PANEL: Textile Activism, Shopping, Dress Reform and Justice

Saturday, March 2, 2013 at 3:00 PM

This panel will be moderated by Gayle Fischer of Salem State College.

Outerwear to Underwear: The Dress Reform Movement in the Nineteenth Century

Traci L. Gott

Women’s clothing in the 19th century was restrictive and unhealthy across all social classes. Women wore tight-laced corsets, multiple petticoats, restrictive garters, among other uncomfortable and often-harmful garments. The dress-reform movement, carried out by members of the women’s-rights movement, utopian communities, and health reformers, aimed to design women’s clothing that was less limiting. Although unassociated with men’s clothing, each group produced a variation of a women’s trouser. Intense public outcry about the ‘gender’ of clothing, particularly the ‘male’ trouser,  prompted many of these reforms underground. However, the health reformers kept the movement going in the public eye, but shifted their focus from outerwear to undergarments in order to avoid public criticism. Their reforms led to many of the fashion trends seen in the coming decades, namely the 1920s, when women’s clothing was significantly modified for the first time since the Middle Ages.

Traci L. Gott is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Buffalo, where she also teaches American Studies. She earned bachelor’s degrees from Northeastern State University and master’s degrees from the University of Oklahoma. 

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Solidarity through Shopping: Depression-Era Activism for Worker Justice

Beth Robinson 

The League of Women Shoppers (LWS) was founded in 1935 as a response to a New York department-store strike. Using the slogan “Use your buying power for justice,” the LWS conducted investigations into labor disputes, produced propaganda, and developed campaigns around local and national labor issues. The LWS  were committed to direct action and focused on campaigns that included letter-writing , boycotts, walking picket lines, and non-violent civil disobedience. This paper argues that the LWS carried on the ideals of the New Deal, which set a clear standard of what working conditions should be in a democratic country.

Beth Robinson earned a PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she is currently a lecturer in women’s studies. She has published two pieces for the Encyclopedia of Race and Racism, 2nd Edition, and will soon publish a piece in Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000 titled “How did the League of Women Shoppers Use Their Privilege to act in Solidarity with Workers?.”

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