Heather White


Silent Voices: Exploring Dresses of the American Early 20th Century

On Display

February 9, 2018 – April 20, 2018


Gallery on Five, level 5

By the start of the twentieth century, women were no longer satisfied by looking modern. They wanted to be modern. These women desired simple, healthy, practical clothing that would allow them to be active participants in the public, professional, and economic spheres of society, but fashion and its accompanying rules for behavior were tenacious. However, year by year, yard by yard, what began as a century of women in corsets and long skirts would end with them able to wear bifurcated garments without the risk of shame or censure.

Because clothing is one of the most visible markers of social status and gender, and therefore useful in maintaining or subverting symbolic boundaries, it is an indication of how people in different eras have perceived their positions in social structures and negotiated status boundaries. Changes in certain types of clothing or in the ways clothes communicate meanings are indications of major alterations in how social groups and individuals perceive their relationships to one another and the society around them.

Fashion became pivotal for women in articulating their individual identity and desire for change. The garments they chose were an important element in changing attitudes that were essential preconditions for structural changes. Clothing of the early twentieth century, these silent but powerful voices, paved a way for women to gain freedom, access, and participate in the public, professional, and economic spheres of society.