Dress Reform

Patricia A. Cunningham

Bibliographical guide

DOI: 10.5040/9781474280655.BIBART19002


Although it has been suggested that dress reform had no influence on fashion, or that it ended when the American Amelia Bloomer gave up her trousers, that is not the case. Dress reform was not a government activity, but rather grass roots efforts of feminists, educators, artists, and others in Britain, America, and parts of Europe from ca.1851 to 1920. The thinking underlying the reform of women’s fashion was that the sheer weight of the clothes, the long, full skirts, and tight corsets were disfiguring women’s bodies and restricting movement, all of which it was thought were impediments to good health and beauty. Reformers also linked restrictive clothing to women’s limited roles. Fashion for them was a symbol and major cause of women’s political and economic oppression. Reformers advocated new forms of dress to wear in public. They wore trousers to replace long, full skirts and layers of petticoats, and artistic gowns that suggested the natural body beneath it; and, most important, reform undergarments to replace the restrictive corsets, bustles, and petticoats. The breadth of reform activity reveals the difference it made to future fashion. At this time, efforts also were made to reform menswear that was deemed too restrictive. Supporters seeking change at various times advocated knee breeches, shorts, and the wearing of woolen garments.

While the efforts of the feminist dress reformers to encourage women to adopt trousers in mid-nineteenth-century America are well known, it seems that little is known about other groups and individuals who sought reform by other means. Clothing reform occurred largely in Europe and America, especially from the second half of the nineteenth century through the first decade of the twentieth century through the efforts of feminists, physicians, artists, and more. The thinking underlying the reform of women’s fashion was that the sheer weight of the clothes, the long, full skirts, and tight corsets were disfiguring women’s bodies and restricted movement, all of which were impediments to good health and beauty. Many reformers also linked restrictive clothing to women’s limited roles, and what they perceived as women’s inferior position in society. For them, fashion was a symbol and major cause of women’s political and economic oppression. Men’s clothing also came under the scrutiny of reformers in Germany and England, with advocates for change drawing on issues of health, comfort, convenience, and aesthetics.

The fashionable clothes that needed to be improved were those worn outside the home in public view. Inside their homes women could wear comfortable, loose-fitting house gowns, wrappers, morning gowns, and tea gowns. These, however, were not considered appropriate for wearing in public.

Reformers advocated new forms of dress appropriate to wear in public yet that would allow enough ease in movement for work and active sports. These included trousers to replace long, full skirts and layers of petticoats; artistic gowns that suggested the natural body beneath it and did not require a corset; and most important, reform undergarments to replace the restrictive corsets, bustles, and petticoats.

Reform Trousers

The first major move toward the reform of women’s clothes came about in Seneca Falls, New York, when the feminist Amelia Bloomer, editor of the women’s journal The Lily, adopted trousers to wear in place of a long, full skirt and petticoats. Elizabeth Smith Miller, who wore the outfit on the streets of Washington D.C., introduced Amelia and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to the outfit in 1851. The outfit consisted of loose, full Turkish trousers held in at the ankle and a dress with a gathered skirt cut to end 4 in. (10 cm) below the knee. Newspapers quickly picked up stories about the feminist outfit promoted by Amelia Bloomer and christened it “the Bloomer.” Initially there was much approval for the sensible style, but later it was ridiculed as a threat to men and even un-American, which then caused many feminists to discard it, including Mrs. Bloomer. Within the water-cure movement, the wearing of bloomers, however, continued to be seen as an important means to retain good health.

Water-cure physicians’ efforts to devise a dress reform outfit predate the feminists’ adoption of the Bloomer outfit. Hydropathic medicine drew upon the characteristics of water to improve health and established many water-cure sanitoriums. In “Hydropathic Highway to Health” Women and Water-Cure in Antebellum America, Jane Donegan brings to light the prominent female physicians in the water-cure movement who lectured and published books on the subject. They included Dr. Harriet Austin, Dr. Lydia Sayer Hasbrouck, Dr. Mary Grove Nichols, and Dr. Lydia Hammond Strobridge. They also wore dress reform garments on a daily basis, believing that the clothing was healthful. Others advocating reform styles were Dr. James Caleb Jackson of the Glen Haven Water Cure, and Ellen G. White of the Seventh Day Adventist Water Cure in Battle Creek. Dr. Mary Walker, Mary Tillotson, Ellen Beard Harmon, and Harriet Austin never gave up the cause. For them dress reform was a style for life.

