As we celebrate Women’s History Month and the hundred-first anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment, let’s look to suffragists for some revolutionary style ideas. Style was used by suffragists to win people over and advance their cause.
Choosing official colors helped to solidify the suffragists’ brand. At protests, suffragists’ white dresses with purple and golden yellow touches stood out against men’s dark black, gray, or blue suits
For their symbolic color, suffragists chose white, for a number of reasons. For one, says art historian Kimberly Wahl, white “appeared reassuringly feminine and conventional” and “had obvious connotations of purity, respectability, decorum, and innocence.” This was important to the suffragists because some people who fought to keep them from voting argued that suffragists were promiscuous women. White was also democratic, because it was an easy color for working-class women to access.
Purple and golden yellow were chosen for their symbolism and also the sake of continuity. In the United Kingdom, the women’s suffrage movement had already adopted white, purple, and green for their official colors. However, in the United States., Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony had campaigned for suffrage in Kansas with its state flower, the sunflower. So the American suffrage movement replaced the United Kingdom’s green with a golden yellow. According to the National Woman’s Party in the United States, it chose purple and golden yellow because:
“Purple is the color of loyalty, constancy to purpose, unswerving steadfastness to a cause. White, the emblem of purity, symbolizes the quality of our purpose; and gold, the color of light and life, is as the torch that guides our purpose, pure and unswerving.”
White is a great color for winter or spring! It brings freshness to winter wardrobes, and while it’s not “groundbreaking” to wear whites in spring, it is always a classic choice.
(Whites for winter can look chic and different even when it’s a sweatsuit, or sweatpants paired with a turtleneck, as in this look.)
(For mild winters, you can pair white jeans with a long-sleeve blouse and a wool coat.)
(The great thing about wide-leg pants is that you can layer long johns under them for extra warmth. Pair with a chunky sweater and sneakers, like Blaire Eadie does in this Atlantic-Pacific post.)
In winter, yellow looks especially joyful. As the National Woman’s Party stated, golden yellow is “the color of light and life”
Add a pop of yellow to a white dress, as the suffragists would have done.
Or, for a fabulous springtime look, combine a white top with a flowy, yellow skirt.
Purple with white can look fantastic when you’re going for a bold look.
If you want to achieve a softer, more spring-y look, try combining white with lavender or lilac—better yet, lavender and lilac! Whites with a few different pastels look pretty and put-together.
(Try a purple sweater or blazer with white or light-wash jeans.)
Go for full lilac, or combine with white and yellow for a truly suffragist-styled look!
Though the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified in 1920, the fight for women’s suffrage began decades before, so you could also channel a 1900s Edwardian look. In this period, women’s day dresses or skirt sets featured lacy details, natural waists, high necks, and long, voluminous sleeves. Outside, a jacket was often worn to create a suited look. (Think of the film version of Anne of Avonlea!) To create a look inspired by the 1900s, focus on high necks, big shoulders, and defined waists.
Edwardian-style blouses look fantastic with high-waisted jeans because these jeans nip in at the waist the way 1900s skirts would have done. The jeans give a modern twist to the voluminous Edwardian-style blouse. Look for Edwardian-style blouses in thrift and vintage shops, where you can often find a 1970s-does-1910s look. (The 1970s are notorious for drawing inspiration from every era imaginable—which is why seventies clothes are also great for costuming, or for recreating an antique look that would otherwise be expensive!)
Look for a maxi skirt with a defined waist for an early-Edwardian silhouette.
In the 1910s, women’s clothing featured a higher waist and simpler, narrower skirts, described by fashion historians as “tubular.” Blouses and bodices had square necks, V-necks, or collars, with short sleeves, long sleeves, or three-quarter sleeves. Also, sometimes there was a blouse worn over the shoulders and crossed in front of the straight neckline. (Think first-season Downton Abbey.)
Consider a long, columnar skirt, maxi-dress, an empire-waist dress, or an A-line skirt. Try a scoop or square-neck blouse or dress. (Square necks are becoming more popular now, and are easier to find.) You can also create a 1910s look with a tank or camisole layered under a blouse buttoned half-way up. This works well with a pencil skirt or high-waisted jeans that you can tuck the shirts into.
Wear a square-necked blouse with jeans or colorful pants to make them look more modern.
(Or combine all of the above elements to create a more literally suffragist-inspired outfit.)
For more inspiration, check out Rachel Maksy’s video on incorporating Edwardian style into your wardrobe.
As we look back on Women’s History Month, let us pay homage to those who came before us: strong women who fought for decades for the right to vote, who were determined to form our country into one in which every citizen would have a voice. One way to do that is by drawing inspiration from their styles and colors as we remember that they lived not so long ago.
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