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How the suffragettes used fashion to send a message to the world

Dressing in elegant outfits with symbolic accessories, suffragists protested to the government about inequality and women’s lack of voting rights. “A suffragist should always look elegant” was the kind of slogan that quickly won the hearts of many women. Thus, suffragist fashion began to take shape.

Fashion, Feminism, and Politics

Although the suffragists strived for change, they did not resist modern fashion and all the ideals of femininity. They were portrayed as the stereotype of a “self-confident woman” in men’s clothing, thick glasses, and cartoon galoshes. Instead, however, they decided to present themselves in a stylish feminine manner.

The Pursuit of Beauty

Suffragettes sought to ensure their image is always “pleasing to the eye.” Especially, when it came to parades or demonstrations when the media were involved.

Evading criticism of the suffragist’s wardrobe yielded good results. The number of members of their movement grew. Moreover, at that time, it was very fashionable to support the suffragists’ struggle for the right to vote.

A Symbolic Tricolor

In 1908, Emmeline Pankhurst, co-editor of the newspaper “Votes for Women”, developed a color scheme for representatives of suffragism. It consisted of three colours:

1.Violet, which signified devotion and dignity. 2.White, which symbolised purity. 3.Green, which signified hope.

Carrying this banner was a duty and honosr for suffragists. In the salerooms of well-known department stores Selfridges and Liberty, one could see a symbolic tricolor appearing on hats, belts, bows, and brooches. Clothes, underwear, bags, shoes and even toilet soap were also adorned with the banner.

Iconic Image

Christabel Pankhurst was an activist and a real advocate for women’s rights. Her portrait, painted in 1909, hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London. Christabel is depicted in a green satin dress that hangs elegantly to the floor. Her gown is decorated with exquisite embroidery and a sash of the tri-colour suffragette symbol.

This portrait reminded viewers that the stereotypical black and white image of suffragists nowhere near conveyed the essence of the movement.

Contribution in Fashion

The women suffragists urged all their supporters to dress well, following the trend of the movement. Newspapers featured ads of stylish suffragist clothing from trendy trading houses. Based on all this, we see what a huge contribution to the history of fashion these strong-minded and style-sensitive ladies made.


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