The Way We WereFebruary 1, 2007 By: American Salon Staff American Salon
Move over, miniskirts. The shirtwaist is one of history's most hotly debated garments. It was associated with a horrific fire and countless labor protests. It was called "immoral" and "unwomanly" by its many critics. It was credited with causing women to become prostitutes. Despite all of the hubbub, it was one turn-of-the-century fashion trend that women just did not want to give up.
Two-piece ensembles were not new to fashion, but most were sets of matching tops and bottoms made to be worn together. Tailored suits, for example, became popular in the 1880s with the rise of British fashion houses such as Redfern and Creed, and a long-sleeved shirt was worn underneath.
The shirtwaist was born when women decided they wanted to open their suit jackets, or (gasp!) take them off. The style was inspired by menswear of the day, accounting perhaps for much of the controversy around it. Fuddy-duddies of the time felt that the garment was an affront to femininity and encouraged radical behavior in women. It didn't help that many of the first women to take to the garment were suffragettes and other reformers.
Many shirtwaists buttoned up the front, and most were tailored around the waist for a well-fitted look. The sleeves were commonly tapered or buttoned at the cuff. As the garment shook off some of its negative associations and became more popular, it was worn alone with a long-fitted skirt that flared at the bottom. To add a feminine touch, women added bows, lace and oversized cravats.
While the 1890s saw the popularization of the shirtwaist, it became the signature garment of the first decade of the 20th century, representing a new spirit of dress for American women. Shirtwaists enabled women to mix and match their shirts with their skirts, creating an entirely new way of looking at one's wardrobe. Also, shirtwaists allowed women to be physically mobile and fashion forward, a combination that today is taken for granted.
At the turn of the century, hair was huge-both figuratively and literally. The signature style of that era? The pompadour.
When it comes to describing the hairstyles that were in fashion during the first decade of the 20th century, one word comes to mind: big. Curiously, as hair got bigger, clothing got smaller. By 1905, women were balancing their well-fitted ensembles with massive mounds of hair.
Milliners raved that the prevailing styles could not be properly fitted except with the Hairlight Crown, an adjustable puff that sold for $2 per dozen
The signature style of the era was the pompadour. How did these styles take their shape? The first method of achieving volume was described by one magazine writer as "roughing up the hair" in order to give it fullness. Today, we call this teasing. The second method was filling the style with pads and false hair. Most pads were made of horse hair or fabric, and by the end of the decade, synthetic hair had gained popularity due to advancements in chemistry.
The cover of a supplement to The American Hairdresser.
The popularity of the pompadour also fueled the craze for hair dying. Beauty writers agreed that dark hair should be worn smooth and flat against the head. Lighter hair, however, was to be worn more loosely, complete with soft waves and curls. Hence, many women tried to lighten their hair using natural products like herbs and lemons (yes, that old trick has been around for centuries) or with some of the new hair dyes hitting the market.
An ad for the Patent Pompadour ran in our magazine.