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History of American Fashion Images

The Seeming Androgyny of the Eighteenth Century

In eighteenth century portraits, it is often difficult for modern viewers to distinguish between children's genders, because the boys appear to be wearing the same dresses as the girls. In fact, there were subtle but important distinctions: boys wore button-decorated cuffs that curved over the elbows, like men's coats, with a complete front opening to the hem, and a full skirt. The child at the left in this painting is a boy, the one on the right is probably a girl. Portrait of Two Children, attributed to Joseph Badger, probably Boston, Massachusetts, 1755-1760, oil on canvas.

Textile Tools for Enslaved Workers

An example of the sheep shears that slaves used to trim wool for clothing in the eighteenth century. These were unearthed from an archeological dig on George Washington's plantation at Mt. Vernon.


An example of the "saggin'" style, with boxers fully exposed, in the East Village of New York City.

Zoot Suiters

Black men modeling yet another controversial trend, the zoot suits of the 1940s.

The Bra's Ancestor

U.S. Patent 40,907. Awarded on 15 December 1863, this was Luman Chapman's breast supporter, the corset substitute (it took a few decades...or about half a century, to be exact) for it to catch on.

Corsets Through the Decades

Changing corset styles and shapes over the years.

The Controversial Bloomers

An example of Amelia Jenks Bloomer's eponymous and controversial creation, "bloomers."

Toiling for Textile Companies

Women were not the only ones employed in sweatshops to manufacture garments, working up to 70 hours a week with no overtime pay; this early 1900s photograph by Lewis Hine shows men in the same circumstances.

A Dangerous Workplace

This photograph captures the extremely crowded and fire-prone conditions in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century garment manufacturing shops.

ILGWU Goes On Strike

Members of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union in New York vote to call a strike on 22 November 1911.


ILGWU members march arm-in-arm to City Hall during their thirteen-week strike in the fall of 1911.

High Fashion

A Paul Poiret opera coat from 1912.

Nineteenth-Century Active Wear

An American riding habit (left), circa 1830, and a bicycling jacket (right) from the 1890s.

Dangerous Fashion

The (in)famous bustier designed by Jean Paul Gautier for Madonna's "Blond Ambition" Tour in 1990, and (on the right) the men's bustier designed for Madonna's dancers on that tour.

Funky Fashion

A pair of boots worn by funk musician George Clinton (mastermind of the bands Parliament and Funkadelic) in 1977.

Iconic Fashion

Jacqueline Kennedy's iconic pillbox hat, 1961, designed by Bergdorf Goodman and worn by Jacqueline Kennedy to the her husband's 1961 inauguration.

Sunday Best in the Early Midwest

A Custer County, Nebraska family in 1886, in a photograph entitled "Our Sunday Best."

The Cleavage Controversy

Hillary Clinton's outfit—worn in July 2007, while she delivered a speech on the Senate floor about the cost of higher education—received national headlines and attention when a Washington Post writer characterized it as "cleavage on display."

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