"We'll fight for nature-light, truth-light and sunlight, against a world in swaddling clothes." Reconsidering the Aesthetic Dress Movement and Dress Reform in Nineteenth Century America

Jennifer Curtis

Abstract


When Amelia Bloomer publicly donned pants in 1848 it marked the beginning of a well documented fight for female dress reform in America. Bloomer’s subsequent abandonment of the reform costume several years later led both her contemporaries and modern day scholars to view the movement as a failure. Yet beneath the highly publicized "Bloomer Movement" lay a complex web of individuals, communities, and organizations who sought to challenge and reform female dress. In this paper I examine the notion of equality in female and male fashion in nineteenth century America, and challenge the Bloomerian notion that equated the appropriation of masculine attire with female empowerment. Through an examination of the late nineteenth century aesthetic dress movement I will indicate that though a celebration of “feminine” clothing the aesthetes made a lasting contribution to dress reform and female empowerment.

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