In When the Girls Come Out to Play, Patricia C. Warner details the steps taken by some of the first women’s colleges in America to develop physical education programs that included hygiene, gymnastics, calisthenics, and sports activities for which students wore gym suits. These were shortened dresses worn over loose trousers, and were similar to the exercise garments worn in the 1830s, which women had continued to wear for indoor activities. The gym suits were not unlike the dress reform Bloomer outfit of 1851. In fact, it could be argued that the Bloomer derived from the gymnasium suit worn by young women in the early nineteenth century.

Sports for women became popular enough for magazines to begin advertising and illustrating trousers for hiking, mountaineering, boating, tennis, swimming, biking, and other similar sporting activities. Bicycling became a popular in the 1890s and although many women wore equestrian tights underneath their shortened skirts, others chose to wear trousers in place of a skirt when out on the open road.

Trousers were deemed the perfect garment for travel as well. Their practicality and convenience were motives for women to adopt an outfit with trousers in 1893 while traveling to Chicago to attend the Columbian Exposition. They were encouraged to do so by the National Council of Women, whose dress committee suggested three styles: a Syrian costume, gymnasium suit, and the American costume.

In England, although there was some support for the Bloomer in 1851, caricatures in Punch and ridicule in other magazines quickly paved the way for its demise. It was in the 1880s that a trouser-styled garment gained public notice through the efforts of Viscountess Harberton and Mrs. E. M. King. They formed the Rational Dress Society in 1881 and exhibited their rational garment, a “divided skirt,” at the Exhibition of the National Health Society in 1882. Clearing the ground, the garment consisted of very wide trousers held in place by a band set below the waist. Its fullness made it difficult to tell that it was not a skirt. It was to be worn with a loose jacket.

A number of exhibitions continued to be held, offering prizes to dressmakers and other exhibitors. The 1883 exhibition catalog offered requirements for the “perfect dress”—which included freedom of movement and absence of pressure on the body, as well as the need for grace and beauty combined with comfort and convenience and some semblance to ordinary dress of the time. The exhibitions included many sports garments for women—for lawn tennis, boating, cricket, skating, biking, mountain climbing, riding, and calisthenics. This was not unusual, for Englishwomen had long been encouraged to engage in sports. In the 1890s, the English fashion magazine The Queen regularly reported on sports, sports clothing, and announced cycling trips for women.

In France, it appeared that the bicycle offered women the opportunity to wear pants in public, although there were laws against cross-dressing. Women who worked in mines and other dangerous and dirty occupations far removed from fashion benefited from wearing trousers.

Reform Undergarments

Real gains in making fashion rational in America occurred with improvement in the underpinnings of fashionable dress. Rumblings regarding the need to improve undergarments became more evident when Mrs. M. M. Jones spoke on the subject at the World’s Health Convention in New York in 1864. It was not until 1868, however, that a patent was acquired for the Emancipation Union Flannel.

In 1873, in a speech before the New England Women’s Club, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps boldly announced that every article of women’s underwear required alteration. The Boston-based club soon formed a dress reform committee headed by Anna Goold Woolson to sponsor a series of lectures, exhibitions, and the sale of patterns for improved undergarments. By 1874 the committee had held an exhibition of reform undergarments, awarding prizes to those that met their standards. Knowledge of reform undergarments was furthered at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876, where Demorest’s garments received several awards. As publishers, they actively supported many feminist causes, including dress reform, in Demorest’s Monthly Magazine.

