Asheville Archives: Women’s professional attire, 1911

BUSINESS GARB: In the 1910s, a syndicated fashion column kept local readers up to date on all the latest styles, including women's professional attire. Screenshot from the June 11, 1911, edition of The Sunday Citizen

Throughout the early half of the 1910s, the local Asheville papers ran the syndicated series “Fashion Fads and Fancies,” which, as its name suggests, focused on the latest seasonal fashion trends. Several of the articles addressed women’s professional attire, offering today’s reader a glimpse into the style norms and expectations in the early days of the 20th century.

As many of the articles make clear, elaborate attire was never meant for the workplace. “There are scores of business women — so called — who set forth for their long day’s work decked out with an elegance which the society woman would consider impossible and absurd before the late afternoon calling and tea hour,” the series noted in the June 11, 1911, edition of The Sunday Citizen.

Such women, the paper continued, wear “satins, velvets, ostrich plumes [and] white kid gloves” that exceeded their earnings as “stenographer, bookkeeper or clerk.”

The same article stressed resourcefulness and thrift. “The business girl who is clever with a needle may make herself dainty blouses and even whole frocks for summer wear at her office, or may buy such blouses and frocks at the late-season sales, which are full of economic gleanings for those who visit the shopping field after the big harvest has been done.”

Comfort was also emphasized in the piece. “There is no reason why the business woman should not have the pleasure of wearing fresh, dainty, washable dresses in her office, provided their style is not too elaborate,” the column advised. “There are checked and striped ginghams in neutral colorings or in the always desirable blue tones, which are to be made up in exceedingly pretty styles at very little prices.”

Along with dresses and frocks, the column tackled headier issues. “The hat question is liable to be a vexing one to the girl who goes to business,” the June 11, 1911, article stated. “So many hats are worn out in turn by the daily trips, the changes in weather for which one is not always prepared, and the dust of a busy office which will sift into cloak rooms and wardrobes.”

Fortunately, “Fashion Fads and Fancies,” reported on a number of replacement options. “The business girl who is young enough should wear in summer one of the smart and becoming sailor hats in a shape that is at the moment fashionable. If a sailor does not become her, a flexible outing hat of panama will be the best choice, and this may be smartly trimmed with a scarf of pongee or Persian patterned silk, with perhaps a quill or two to lend dash.”

Meanwhile, the column continued, “The canny business woman chooses a hat small enough and flexible enough to permit of her leaning her head back comfortably in the car going home at night. When one is tired out, with perhaps the memory of a headache to add to one’s troubles, it is most trying to be obliged to sit bolt upright for half an hour in the car because one’s hat brim will not permit one to lean back.”

Editor’s note: Peculiarities of spelling and punctuation are preserved from the original documents. 


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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. His writing has appeared in Gulf Coast, the Miracle Monocle, Juked and elsewhere. His debut novel, The Wind Under the Door, is now available.

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