Feminism and Fashion of the Twentieth Century: A Material Culture Study

Miranda DiCenzo, University of Rhode Island


While feminist literature clearly states the connection between clothing and feminism, there is a lack of material culture analysis to support the connection. This research utilizes material culture analysis—in this case, artifacts such as photographs, garments, and advertisements—to connect the ideology of feminism to its tangible and visible representation. Many fashion histories describe the period in which a garment was popular but offer little explanation about its corresponding political and social importance. This study includes histories of twentieth-century women’s movements and correlating fashion culminating in an exhibition to bridge the gap between scholarly research from varying fields. ^ The exhibition, based on this research, presents feminist history alongside historic garments from The University of Rhode Island’s Historic Textile and Costume Collection. Arranged chronologically, from the dress reform movement of the 1850s through the grunge movement of the 1990s, the exhibition recognizes the use of fashion and anti-fashion as a means of both oppression and progressive change for women in the United States. ^ This thesis and exhibition use material culture analysis to connect physical garments to First, Second, and Third Wave Feminism as well as the intermediate years. Garments symbolizing fashion and anti-fashion can be used to enhance our understanding of feminism, and the evolving mindsets of women in the twentieth century. Today, women and minority groups in general, are facing uncertain futures. This thesis and exhibition invites viewers to think critically about American women’s history and use of clothing to facilitate change.^

Subject Area

Textile research

Recommended Citation

Miranda DiCenzo, "Feminism and Fashion of the Twentieth Century: A Material Culture Study" (2018). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI10750478.