Shirtwaist? Why You Should Be Grateful for This Iconic American Look
If you've ever coveted the shirtwaist-heavy wardrobe of the ladies on "Mad Men," with its prim button-down shirts tucked into sleek skirts that somehow end up sexier than skin-revealing dresses, then listen up, because we have a story for you.
The shirtwaist has been incredibly important in American history. The look became popular in America in the early 1900s and was a nice change from the shapeless, heavy, bustle-filled frocks that women had been wearing. It allowed them to show a little skin without going too far, and even better than that, it was a practical item of clothing. At the time, American women were just starting to trickle into the workforce, and shirtwaists became their uniform. So, more than being practical, they represented liberation.
On March 25, 1911, the Triangle Factory in New York City, which employed hundreds of women working tirelessly to make these shirtwaists, caught fire and burned down within 30 minutes. One-hundred forty-six people were killed, 123 of them women. The fire led to huge reforms in workplace safety and changed many Americans' ideas about how our employees are treated.
The shirtwaist went from being a practical, everyday look for women to couture within a couple of decades, with Grace Kelly donning one in 1956 to announce her engagement to Prince Rainier, and most major fashion labels started making their own luxe versions. It remained a look of the people, however, because just one year later, a young African-American girl named Elizabeth Eckford wore a shirtwaist on her tumultuous first day of school at the newly de-segregated Little Rock Central High.
On the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Fire, let's remember the men and women who died working hard to make the dress that would take women out of oppression and into more modern, egalitarian times. Every time you don a shirtwaist, remember that this is a dress that has made history in more ways than one.
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