In Reforming Women’s Fashion, Patricia Cunningham has acknowledged the remarkable influence of Annie Jenness Miller in the 1880s and 1890s. Miller published the magazine Dress: The Jenness Miller Magazine (1887–1896) and Physical Beauty: How to Obtain and How to Preserve It. She and her sister, Mabel Jenness, were prolific lecturers traveling across America to demonstrate the virtues of correct dress, including underwear reform and artistic dress, as well as the importance of movement, promoting the Delsarte Method of physical culture.

Miller devised a reform “dress system” that included a wool or silk jersey “union suit” worn next to the body; a “bosom support” or stiffer “model bodice” (in place of the corset); a “combination” of cotton or linen called a “Chemilette” (in place of the corset cover, drawers, and chemise); and “Leglettes,” a straight leg of full trouser (in place of the petticoat). The outer dress would be formed over a foundation dress called a “gown form,” which then served as a lining. Patterns for these garments could be purchased from the publisher.

Others who offered dress systems were Abba Goold Woolson, in Dress Reform, and J. H. Kellogg, through the Sanitary Supply Company pamphlet that also stressed the need to discard corsets and tight bodices.

The number of health exhibits in the 1880s in England attested to the growing public interest in personal hygiene, health, and improvements in women’s undergarments. In the magazine Leisure Hour, Dora de Blaquière observed that the true evil lay in the faults of women’s underclothing, not the outer garment. She, as with all reformers, condemned tight lacing. One of the few books on the subject of reform dress in England was Ada S. Ballin’s The Science of Dress in Theory and Practice (1885), which included an image of a woman’s body distorted by tight lacing. Ballin supported wool as healthful fiber and offered a “system of reform underclothes.” She and Dora de Blaquière supported Dr. Gustav Jaeger’s ideas regarding the benefits of wearing knits and woolens next to the skin.

In Germany, the dress reform movement did not appear until after 1896, when the International Congress for Women’s Work and Women’s Endeavors was held in Berlin. The Berlin club formed in 1897 and soon published booklets and held workshops and exhibitions where reform undergarments were on display. By this time, dress reformers had joined forces with artists to deliver a new type of clothing reform: artistic dress.

Artistic Reform Dress

The development of artistic dress emerged from the Aesthetic Movement in England in the 1870s and 1880s. The origin of the movement was the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood established in 1848 by a group of young artists enthralled with the writings of John Ruskin, who sought reformation in the arts. Artists involved in the Aesthetic Movement and its offshoot, the Arts and Crafts Movement, their friends and associates, recognized the need to improve taste in all aspects of life, including women’s dress.

The paintings of the members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, especially those of its founders Hunt, Rossetti, and Millais, clearly reflect an interest in depicting clothing so that it reveals a more natural human form. They achieved this largely by avoiding contemporary fashions and using instead garments that were loose and easily draped, but especially medieval and Renaissance styles. Rossetti’s sketches for paintings of his wife, Elizabeth Siddal, show her in what has become the archetypal Pre-Raphaelite costume: a dress with a loose bodice, sleeves set in high on the shoulder so they would not restrict movement, and a full skirt worn without extending petticoats or crinoline.

Artistic reform of women’s dress resonated with those immersed in the Aesthetic Movement. Writers among them enthusiastically published their thoughts on the subject. In Art of Dress and other publications. Mary Haweis spelled out her rules for artistic reform, calling for simplicity of attire, the reduction of stays that create a grotesque outline for the body, and the possibilities for creating naturalness in all parts of women’s dress—sleeves, bodice, skirts, sandals, capes.

After seeing the new style of clothing in paintings on exhibition, women within the arts community began to wear artistic reform dress to galleries where aesthetic art was exhibited. Their artistic dresses were designed using fabrics that were soft and draped easily. Colors were unconventional, such as odd reds, amber yellows, peacock blue, and dull green. An apparent absence of corsetry was one feature of aesthetic dress. Another was the full, puffed sleeve reminiscent of Pre-Raphaelite and Renaissance paintings. The dresses were worn without petticoats or a bustle and, by contrast to fashionable dress, appeared to be limp and drooping. The waist was either high or in a natural placement.

