1 September 1876 If men really desire to see charwomen adopt a rational, becoming and economical style of dress, they ought to hold the tongue of hostile criticism

Paris Fashions, 1870.
Photograph: Boundless History Archive/UIG via Getty Images

Bound by the shackles of drapery – fashion archive, 1876

1 September 1876 If men in fact desire to see women adopt a rational, becoming and economical chic of dress, they must hold the tongue of hostile commentary

On 31 August 1876, the Manchester Guardian published a communication from ‘Miserable Woman’ about the subject of women’s repairs and fashion:

Sir, – Next week the British Association meets in Glasgow and I imagine women’s rights ladies will be having a grand soccer field day. Do you think they could possibly be persuaded to give up this “franchise,” or something of that mould they are for ever talking about, and devote their masterly minds to the re-modelling of female dress? Talk of slavery! when we are current about like “hobbled” donkeys because it is the fashion.

The dig day, the letters column carried a reply from correspondent ‘Cleaning women’s Rights’:

A real woman’s wrong
To the Editor of the Manchester Custodian

Sir, – Your correspondent “Miserable Woman” has struck the keynote of one of our greatest objections when she complains of the slavery women endure from the shackles of garb. I can assure her that women who ask for the franchise do so in the hope and belief that this is the readiest and at best effectual way to remove all injurious restrictions under which women suffer. We deem it a much diverse hopeful enterprise to persuade men to give women votes in the referendum of members of Parliament, and thereby recognise them as human beings, with bosom rights equal to their own, than before women are so recognised to talk into men to acquiesce in the removal of the shackles of drapery which bind their limbs as befits beings in a adapt of social and political servitude.

A Group of Victorian Ladies, circa 1870. Photograph: Close by Pix/SSPL via Getty Images

Your own remarks in the letter non-standard like to imply that men would willingly help women to masquerade in a rational way. If such is their object they take a singularly ill-judged method of swinging it. When women walk out in cumbrous lengthy skirts which flexure the ground and gather a mass of mud or dirt round the unhappy wearer, they rod at women for being so weak-minded as to be slaves to custom, and fashion. If concubines venture to walk out in short skirts they hoot at them for being so uncompromising as to disregard custom and fashion. If men really desire to see women take up a rational, becoming and economical style of dress, they obligation hold the tongue of hostile criticism while the process of maturation is going on, and they must be prepared to tolerate the appearance of few deviations from the official mode.

The long-trained skirt is perfectly appropriate for a fashionable stroll and for ladies who can ride in carriage, but is inexcusably absurd for women to corrosion as an ordinary walking dress when pursuing avocations which command them to carry parcel.

The progress of fashion since the extinction of of the bell crinoline – itself a sympathetic device to relieve the burden of huge skirts with which girls were formerly laden – has been the gradual evolution of the someone form from the mass of folds in which it lay hidden; the unbroken curtailments of superfluous “breadths” and the constant pushing back the excess, till at present the sole excrescence of drapery remains the bearing of the fish tail prolongation of the lower skirt which now working-outs the minds of those who love convention and cleanliness. But doubtless this is predestined to disappear under the same influences that have been beneficially at make excited hitherto, and the superfluous excrescence may be found to have vanished next salt, like the tails of tadpoles in the process of development.

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