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A Timeline of Fashion Being a Tool of Women's Liberation

Fashion has been a key tool for women’s liberation over the past 100 years. Here's a rundown of the decades.

Timeline of fashion and women's liberation

The 1913 Suffragette movement

The suffragette movement increased uses of fashion with the uses of colour scheme. These included purple for loyalty and dignity, white for purity, and green for hope. These colours were seen as a duty and a privilege for the member of the suffragettes.

The uses of fashion allowed women to focus on the message of the movement, As Sylvia Pankhurst, Christabel’s sister, once noted: “Many suffragists spend more money on clothes than they can comfortably afford, rather than run the risk of being considered outré, and doing harm to the cause.” The Suffragettes also used fashion as a way to appeal towards men, as they were seen as masculine.

1920s and Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel is a famous designer that launched her career with iconic perfume, and the trademark little black dress. Chanel wanted to make more things more comfortable for women and her style was simple - sophisticated outfits paired with great accessory, such as pearl necklaces.

Iconic outfit pieces that Chanel created specifically for women included the collarless and well-fitted jacket. It allowed women to express themselves and to not be confided to a corset, giving power to women so they could rediscover their bodies through unrestrained movement. Chanel didn’t see herself as feminist, but believe that fashion should be for comfort and that women should be able to feel beautiful.

1930s and trousers

The evolution of women wearing trousers over the 1930s increased and became the norm by the start of the WWII. As women entered the work environment, they needed to be comfortable and move easily. Trousers helped with women’s liberation, as it was made easier for women to enter the workplace in a style that hadn’t been able before.

The 1940s

The 1940s saw women become more involved with fashion as men were still fighting in WWII. The fashion movement had begun to swing towards America and away from Europe, and Paris. As men came back from war, women returned to their roles and were encouraged to replace ambition with domestication.

Women’s liberation in the 1940s is helped with the creation of Dior’s new look, as this design featured rounded shoulders, a cinched waist, and a full undershirt, which allowed women to embrace their silhouettes in public.

The 1950s

1950s women's fashion saw smaller bodies and a more hourglass figure. The trends within the '50s were very similar to the '40s, with the crinolines and pencil shirts, and as in the '30s, women wore trousers more often. The '50s continued in the same fashion the previous decade, but during this time there was no real social change for women.

The 1960s

The 1960s saw a second wave of feminism, with the creation of the mini skirt; that was used by the youth to protest of the lack of progression over the previous two decades. Twiggy become the poster girl for '60s fashion with her modelling, but unlike many models, Twiggy's figure wasn’t the traditional hourglass.

The 1970s

As the decade began, many of the social issues that women were fighting for the 1960s were still taking place. Fashion in the 1970s was a tool for the liberation of women as way to refine their bodies while fighting for the causes. A popular '70s trend was wide legged trousers, as they allowed women to express themselves differently compared to what the standard has been. Over time, the mini skirt become unpopular, as feminists saw it as a way to oversexualise women.

The 1980s and 1990s

These decades saw the idea of femininity changing with the development of fashion. The '80s had over-the-top hair styles and shoulder pads inside blazer jackets, whilst the '90s saw a third wave of feminism, including punk rock, as they used music as way to talk about social issues.

Into the now...

The 21st century

Over the past 100 years, women's fashion has changed as society has changed. And as time has continued, women continue to use fashion to create change. An example of this is the 'free the nipple' movement of 2012, which highlighted how men were allowed to be seen topless, but women breasts are seen as sexual. This allowed women to liberate and post about wanting change, and with the momentum of social media, the movement can grow in large numbers.


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