As outlined by Patricia Cunningham, and Stella Mary Newton in Health Art and Reason: Dress Reformers of the Nineteenth Century, there were numerous sources for artistic tea gowns and house gowns. Most notable were the designs for art dresses that could be procured from the Messrs. Liberty & Company on Regent Street, starting in 1884. Liberty silks, especially, became associated with aesthetic dress. Until the 1920s, the Liberty catalog still offered artistic fashions based on styles of the early 1790s.

It did not take long for Americans to hear about the British aesthetic reform of dress. Even in the late 1870s, the press observed that American women had begun to dress like the quaint figures in Pre-Raphaelite paintings. Aesthetic ideas regarding dress were readily available to Americans through illustrations and essays on artistic dress in Demorest’s Magazine, The Delineator, Harper’s Bazar, and news from England of art openings at private galleries and the public outings of actress Ellen Terry wearing artistic dress. Most instructive, however, were the successful country-wide lectures presented by Oscar Wilde when he served as front man for the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company’s 1882 American tour of the comic opera Patience.

While deploring the evils of corsetry in his lectures, Wilde also advised women to suspend clothing from their shoulders, reduce the layers, consider Japanese designs, classical art, and adopt antique dress as a means to create beautiful and healthful clothes.

In addition, the essays of Mary Haweis were available in America in Cassell’s Journal of Art. Haweis, Wilde, and other English writers and artists encouraged readers to apply the principles of art to dress. For Haweis, sources for ideal beauty were the Venus de Milo and other sculptural Venus portraits. “Natural,” then, for these Victorians, did not really mean “as found in nature,” rather, it meant “like a Greek goddess,” neither too fat nor too thin, with legs not too long or too short. The reformers strengthened their arguments for reform by comparing a drawing of the distorting effects of the fashionable corset to a similar illustration of the “natural” figures of Greek sculptures. Thus the Venus de Milo became the ideal figure for women to achieve. The sculptures became popular models to serve as inspiration. Vassar College placed a cast of Venus de Melos at the front of the gymnasium as encouragement for female students while doing their physical training.

Reformers supporting artistic dress were realistic. They did not expect women to rely solely on a physically fit body to achieve the Venus ideal. Instead, they suggested ways to improve imperfections of the natural form and line of the body by selecting artistic clothing that would create the needed balance and proportion of the figure. The idea was not to reshape the body with undergarments, but rather to use clothing to create illusions of the ideal proportions of a Venus de Milo. The way to do this was available in the advice literature that proliferated in the 1880s and 1890s.

In addition to the efforts of Annie Jenness Miller and her sister Mabel, other advice writers were Frances M. Steele and Elizabeth L. Steele Adams, Beauty of Form and Grace in Vesture (1892); Frances S. Parker, Dress, and How to Improve It (1897); and Helen Gilbert Ecob, The Well-Dressed Woman: A Study in the Practical Application to Dress of the Laws of Health, Art, and Morals (1892).

Artistic gowns could be easily draped over a gown form to reflect historically based English aesthetic gowns (medieval, Renaissance, and classical Greek). Most artistic gowns were variations of the princess-style tea gown. The princess gown was made most similar to medieval clothing, with vertical seams from the shoulder to hem and with no horizontal line at the waist. The high waist of the French Directoire and empire styles popular with Liberty also appeared in American tea gowns. The difference was that the tea gowns were now made according to the principles of art.

Most cities had dressmakers who could make artistic gowns based on the art principles. In Dress and How to Improve It, Frances Parker suggested places in Chicago where women could purchase patterns and fabrics for artistic gowns and dressmakers who would make them. One Chicago dressmaker in the late 1880s was Kate Manville. Her gowns proudly carried a label that read “Kate Manville, Dress Reform Artist, Chicago.” Manville was clearly announcing that artistic dresses were reform garments.

For some women, artistic dress became an acceptable and fashionable choice for public occasions—studio gatherings, gallery openings, or fetes. Others wore the artistic gowns for entertaining in the privacy of the home.

