Beginnings of the Movement
A Fashionable Woman

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A fashionable woman

The woman's rights movement in the 19th century focused primarily on obtaining civil rights for women -- property rights, the right to divorce and retain custody of one's children, and the right to vote. But women's rights activists also discussed the everyday matters of life, including dress. By the mid-19th century, fashionable clothes had become more and more elaborate, with corsets that bound a woman's waist, bustles that accentuated her backside, and skirts that hobbled her ability to walk. As shown in the photo above, the fashionable clothes revealed the status of a woman who did not have to work, but had servants to do her work for her.

Women's rights advocates pushed for practical, simple clothing for women. They argued that the clothes endangered women's health by squeezing the organs and preventing exercise and that they made women appear ridiculous. The elaborate fashions forced women to spend their time on their surface appearance rather than developing their minds and abilities.

Dress, always simple for working women, eventually became more simple for upper-class women as well. But the role of fashion in the lives of women remains a controversial topic even today.

Prints and Photographs Collection, Texas State Library and Archives Commission. #1/179-3.

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Page last modified: August 24, 2011