One of my favourite answers from the participant responses mentioned the suffragette movement as an early form of fashion activism. Strangely I had never put two and two together, which is quiet ironic seeing as I went to a secondary school founded by the suffragettes and consequently spent the first half of my teenage life parading around in the most hideous collection of their colours.
Needles to say when I was at school there was no mention of fashion and suffragette in the same sentence, What I have found out since shows quiet the contrary!
During the early C20th Colour was used to showcase a women’s alliance to the movement. Although different suffrage leagues and associations wore different colours it was generally assumed that, as the suffragettes slogan was GIVE WOMAN THE VOTE:
GIVE = GREEN, WOAMN= WHITE AND VOTE=VIOLET.
The blog ‘Art and Architecture, mainly’ has some interesting posts about the symbology of colour, clothing and jewellery and it seems that unlike their modern contemporaries the suffragettes had a keen interest in their fashion and dress.
“Suffragettes liked to be depicted as feminine, in soft blouses and with their hair pinned up softly, to counter the stereotypes put forward by opponents that they were mannish or shrieking. Every suffrage organisation seems to have developed a close relationship with a particular West End department store which outfitted them appropriately…..They also published attractive advertising in the pages of their weekly papers. The moderate suffragettes chose as their stores Derry and Thom, or Swan and Edgar, or Burberry, shops that provided sen¬sible coats and skirts, silk blouses and serv¬iceable overcoats at moderate prices. This was the kind of outfit that, as the advertisements sug¬gested, allowed for comfortable move¬ment. The more militant suffragettes chose the classier Selfridges which offered a far more elegant array of clothes.”
Interestingly in 1908 a new law was passed that forced women to wear hat pins no longer than 9”. Fearing that the suffragettes would use their hat pins as weapons the crack down changed the style of hats from that of lavish works of beauty to scaled down smaller pieces of head wear.
Selfridges was a huge supporter of the suffragette’s and in fact opened its first store in London just as the movement was gaining momentum in 1909. Above you can see an invitation to the opening of the emporium and below that an image of the roof top restaurant frequented by many suffragettes in the 1900’s.
And finally a beautiful photograph taken from the photo Swindon Local Studies Collection showing a group of suffragettes in their beautiful, flowing feminine attire.
For more Suffragette and fashion reads have a look at these links:
A lovely blog post of suffragettes and cycling from Sheffield Cycle Chic
Art and Architecture, mainly. Interesting reads about suffragettes and selfridges as well as symbolism,colour and jewellery in the C20th.
Finally Queens of Vintage: suffragette fashion: A political statment