The artistic dress reform movement in Germany, although influenced by the earlier aesthetic reform in Britain and America, had its own character, both in the manner it was introduced to the public and in the creation of specific styles of dress. The movement was part of the larger modern design movement that had its roots in Munich, where in 1897 the magazine Simplicissimus included a drawing by Bruno Paul titled The Fountain of Youth and an illustration of a tapestry by Otto Eckmann titled The Arrival of Spring. Both featured women in artistic dress.

Many artists and architects were so intrigued with artistic dress reform that they readily submitted their designs for fashion exhibitions that were held throughout Germany between 1900 and 1904. Henry van de Velde, considered the father of art nouveau, was one of several artists asked to create artistic reform designs for a fashion exhibition at a tailor’s exhibition in Krefeld in 1900. By this time, artistic gowns were being worn for many occasions. The exhibition showcased ball gowns, house gowns, and tea gowns, as well as dresses for concerts, walking, visiting, parties, and gardening. None required a corset. Most dresses were a variation of the princess style, or empire style with a high waistline. These were made quite loose or barely skimmed the body. A popular style was similar to the Mother Hubbard, with a yoke set in just above the breasts and gathered skirt falling from the breast line to the hem. Sleeves reflected the medieval styles seen on British and American aesthetic dress.

The success of the Krefeld exhibition generated similar exhibits of reform dress in Leipzig, Dresden, Wiesbaden, Darmstadt, and Berlin. Designers of artistic dress who exhibited their work in these cities were Peter Behrens, Paul Schultze-Naumburg, and Else Oppler-Legbaud, who in 1903 took charge of the dress reform department in Werthheim’s in Berlin. In Die Kultur des Weiblichen Körpers als Grundlage der Frauenkleidung [The Development of Women’s Bodies in Relation to Theories about Women’s Clothing], Schultze-Naumberg set out requirements for artistic reform dress that included the need for fitness to purpose. He recommended three styles to serve as artistic dress that departed from the look of the princess and empire gowns most often associated with artistic dress reform. These were a loose dress falling freely from the shoulders or held by a belt just under the breasts; a two-piece skirt and jacket, such as Behrens’s design; and the “blouse dress,” a sleeveless, jumper-like dress to be worn over a blouse.

At the exhibition of artistic clothing in 1904, Anna Muthesius (who designed her own artist dresses) spoke on the progress made in artistic reform dress, noting improvement in construction, color, materials, and in the individual fit and suitability to the wearer. In Das Eigenkleid der Frau [The Personal Dress of Women], she stressed the importance of dressing to express individuality. Others who published on dress reform were Alfred Mohrbutter, Heinrich Pudor, and Adolf Thiele.

Between 1900 and 1904, artistic reform styles became increasingly popular through the efforts of the media. Franz Lipperheide’s Illustrated Women’s Newspaper regularly reported on the exhibitions, as did the Jugendstil journals Dekorative Kunst and Deutsch Kunst und Dekoration.

In Austria, dress reform gained ground with the founding in 1897 of the Wiener Secession by progressive artists, architects, and designers who demanded new aesthetic forms of expression in keeping with modern life, including the artistic reform of clothing. They were Gustav Klimt, Josef Hoffmann, Joseph Maria Olbrich, Koloman Moser, and Karl Moll.

As is clear from viewing his personal choice of clothing in photographs and the dress depicted in his paintings, the artist Gustav Klimt supported dress reform. In his portraits, women are often clad in long, loose, flowing garments which may have been of his own design or those of his longtime partner, Emilie Flöge, owner of a fashion salon in Vienna. The photographs of Flöge’s artistic designs appeared in the art journal Hohe Warte (1905/1906). She often wore reform styles herself.

Koloman Moser, painter, graphic artist, and designer, was one of the most active reformers in Vienna and a key figure in the Austrian modern design movement. In 1903, he and Josef Hoffman became artistic directors of the Wiener Werkstätte. In 1907, Moser left the Wiener Werkstätte to pursue a career as a set designer, interior designer, and graphic artist.

Moser designed several dresses for his wife and sisters that are housed in the Costume Collection of the Vienna City Museum. All of the gowns would have hung from the shoulders and freed the waist. A society dress for his wife made of printed linen is loose fitting, with no defined waistline. A matching long coat accompanies the dress. His sister’s gowns are of silk and have a high waist. Pleats on the sleeves add interest.

