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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Redressing women: Feminism in fashion and the creation of American style, 1930–1960
by Strassel, Annemarie Elizabeth, Ph.D., Yale University, 2008, 286; 3317280
Abstract (Summary)

This study examines the rise of American style ill an attempt to theorize the place of clothing design within a broader feminist tradition and recover a feminist consciousness following the fragmentation of the women's movement in the 1920s. Between 1930 and 1945, American style emerged as a viable alternative to French fashion in an effort lead by women who dominated the industry at many levels, including design, retail, and reportage. This work moves chronologically from women's early attempts at nationalizing fashion to their struggle to maintain control of the industry amid a postwar backlash against feminism. More than a business history, this work positions women in fashion as lightning rods for broader debates about women's control over their own image and bodies, the utopian possibilities of mass production, and the reorganization of work and the material world in the face of a growing female labor force.

Most importantly, this project seeks to expand the sites for feminist practice and history by establishing a connection between American fashion and a feminist tradition of dress reform. I argue that the female body has been a critical site for political contestation, and that based on the principles of comfort, beauty, mobility, and economic viability, many women historically have used clothing design as a tool for liberation. My work both builds on and challenges the work of feminist critics of beauty culture, who have focused on how the fashion industry conscripts women into narrow and self-effacing gender roles and manipulates women's desire through unattainable and ever-changing standards of beauty. In so doing, these critics of contemporary culture have overlooked a crucial feminist tradition. Beginning with dress reformers of the early woman suffrage movement, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, women have repeatedly reimagined the clothed body to signify and actualize a utopian vision of female equality and autonomy. This tradition, I argue, culminates in the creation of an American style made possible by a temporarily female-dominated fashion industry in the United States between 1930 and 1960.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Hayden, Dolores
School: Yale University
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-A 69/05, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American studies, American history, Art history, Design, Interior design, Womens studies
Keywords: American fashion, Design history, Fashion, Feminism, Great Depression, New York City, Style, World War II
Publication Number: 3317280
ISBN: 978-0-549-65785-9
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