Women’s fashion is the center of the clothing world. However, the evolution of women’s fashion and the cuts of clothing marketed to women are tightly bound to their social standing in society. The degree of freedom, equality, and openness has a near direct correlation on women’s fashion. Charting the course of that evolution is an interesting exercise at charting the course of sexual equality and the advancement of women’s rights.
For most of history, women have largely been subordinate to men in a vast majority of cultures around the globe. Women were regarded as caretakers, cooks, and housekeepers. The sexuality and sensuality of women was also subdued, partly from a desire of jealous husbands to exercise further control over their wives and also out of fear from an independent female sexuality that could threaten male power. Hence women’s fashion tended to suggest modesty and restraint.
This can be seen reaching a height of excess during the 19th century, especially in Victorian England. Women’s clothing was constricting and binding, showing essentially nothing aside from the face of the woman.
Yet, this trend changed over time. Developments in economic conditions and educational standards led to the incremental advancement of women’s rights. Moving into the 20th century, women’s fashion became less restrictive, first with bloomers, allowing women a greater sense of mobility than cumbersome layers of underwear and garters, and then with shorter dresses, such as the image for the iconic flapper of the 1920s.
Women’s fashion has constantly evolved over time, approaching its modern incarnation. Yet, it continues to wrestle with society’s preoccupation with sexual inequality. Female fashion may be more open, expressive, and sexually charged today compared to a century ago, but there is that continuous tension between what women chose to wear and what their parents, husbands, and authority figures tell them to wear.