According to Baroni and D’Auria, writing in Kolo Moser, Graphic Artist and Designer, Moser had already designed an entire collection of reform clothes in 1900. Moser was well acquainted with German artistic reform, having traveled to Munich in 1895.

Josef Hoffman, Moser’s friend and colleague, not only designed artistic reform dress, but he also championed the reform movement in an essay titled “Das Individuale Kleid” [“The Individual Dress”]. He expresses his astonishment that women still subjugate themselves so ostentatiously to fashion. He suggests specifically that clothes should be light, allow movement, and should be easy and fast to put on without the help of a second person.

The Weiner Werkstätte

The Wiener Werkstätte produced a variety of decorative objects, furniture, jewelry, and textiles. In 1905 they established a textile workshop to produce hand-printed and painted silk designs. They manufactured large amounts of fabrics designed by the leading artists: Moser, Hoffmann, et al. The textile workshop was another step on the way toward integration of the arts, Gesamtkunstwerk.

Wiener Werkstätte fashion was first introduced in 1910 under the direction of Wimmer-Wisgrill. They opened a fashion shop next to the Wiener Werkstätte sales room on the Graben in Vienna. In Viennese Design and the Weiner Werkstätte Jane Kallir has observed that the Wiener Werkstätte line incorporated two basic trends—the artistic reform dress of Flöge, Klimt, and Moser, and reinterpretations of it by the French designer Paul Poiret. The textile and fashion departments attempted to assimilate many ideas—the empire waist, reform ideas, and oriental touches. Harem pants, which may have come from Poiret, appear to have had some success, for they survived into the 1920s.

Cementing the notion that artistic dress was, in fact, dress reform was its inclusion in the Viennese fashion magazine Wiener Mode. During the years 1902–1903, Wiener Mode, the leading conservative “Viennese Fashion” magazine, also available in Germany and other European cities, included variations of the new, modern style of artistic dress and reported on exhibitions of artistic reform dress held in cities throughout Europe in the early years of the century. “Reform dress,” “new style,” “Liberty style,” and “princess style” were the terms used to describe them. There also references to “bride’s reform dress.” Illustrations of reform artistic styles were interspersed with those that clung to corsets. The magazine also included advertisements for reform underwear.

The Netherlands and Scandinavia

Women in the Netherlands and Scandinavia learned of dress reform through arts and crafts exhibitions, fashion shows, portfolios, and feminist advocacy. A dress reform movement in the Netherlands began in earnest with the establishment in 1899 of the new Dutch Society for the Improvement of Women’s Dress (de Vereeniging voor Verbetering van Vrouwenkleeding, or V.v.V.v.V). The society published a monthly magazine with articles about improving health through improved underwear and hygiene. By 1903, with a rise of interest in artistic dress reform, the membership in the organization had grown to 2,000, with branches in several cities. The organization held lectures, produced brochures, and held exhibitions of reform clothing with the cooperation of shopkeepers who regularly sold reform dress.

The new artistic dress and its relation to modern art drew the attention of artistically inclined women. The writers Marie Metz-Konig and Anna van Gogh-Kaulbach wore artistic dress, as did musicians and singers Catharina van Rennes, Auke Schierbeek, Jeanette Molsbergen, and Alida Noorderweir-Reddingius. These women would have no difficulty in finding the artistic dresses illustrated in the Maandblad der Vereeniging Voor Verbetering van Vrouwen Kleeding.

For the most part, promoters and designers of artistic dress in the Netherlands relied on the publications and designs of Henry van de Velde, Alfred Mohrbutter, and Paul Schultze-Naumberg. Most of the styles made by Dutch artists were simple princess styles, more like the stark designs of Peter Behrens or an adaptation of the Directoire or empire styles promoted by the Liberty Company. Liberty also had a dress department in the fashion firm of Metz & Co. in Amsterdam. Perhaps one of the best-known artistic dress reformers was Madame de Vroye, who moved from Paris in 1901 to live in The Hague. She offered expensive, elegant reform dress in the princess style to the moderate women of the V.v.V.v.V. In 1903, she edited her own magazine, Refome, which catered to an audience that embraced the new art.

