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Monday, November 30, 2009

Fashion & the Figure: How Figures have Changed from the 1870's - 1940's

This article of how women's figures have changed, how fashions have changed to fit the figures, and how sports played a role in fashion and figure is fascinating. It was originally published in Woman's Home Companion in 1948.

Have you ever tried on a dress that your grandmother wore? Chances are you couldn't get into it. The waistline was much too tiny and too high for you. The blouse was too tights and the skirt stopped at your ankles instead of sweeping gracefully to the floor as it should.

Women's figures have changed astonishingly since 1873 when WOMANS HOME COMPANION first appeared. Recently a study was made at several colleges to determine how measurements of students today and a generation ago compare. It was found that modern girls are taller and also slenderer - though the weigh several pounds more.

Only shoulders haven't changes - they measure about the same. But waists today are bigger and chest expansion greater. Hips, measured from bone to bone are narrower. But the girth of the modern girls hips is greater - although she has a narrower pelvis. As for feet, daughter couldn't begin to squeeze into mothers old shoes.

Principal causes for these changes are a freer style of dress, increased interest in sports and physical education, better and more abundant food and faster pace of living. You can't develop your body encased in a whale boned corset or trapped in voluminous trailing skirts. But fashions gradually change when a new sport or activity gains popularity among women. See how this works out in the accompanying photographs.

It took a lot of pull to be a glamour girl in the 1970s. Every woman's ideal was to have a waist small enough to be circled by a mans hands.

And a woman's life in the 1870s was just as circumscribed as her waist - confined mostly to social and domestic duties. From childhood on,, as you can see above, her attire greatly limited her freedom of movement.

Then in the 1890's bicycling became a tremendous fad. A doctor of the period declared that it was doing more for women's health than any invention in two hundred years.

Bathing - not swimming - is the word for this. Ladies took it up at the turn of the century. But clothes for all sports were still far to cumbersome to allow very much physical development.

Pioneer gym classes - in the early 1900s - were hardly considered respectable. Even the girls wept with embarrassment when they first showed themselves in bloomers.

In 1900 corsets were still laced tight as the traffic would bear. But the hourglass figure of the 1870s gave way to the straight front above - heralded as a revolutionary change.

By 1910 there was a much greater variety of sports for women - but all leisurely.

1917 made women daring. Recall the National League for Womens Service?

After the peace women became completely "emancipated." They threw away their corsets and adopted a careless flat-chested round-shouldered posture - the debutante slouch.

Before World War I a woman alone on a golf course - playing well- was rare.

But by 1920 strenuous tennis like Molla Mallory's here raised nary an eyebrow.

The 20s brought real swimming - and simple suits. Above: Annette Kellerman

And the lively one-step also came in. Above: Carlos Sebastian and Joan Sawyer.

Modern women, relieved of household drudgery, are adept at many sports requiring skill, daring, speed and stamina. Their sports clothes today allow maximum freedom of movement.

During World War II it was considered not daring but the duty of women who could join the services. Scores like these Waves - apprentice seamen - served.

Today's tall slender long-waisted women make girls of grandmothers day seem dumpy. Modern figures are not only beautifully proportioned but strong, lithe and vital-looking.

Interesting article! It shows the importance of how when purchasing vintage items today, you need to be cognisant of how women wore these clothes back then. Particular importance should be placed on securing the appropriate undergarments for period fashions to make them fit like they should. Also of interest is how the introduction or role of sports has changed women's figures over the decades. Oh yes, there is also the food, and how either the consumption, manufacture, availability and quality have played a role on the figure since the 1940's, but that's a whole other blog post.


elena-lu said...

my fave girl Dita wears corsets but wow yeah i just cant imagine doing that to my poor waist! im not too happy that its gotten so much wider than it once was but hey its because i eat too much so thats that. i do love the look of a tiny waist though *sigh* i guess a little less on the sweets maybe.

Glamoursurf said...

I hear you Elena, I don't think I could be comfortable wearing a corset for an hour let alone a whole day!

Amanda said...

I am VERY interested to learn where you found that 1870's Bathing corset image. I like to research that type of corset as it is a special type.

Glamoursurf said...

originally published in Woman's Home Companion in 1948