The concept of the New Woman was particularly successful also because it tightly connected to the consumer culture and industrial production. Mass-produced items were more readily available and at lower prices, and since the New Woman did have a recognizable look, the opportunity to get that look was integral to the success of that look.
The New Woman emerged more or less simultaneously as the evolution of the industrial production of everyday goods, which caused the boom in the ready-made market and the rise of the advertisement.
Her entanglement in the consumer culture was both her luck and flaw because, at the same time, it enlarged and shrank the concept of New Woman. But in a general sense, participating in consumer culture allowed a greater number of women to become New Women.Industrial Production (Enter the New Woman #AtoZChallenge 2022) The New Woman did have a recognizable look. Mass production allow that look to be affordable to many women #WomenHistory Click To Tweet
How the industrial production and the consumer culture impacted the concept of the New Woman
When we think of the New Woman at any moment in her historical arc, we mostly think about middle-class young women. But this concept of women’s role was as successful as it was because it reached far beyond these boundaries. Women belonging to the working class or to minority groups – such as African Americans and immigrants – and even older women could participate in the experience because they could afford to be new women by simply acting and looking like one.
Being a New Woman definitely cost money. New Women engaged in activities that required spare time, such as sports and leisure, which were not readily available to people who worked for a living. They also dressed in a recognizable, fashionable way because, yes, the New Woman was always fashionable.
Yet the new market allowed many women who were not the perfect fit for this definition to still participate in the experience.
Many women now worked for wages, especially when they were young and unmarried. Owning their own money meant that they could buy into the New Woman fashion, not least because industrial production had standardized the process and the goods, making them more affordable.
Being a New woman meant being independent and fashionable. It meant expressing herself freely and without fear, being involved in the advancement of women and thinking in a modern way. Not all women who dressed like a New Woman dared to embrace this philosophy of life, but merely using the same attire placed them in a situation where they were experiencing more freedom and more modern life, whether they intended to declare it or not.
Moreover, participating in the fashion of the New Woman allowed many women to appropriate the respectability of the New Woman, which for many women also meant more freedom. Immigrants women, for example, experienced more inclusion because they appropriated the New Woman’s look and behaviour.
Industrial production also meant standardization. While before, clothing was mostly custom-made, which required precise measurements and the work of a professional, the ready-made market made patterns simpler and more readily adjustable to any body form. If, on the one hand, this took something away from the personalization of dresses, on the other allowed for larger availability of the same models to a larger number of women, which turned in a kind of democratization of the New Woman fashion.
Industrial production definitely factored into the success of the concept and experience of the New Woman and in the dissemination of that ideal, at whatever level a woman participated in it.
Eabinovitch-Foz, Einan. Dressed for Freedom : The Fashionable Politics of American Feminism. University of Illinois Press, Champaign, Illinois, United States of America, 2021
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