Interest in reform dress in Sweden and Norway was spearheaded by Christine Dahl, who had studied reform dress in America. Dahl spoke regularly on the subject of the need for reforming women’s dress, most suggestions based on hygienic principles. In order to avoid wearing a corset and to design clothing that was supported on the shoulders, Dahl devised a princess-style dress. Dahl patented her design, which was sold by the Steen & Strom Company in Christiana. Scandinavian efforts at reforming women’s clothing became better known when a doctor from Copenhagen wore Dahl’s princess dress during the 1896 International Congress for Women. This predated the German efforts toward artistic dress reform.

In a 1905 article in The Independent, Oppler-Lebaud noted that artistic dress was seen everywhere in German society, at theaters, concerts, and in the streets. Artistic dress, at some point in time, had become the fashion. By 1908, as noted by Newton, corsets were entirely rejected by many French designers and disappeared altogether in 1909. In 1910, as observed by Einav Rabinovitch-Fox in [Re]fashioning the New Woman, couture designers were propelled to revive an interest in the simple, loose, comfortable oriental styles. Japanese design, of course, had long held the interest of many artists in the modern design movements.

Men’s Dress Reform

Although in the 1850s in Germany a number of doctors saw a need to improve men’s clothing, it was not until the 1880s that the idea took off. It coincided with Oscar Wilde becoming the Apostle of Aestheticism. When he lectured on tour with the operetta Patience, he often wore his version of aesthetic menswear reform—knee breeches with silk stockings and patent leather evening pumps. Unlike Jaeger’s breeches, Wilde’s were not required to be wool. In fact, Wilde’s jacket was made of velvet.

Dr. Gustav Jaeger, best known of the German reform theorists, argued that wool was the best fiber to use for clothing, especially for underwear. As Stella Mary Newton has explained, Jaeger supported its use for outerwear as well. He was steadfast in his belief that trousers were unaesthetic monstrosities causing faulty blood circulation. He chose knee breeches to replace the offending trousers, thinking that the close-fitting garment would prevent cold air from circulating around the legs. Closely knitted wool stockings would be worn with the breeches. Jaeger’s accompanying designs were for wool shirts that fastened on the shoulder, double-breasted knit wool coats worn buttoned, for a close fit, and poncho-style overcoats. The playwright George Bernard Shaw dressed in Jaeger style on a regular basis. Knee breeches made the news again in 1893, when Henry Holliday recommended them as a men’s reform garment to be worn with a soft shirt with stand-up collar and sweater instead of a jacket.

The artist Klimt apparently thought that men should have the option to be comfortable. He often wore a loose gown, even on occasions when other men wore suits. Herman Bahr, a poet, critic, and Klimt’s supporter and friend, apparently also wore a similar gown, which may have been designed by Klimt to emulate a Japanese kimono.

A more organized men’s dress reform effort came about in the 1920s and 1930s in London. As noted by Barbara Burman in “Better and Brighter Clothes: The Men’s Dress Reform Party, 1929–1940,” the Men’s Dress Reform Party argued for healthier and better clothes for men, citing the need for freedom of movement and the tyranny of tight trousers. Members of the party adopted looser clothing, and short pants and kilts, alongside choices that still included knee breeches to replace long trousers.

References and Further Reading

Find in Library Adburgham Alison. Liberty’s: A Biography of a Shop. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1975.

Find in Library Aslin Elizabeth. The Aesthetic Movement Prelude to Art Nouveau. New York: Excalibur Books, 1981.

Find in Library Ballin Ada Science of Dress in Theory and Practice. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, 1885.

Find in Library Baroni Daniele, and Antonio D’Auria. Kolo Moser, Graphic Artist and Designer. New York: Rizzoli, 1984.

Find in Library Blanchard Mary. Oscar Wilde’s America: Counter Culture in the Gilded Age. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998.

