauty, feminity and grace by giving up traditional dresses. Many women reformers changed back into traditional clothes as they faced persistent attacks.

However, changes were more apparent by the end of the nineteenth century. With the First World War, many women began to work in factories. They needed comfortable clothes which did not hamper their work in the factories. New materials for clothing came into use. This development also changed the dresses.

New Materials

Clothes, made of flax, linen or wool were difficult to clean and hence most of the ordinary women did not posses such clothes before the seventeenth century. After 1600, trade with India brought Indian chintz into Europe. The Indian chintz was cheap, beautiful and easy to maintain.

During the Industrial Revolution, in the nineteenth century, mass production of cotton textiles began in England. This helped in making cotton clothes more affordable to a wider section of people in Europe.

Artificial fibres came into use by the early twentieth century. Clothes made by artificial fibres were cheaper and easier to maintain.

The War

The two World Wars had profound impact on women's clothing. Many European women stopped wearing jewelry and luxurious clothes. Most of the women began to dress in similar ways and the difference between the upper class and the lower class blurred.

During the First World War, clothes became shorter because of practical necessity. By 1917, over 700,000 women in Britain were employed in ammunition factories. Initially, they wore a working uniform of blouse and trousers with scarves. This dress was later replaced by khaki overalls and caps. Sober colours replaced bright colours, as the War dragged on.

Skirts became shorter for the sake of convenience. Trousers became an important part of Western women's clothing as they allowed greater freedom of movement. Women began to cut their hair short so that the hairs could be easily managed.

By the twentieth century, plain and austere dress was considered as symbol of seriousness and professionalism. The schools for children also emphasized the importance of plain dressing. Entry of gymnastics and games in the school curriculum for women also paved the way for comfortable and convenient clothing.