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Women’s Ready-to-Wear Fashion

When considering fashion for men and for women it is important to take into account not only the historical moment, but the ways in which masculinity and femininity are culturally defi ned. Only by understanding this can we grasp more fully why certain styles were promoted and adopted and why they may have changed.

Finkelstein explains that femininity in the nineteenth century became associated with shopping in the newly emerging department stores. Referring to the work of Bowlby (1985), she states that the connotation such activity took on was that of frivolity and the wasting of time and resources. This can be compared to the serious forms of consumption males partook in: stock market shares, real estate, cars, and machinery (1998: 97-98). Mrs.

Armytage, in an article that appears in the New York Times in 1883 compares the parisienne, “whose soul is concentrated upon the effectiveness of her dress,” to the “savage” in “nose pieces and body paint.” She praises the sensibility of male attire, which has shaken free from the “dominion of dress.” “The use of frills and jabots of rare Valenciennes has gone with full-bottomed wigs and small clothes of gold brocade.

Men no longer fi x priceless jewels in their shoe laces, or carry muffs or rare furs on their hands.” The present fashions are a distinct improvement, accordingly to Armytage. They are practical and are oriented toward the lifestyle men lead. The nineteenth century began for women with the high-waisted Empire dress with a drawstring for fi tting.

This plain “neoclassical” style was borrowed from post-Revolutionary France (Jones 1994: 946). As the century progressed clothing became more elaborate. In the 1830s bodices were fi tted, skirts and sleeves full. By the 1850s skirts had “ballooned.” In 1868 the bustle became fashionable (Milbank 1989: 45). The “popular silhouette of 1870s and 1880s” is described by Sarah A. Gordon

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