Controversies about American women's fashion, 1920-1945: through the lens of The New York Times

Lee, Yhe-Young
Major Professor
Jane Farrell-Beck
Committee Member
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Textiles and Clothing

This dissertation is based on the accounts of controversies about American women's fashion appearing in The New York Times and some magazines published between 1920 and 1945. The main focus of this research is to understand social conventions and the changing meanings of fashion reflected in the accounts of controversies in relation to women's lives during the period. Controversial issues are categorized into three themes including body exposure, femininity versus masculinity, and extravagance versus thrift and conservation. Fashion theories are introduced in chapter one to enhance the understanding of fashion adoption and its changing meanings. Chapter two is devoted to the discussions of controversies about women's exposure of calves, arms and necks, the boyish look in mainstream fashion, women's adoption of knickerbockers, and the extravagance in women's fashion appearing in primary sources published between 1920 and 1929. Chapter three focuses on controversial issues such as women's adoption of abbreviated leisure wear including bathing suits, shorts and halters, the tension between femininity and masculinity embedded in women's corsets and trousers, the ironical economic condition not only demanding more consumption but also conservation during the Depression years between 1930 and 1939. The accounts of controversies about the shorter and narrower style of dresses, women's adoption of trousers, and the necessity of thrift and conservation are discussed in relation to World War II in chapter four. The changing meanings of fashions between 1920 and 1945 are reviewed in the conclusion in light of fashion theories, including the collective selection theory, ambivalence theory, and aesthetic perspectives of fashion adoption theory.