Dressed for Freedom

The Fashionable Politics of American Feminism

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Pub Date 16 Nov 2021 | Archive Date Not set

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Often condemned as a form of oppression, fashion could and did allow women to express modern gender identities and promote feminist ideas. Einav Rabinovitch-Fox examines how clothes empowered women, and particularly women barred from positions of influence due to race or class. Moving from 1890s shirtwaists through the miniskirts and unisex styles of the 1970s, Rabinovitch-Fox shows how the rise of mass media culture made fashion a vehicle for women to assert claims over their bodies, femininity, and social roles. She also highlights how trends in women’s sartorial practices expressed ideas of independence and equality. As women employed new clothing styles, they expanded feminist activism beyond formal organizations and movements and reclaimed fashion as a realm of pleasure, power, and feminist consciousness.

A fascinating account of clothing as an everyday feminist practice, Dressed for Freedom brings fashion into discussions of American feminism during the long twentieth century.

Often condemned as a form of oppression, fashion could and did allow women to express modern gender identities and promote feminist ideas. Einav Rabinovitch-Fox examines how clothes empowered women...

Advance Praise

"Fashion and feminism may seem antithetical, but Einav Rabinovitch-Fox cogently argues that they are closely intertwined. Her stimulating book highlights how Gibson girls, flappers, women designers, and even 1960s feminists saw modern clothes as an integral part of women’s freedom."--Kathy Peiss, author of Hope in a Jar: The Making of America's Beauty Culture

"Dressed for Freedom is an innovative exploration of the ever-shifting and complex relationship between feminists and fashion. Einav Rabinovitch-Fox shows how women as activists, designers, and consumers translated feminist ideas into everyday practices and turned shirtwaists and sportswear into the material through which women asserted identities and claimed rights to freedom of movement."--Maxine Leeds Craig, author of Sorry I Don't Dance: Why Men Refuse to Move

"Fashion and feminism may seem antithetical, but Einav Rabinovitch-Fox cogently argues that they are closely intertwined. Her stimulating book highlights how Gibson girls, flappers, women designers...

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Featured Reviews

What an interesting history- the role of fashion in advancing the role of women in America. This history talks about some interesting trends in fashion that I was familiar with (the Gibson girl) but had not really connected relevance and the importance of the topics. This is a unique read and one that will speak to how popular life can have such an impact on the wider cultural and political discussions. This is an example of how good political and cultural history can combine to produce a great story/argument/history. If you are looking for some more nuanced history, check this out.

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If you've ever thought it didn't matter what you wore, and then found out how wrong you were, you know that the topic of fashion in the history of women's rights is not a frivolous or a minor topic. It's front and center and always has been. Einav Rabinovitch-Fox surveys the subject from the loose and adaptable shirtwaists that replaced the form fitting and constraining outfits of the turn of the 20th century to the white suits of Hillary Clinton and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Flappers and World War II and trousers and Helen Gurley Brown and the inclusion/exclusion of Black Women in the Movement are all considered here, and more, and it's fascinating. I'm not sure I learned anything new but I have never seen it put together and analyzed in this way before, which makes it all new. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a digital review copy.

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Dressed for Freedom is the book you want when you're explaining the importance and significance of fashion in womens' history. It's comprehensive, illustrative, and extremely well-written. This book answered many questions I had and ones I didn't know I had! It was so interesting to journey through fashion history with the eye of feminism so present. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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This books looks at fashion for women between 1890-1980. It gives us a visual history of women and there fight for freedom and equality. Working class women, bicycle transportation and rainy days drive the first fashions of freedom. Next paved the way for more movement, thus the flapper. It was only after war that we could even consider sports wear. Grrr. Later bar burning. Bar burning was not something I could get behind. I hate an ill fitted bar, but I personally have to wear one. (My choice). “These women- whether Gibson Girls, Rainy Daisies, suffragists, bohemian feminists, flappers, fashion designers, Hollywood stars, or radical women’s liberationists- demonstrate not only that fashion and feminism could exist, but that fashion could serve as an effective realm for conveying feminist messages.” I’m grateful for my wardrobe choices and the women who fought this battle for me. I can imagine not having the choices I have now. Thank you. Thanks University of Illinois Press via Netgalley.

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I’ve been on a history book kick lately and this one really scratched that itch. Fashion, as we’ve seen recently, has real world impacts (look the spotlight on “fast fashion” of late and all the harm it does). This book shows just how far back fashion has been used as both a tool of freedom as well as a tool of the oppressor. Recommended.

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We take many freedoms for granted, but ignore the freedom we have in choosing what to wear. The evolution of fashion and freedom is an interesting concept well defined.

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As I was reading I was consistently reminded of one of the core feminist principles which is “their personal is political” and yes that includes fashion. I particularly enjoyed the chapter regarding flappers since I’ve always been so enamored by the 1920s. I will say that I found the first chapter difficult to understand since I am not as familiar with 1880/1890s fashion. However, I throroughly enjoyed the rest of the book and the strong emphasis on how fashion itself is an expression of a woman’s right to choose.

