On March 26, 1874, publisher Condé Nast was born. A successful advertising executive for Collier’s, he introduced the concept of “class publications” or “lifestyle magazines.” While other publishers focused on circulation numbers, Nast targeted groups of readers by income level or common interest. Nast purchased Vogue in 1909 and House and Garden in 1913. In 1914, he introduced Vanity Fair. Each publication explored current trends in fashion, the arts, politics, and entertainment.
While few can afford the clothing displayed on the pages of Vogue, Americans traditionally uphold the right to dress as fashionably as possible. In his essay “Are Women Natural Aristocrats?,” Thomas Wentworth Higginson recalls a British minister’s wife who prescribed plain dress for the “lower classes.” He contrasts her view with the American position on personal adornment:
The American clergyman and clergyman’s wife who should even “recommend” such a costume to a schoolmistress, church-singer, or Sunday-school girl,-to say nothing of the rest of the “lower orders,”-would soon find themselves without teachers, without pupils, without a choir, and probably without a parish. The Sunday bonnet of the Irish damsel is only the symbol of a very proper effort to obtain her share of all social advantages. Long may those ribbons wave!
Women and the Alphabet; A Series of Essays, by Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Co.; Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1900). 197-98. National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection. Rare Book & Special Collections Division
Traditionally, maintaining a stylish appearance is a burden that falls more heavily on women. Writing to her future husband, Alexander Graham Bell, in 1877 Mabel Hubbard jested:
You gentlemen have no idea how much trouble and weariness it costs only to get the material for the dresses you so much admire. I had no idea how much the bright dresses of women relieve our sombre streets. We went down to the part of the city devoted exclusively to the men, where women never come, and such a shabby dull looking affairs the men were. I should think they would get sick of their own society.
As Mabel Hubbard noted, in our culture the female tends to be a more colorful dresser than the male. Yet, men hardly ignore the latest styles as the photograph below demonstrates.
With his striped suit, winged collar, and hat, this unidentified man represented a turn-of-the-century fashion ideal.
The old hoop skirt was before our day, but corsets and bustles were worn. White was the prevailing color for hose, and we wore black shiny slippers with moderately high heels…The hair was worn high on the head, on a chignon. Earrings in the ears and gems in the hair were part of an evening dress…We were partial to the flat, wide-brimmed, leghorn hats. A wreath of flowers encircled the top of the brim and long streamers or bands of ribbon floated from the sides and could be tied under the chin. The winter hats were…trained with ostrich plumes and feathers.
“Alice Buchanan Walker.” W.W. Dixon, interviewer; Winnsboro, South Carolina, June 28, 1938. American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940. Manuscript Division
When I arrived to the years of womanhood, the hoop skirt was passing out of style, and the bustle and tight long shirts were the vogue. The style lacked comfort, and the corsets were cruel and suffocating and actually injurious to the spirit and health of women and girls…The women arranged their hair with a chignon and looped it upon the top of the head. Young girls arranged their hair in ‘pig tails’ down the back and wore bangs over the forehead. The longer a woman’s hair, the more she had to be conceited about.
“Ella E. Gooding.” W. W. Dixon, interviewer; Winnsboro, South Carolina, June 28, 1938. American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940. Manuscript Division
- Search on style, vogue or articles of clothing such as hat or corset, to find more fashion recollections in American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940.
- Search on House and Garden in the Gottscho-Schleisner Collection to see studio photographs made for the magazine. Searching on Condé Nast will access photographs of the publisher’s home.
- Does fine fashion make you want to sing? Search on clothing and dress in Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, ca. 1870 to 1885 to retrieve nineteenth century songs such as “Girl with a Calico Dress” and “Dressed in A Dolly Varden.”
- Find a wide variety of fashion-related materials in Emergence of Advertising in America: 1850-1920 External through a keyword search using terms such as dress, suit, shoes or fashion. See, for example, an illustrated price list, a card advertising John Kelly’s Fine Shoes, or a blinking electric sign proclaiming “Wear Palm Beach Suits.”