Libby Manning

I see fashion as an art form. An art form that we not only wear, but that changes continuously with our society: reflecting the influences within the media along with the economic situation. Women’s fashion has been, and still is, directly linked with our fight for freedom. It reflects our ever-changing position within society: the power, the repression, the sexism and the ‘stereotypes.’ Throughout history women’s fashion has been used as a tool for women and as our rights changed, so did our clothing. The revolution and liberation of women’s fashion bottles down to just a few individuals, one notably being Coco Chanel as she reformed the perceptions of women’s fashion and evolved the way feminism is explored through our clothing.

Towards the beginning of the 20th Century women’s fashion began to change dramatically, the turn of the century opened up to simplicity and with women’s fight for independence clothing moved to be more practical, free and above all feminine, a huge contrast from the confined and restricted frills and corsets of the 19th Century. 1906 saw the decline of the train on women’s dresses, and soon enough hems began to rise (above the ankle.) Four years later in 1910 fashion began to focus on emphasising the female structure more, think hips and waist, and just one year later in 1911 the world began to see the attractiveness of slender bodies. However it should be noted that women were still being forced into specific and idealistic body types as a response to societies ever changing demand for the “ideal woman.”

Women in the new century began to demand movement within their clothing: freedom of movement. As the First World War began women’s fashion continued to develop as they took over men’s jobs. Hard labour jobs such as those in factories required more practical clothing, resulting in shorter skirts and tailored suits with freer movement, at this point hair became shorter as well. Women were being granted jobs, jobs often associated with men. This elevation of freedom through the work place is directly reflected through women’s change in fashion.

Women’s fashion then evolved further towards the 1920s as The Flapper look made its way into the lives of women along with their newly found right to vote (1918.) The Flapper was styled after a chemise/shift look, which worked on exposing the neck and being incredibly free around the waist. This meant women were showing more flesh than they had probably since primitive times, and clothing was becoming more comfortable and practical for women. Women’s fashion now seemed to focus on what women wanted, and not what society expected of them.


However it should be noted that although the ‘flapper’ look seemed to be a revelation within women’s fashion, it did however also present a problem with body types. To wear a flapper dress meant that women had to have a specific body type (very slim, petite breasts etc), which again meant that women were being conformed to a certain body type through societies ideals – a contradicting idea.

Notably Coco Chanel should be key in giving our thanks to in regards to changing and liberating women’s fashion. Gabrielle Chanel was an out-spoken smoker who revolutionized women’s fashion in a very ‘real’ way. She notably never married, but surrounded herself with prosperous men – giving her power and a tool helping her build her successful fashion empire. Her clothes focused on not just what women wanted, but what they needed and in 1926 the Little Black Dress was born and with that the whole modernisation of fashion. Chanel was also famously noted for introducing trousers for women as well as suits. Women’s fashion became exciting and interesting. It began to reflect personalities and lifestyles. The term ‘fashion designers’ seemed to evolve in to its current meaning, as designers such as Chanel began to make a name for themselves and bring a new meaning of life to fashion. Clothing was no longer about male control over the ‘idealistic woman’; it became more practical but solely for women and their own convenience, along with fashion becoming more beautiful and intricate – showing the art behind the clothes.

She once said that she “freed the body,” and with her clothing she did just that. She encapsulated what women wanted and needed from their clothing and disregarded the expected norms of society and men. She created freedom, practicality and comfort through her clothing, along with maintaining an elegant and beautiful style, saying that she “crafted the most well-known style in the world because fashion is ephemeral but style is eternal.”


Personally I see the idea of having set fashion as a way of society, and some men, to objectify women and the female body and that the current situation with women’s fashion appears to be, in my opinion, the greatest it has been in history. Obviously women still do no have equality within fashion and many are scrutinized for their chosen dress, however this does not defer from the fact that the 21st Century gives light to a dramatic change in the range of ways that women can express themselves through fashion, and the continuing change throughout our society.


Libby is a student at Cirencester College studying English Literature, Fine Art, Journalism and Classical Civilisation. She hopes to one-day write for magazines on a variety of topics from fashion, art, feminism and current affairs and travel. She has a blog which you can read here: and a Facebook page at: