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Pantaloons and Power: A Nineteenth-Century Dress Reform in the United…
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By the early nineteenth century clear definitions had developed regarding how American women and men were supposed to appear in public and how they were meant to lead their lives. As men's style of dress moved from the ornate to the moderate, women's fashions continued to be decorative and physically restrictive. This visible separation of the sexes was paralleled in other arenas; social, cultural, and religious. Some women defied this convention and cut their skirts short, abandoned their corsets, and put on trousers. In Pantaloons and Power Gayle V. Fisher depicts how the reformers' denouncement of conventional dress highlighted the role of clothing in the struggle of power relations between the sexes. Wearing pantaloons was considered a subversive act and was often met with social ostracism. Fischer contends that while it was not the goal of many reformers to alter gender relations, as women adopted pantaloons the perception of male and female power relationships blurred, and the boundaries of social roles for women began to shift. This carefully researched interdisciplinary study successfully combines the fields of costume history, women's history, material culture, and social history to tell the story of one highly charged dress reform and its resonance in nineteenth-century society.
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