5. Clothing : A Social History
Many changes were made possible in Britain due to the introduction of new materials and technologies. Other changes came about because of the two world wars and the new working conditions for women.
(i) after 1600, trade with India brought cheap, beautiful and easy-to-maintain Indian chintzes within the reach of many Europeans who could now increase the size of their wardrobes.
(ii) During the Industrial Revolution, in the nineteenth century, Britain began the mass manufacture of cotton textiles which became more accessible to a wider section of people in Europe. By the early twentieth century, artificial fibers made clothes cheaper still and easier to wash and maintain.
(iii) In the late 1870s, heavy restrictive underclothes, which had created such a storm in the pages of women's magazines, were gradually discarded. Clothes got lighter, shorter and simpler.
(iv) Yet until 1914, clothes were ankle length, as they had been since the thirteenth century. By 1915, however, the hemline of the skirt rose dramatically to mid-calf.
B. The Wars:
Changes in women's clothing came about as a result of the two World Wars.
(i) Many European women stopped wearing jewellery and luxurious clothes. As upper-class women mixed with other classes, social barriers were eroded and women began to look similar.
(ii) Number of women workers multiplied fast. At job, they wore a working uniform. Shorter skirts and trousers became common dresses for women.
(iii) Bright colours faded; only sober colours were worn. Skirts became shorter. Soon trousers became a vital part of Western women's clothing, women took to cutting .. their hair short for convenience.
(iv) By the twentieth century, a plain and austere style came to reflect seriousness and professionalism. New schools for children emphasized the importance of plain clothing. As women took to sports, they had to wear clothes that did not hamper movement. When they went out to work they needed clothes that were comfortable and convenient.