Friday, 14 July 2017

Grahamstown Gazette: Fashion is actually hideous

‘Fashions are quite often popular because they are actually hideous,’ declared the Thames Star one morning in 1882. The popular fashion trend in question had recently been spotted in a newspaper report from Philadelphia, and was for women to have large mouths. ‘Who invented this fashion of big mouths it is impossible to state officially,’ the Star continues, ‘but it probably has its advantages, if anybody could tell what they are.’ With the constant changes of fashion, the Thames Star lamented how difficult it must be these days for a man to find a fashionable wife: ‘if he cares anything about the styles – and every man cares more for such things than he is willing to have thought – he is likely at any moment to discover that his wife is all together out of fashion… Getting married will be more popular when the fashions are less rigid.’

Thirty years later, the Thames Star was repoting quite a different problem with modern fashion trends. ‘SLIT SKIRT DOOM – KILLED BY UNCOMELY LIMBS’ screamed a headline from 1914. Parisian fashion houses had apparently banned the slit skirt, on the grounds that ‘for one comely limb revealed there were nine that had been better hidden.’ The fashion houses blamed the American market for creating demand for ‘indecent dresses.’

Meanwhile, the women of the international suffragette and dress reform movements were revolting against these ever-changing fashions. ‘Kick yourselves free from the swaddling of draperies,’ said American suffragette Carrie Catt, sensationally encouraging women to adopt trousers for everyday wear instead. Trousers for women were generally not expected to catch on as a trend, reported the Thames Star, going as far as to call the trouser-skirt ‘doomed’ and report that trousers for ladies would ‘rank merely as an eccentric curiosity’ of the season’s fashion.

How quickly they were proven wrong: the Thames Star reported in 1917 that thanks to the war, ‘bifurcated garments’ and overalls had become ‘the remarkable new fashion’ not just among working women, but among housewives and society women too. ‘Why not?’ the Star asked. ‘The question has been raised, amongst those who have not better means of employing their time, as to whether women war workers should wear trousers. Why not?... If women are required to do the country’s work they must not be handicapped.’ The Thames Star mused that the ‘handicaps’ in question were ‘probably petticoats,’ which were unsuitable wear for farming or munition factory work. ‘War fixes a new fashion,’ the newspaper concluded.

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