Find in Library Burman Barbara. ““Better and Brighter Clothes: The Men’s Dress Reform Party, 1929–1940”.” Journal of Design History 8, no. 4 (1995): 275–290.

Find in Library Carlano Marianne. ““Wild and Waxy, Dutch Art Nouveau Artistic Dress”.” Art Journal (spring 1995): 30–33.

Find in Library Cayleff Susan Wash and Be Healed: The Water-Cure Movement and Women’s Health. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1987.

Find in Library Chapman Don. Wearing the Trouser: Fashion, Freedom and the Rise of the Modern Woman. Gloucestershire, UK: Amberley Publishing, 2017.

Find in Library Crane Walter. Ideals in Art. London: George Bell, 1905.

Find in Library Cunningham Patricia Reforming Women’s Fashion: 1850–1920, Politics, Health, and Art. Kent, OH and London: Kent State University Press, 2003.

Find in Library Cunningham PatriciaRedeeming the Voices of Reform.” In Fashion in Popular Culture, edited by Joseph Hancock II, Toni Johnson-Woods, and Vicki Karaminas, pp.191–205. Bristol, UK and Chicago: Intellect, 2013.

Find in Library Donegan JaneHydropathic Highway to Health: Women and Water-Cure in Antebellum America.” In Contributions in Medical Studies, 17. New York: Greenwood Press, 1986.

Find in Library Emilie Flöge and Gustav Klimt. Vienna: Stadt Museum, 1988.

Find in Library Fischer Gayle Pantaloons and Power: A Nineteenth-Century Dress Reform in the United States. Kent, OH and London: Kent State University Press, 2001.

Find in Library ADVANCE \d4Foote, Shelly. ““Bloomers”.” Dress 6 (1980): 1–10.

Find in Library Hansen Trude. Wiener Werkstätte Mode. Vienna and Munich: Christian Brandstätter, 1984.

Find in Library Kallir Jane. Viennese Design and the Wiener Werkstätte. New York: Galerie St. Etienne/George Braziller, 1986.

Find in Library Kesselman Amy. ““The Freedom Suit: Feminism and Dress Reform in the United States, 1848–1875”.” Gender and Society 5, no. 4 (December 1991): 495–510.

Find in Library Levitt Sarah. ““From Mrs. Bloomer to the Bloomer: The Social Significance of the Nineteenth-Century English Dress Reform Movement”.” Textile History 24, no. 1 (1993): 27–37.

Find in Library Lockwood Allison. ““Pantsuited Pioneer of Women’s Lib, Dr. Mary Walker”.” Smithsonian Magazine 7, no. 12 (March 1977): 113–119.

Find in Library Mattingly Carol. Appropriate[ing] Dress: Women’s Rhetorical Style in Nineteenth-Century America. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 2002.

Find in Library Meckel Richard ““Henrietta Russell: Delsartean Prophet to the Gilded Age”.” Journal of American Culture 12, no. 1 (spring 1989): 65–78.

Find in Library Murray Anne. ““The Bloomer Costume and Exercise Suits”.” Waffen und Kostumekunde 24 (1982): 103–18.

Find in Library Newton Stella. Health, Art & Reason: Dress Reformers of the 19th Century. London: John Murray, 1974.

Find in Library Oppler-Legbaud Else. ““The German Dress Reform Movement”.” Independent 59 (1905): 487–93.

Find in Library Ormond Leonée. ““Female Costume in the Aesthetic Movement of the 1870s and 1880s”.” Costume 4 (1970): 47–52.

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Find in Library Schultze-Naumburg Paul. Die Kultur des Weiblichen Körpers als Grundlage der Frauenkleidung [The Development of Women’s Bodies in Relation to Theories about Women’s Clothing]. Leipzig. 1902.

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Find in Library Scott Linda Fresh Lipstick, Redressing Fashion and Feminism. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1994.

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Find in Library Smith Jennifer. “Medieval Dress in Pre-Raphaelite Painting.” In William Morris and the Middle Ages, edited by Joanna Banham and Jennifer Harris, pp.46–58. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1984.

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