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This is a wonderful gem of a book, very well written Einav Rabinovitch-Fox! I was totally entertained by the history, dialogue and photographs throughout. As I read through the years I found the story enlightening, we automatically make choices now that once were debated and discussed as a matter for women and men to consider. A superbly written storyline of clothing trends, the feminist side of the age and how fashion has evolved, I loved the ‘bloomers’! I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Einav Rabinovitch-Fox, Dressed for Freedom The Fashionable Politics of American Feminism, University of Illinois Press 2021. Thank you, NetGalley, for providing me with this uncorrected proof for review. Einav Rabinovitch-Fox’s thoughtful approach to a topic that is likely to create some controversy is evident early in her book when, as well as the theory that fashion is a feminist issue, she refers to ‘second wave feminism’ (her quotation marks). I was intrigued by this apparent questioning of a phrase and idea, almost sacrosanct, that permeates much of feminist writing. Both aspects of the book are gratifying in that they suggest it is packed with ideas outside the understood notions of feminist history and fashion and its relationship to feminism and feminists. My belief that this would be an exciting book to review, and optimism have not been misplaced. I loved this engaging read with its solid research and support for the ideas Rabinovitch-Fox expounds. Beginning with the politics of bloomers, the New Woman seen through Gibson Girls, Shirt Waisters and Rainy Daisies, then flappers and freedom, Einav Rabinovitch-Fox takes the reader through the fashion industry, style, Women’s Liberation, and the legacies of American Feminism, finishing with explanatory notes, a thorough index and a bibliography. As I flick through the index I see familiar titles such as Our Bodies, Ourselves and Off Our Backs, Ms. and Harper’s Bazaar and less familiar, Bust Magazine, Century, Charm and Cheap Chic; styles covering hairstyles, youth culture, corsets, hemlines and white, and black fashion movements; well-known women’s names including Amelia Bloomer, Charlotte Gilman Perkins, Susan B. Anthony, Betty Friedan, Germaine Greer and Helen Gurley Brown; mentions of men such as John Adams, Scott F. Fitzgerald, and John T. Molloy; and references to organisations from the early feminist movements such as women’s suffrage to modern critiques of gender and New York Radical Women. Underlying the argument that implementing fashion are feminist ideas and ideology is Rabinovitch-Fox’s discussion of waves of feminism. She proposes that women’s activities have been ignored by a commitment to seeing feminist activity in waves. By ignoring a chronological approach to fashion and feminism early and mid-twentieth century work and ideas have been ignored. To add to this argument, it has always seemed odd to me that we talk of women’s activities being ‘hidden from history’ and yet suggest that there were periods in which there were no activists or activity worthy of the name feminist. The argument made here resonates and is supported by the way in which Rabinovitch-Fox’s narrative unfolds over twentieth century feminist activism and ideas associated with fashion. She claims, with convincing examples, quotes and examples of clothing devised for purpose, that women both used and adapted fashion to articulate demands for equality. Fashion has been the subject of popular culture, with women making their way from poverty to successful entrepreneurs as in the British television program, The House of Elliott, and blockbuster novels in which women’s clothing is either the focus of business enterprises in which women excel, or a feature of their success as seen through fashion. These accounts, although providing women with a career, or designating success outside the domestic sphere, rarely venture into debate about class, race, and women’s freedom through clothing designed to fit that purpose. However, the topic through Rabinovitch-Fox’s writing with its enthusiasm for description of the various fashions, melding of analysis and personalities, encouragement to the reader to question received understandings, competes with fiction for an engaging read. Add to this that the work is inspiring in its determination to give women a say about something that impacts them from morning to night, in the paid workforce or at home, as career women or parents, as part of a family or friendship group, as that being they look at in the mirror, Dressed for Freedom is an empowering and fascinating work. Studded with insight, this is a book to enjoy, ponder over, and re-read. I embraced every moment of doing so.

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I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This book was fascinating. It takes a look at a subject that most people consider shallow and infuses it with a surprising amount of depth!

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I received a free copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I have always been interested in fashion. In the politics, the propaganda, the function and the differing forms and uses. However, I have rarely found books that are accessible, and as clear that I felt others would enjoy as much as I did. Though this is geared mainly towards the intellectual discussion, I believe anyone interested in the history and politics of fashion would do well to read this book. For all those currently watching the political climate in America, there have been several major callbacks to those historical figures who came before, though I doubt many knew who were being referenced without the help of the news media in highlighting it. These figures are all discussed here, from something so small but so very vital to everyday life as pockets, to being able to dress ourselves again without the help of others. For so long, aspects of feminine clothing showed ways to make us reliant on others; especially on men. This book discusses the many ways politically how what is considered feminism and fashion are inextricably tied and will continue to change together.

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Very well written Einav Rabinovitch-Fox! I was totally entertained by the history, dialogue and photographs throughout. Definitely recommend

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