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The Nineteenth-Century Women's Dress Reform Movement

Document 2

WOMAN'S DRESS.

By MRS. R. B. GLEASON.

       The excessive heat induced by an inordinate amount of clothing, has caused spinal affections and relaxation of the muscles of the back and abdomen. Then from the skirts not being sustained by the shoulders, as they should always be, what are termed the "dragging, bearing down sensations" have ensued. . . . The free motion of the diaphragm is impeded, abdominal respiration hindered, and hence the blood is imperfectly oxygenized. The stomach, being short of room, cannot do its work well, and indigestion ensues. . . .

       Our present style of clothing, when not guilty of compression, is, in many respects, cumbersome.  The same snug waist, in wearing which the walker must be soon "out of breath," for the reason that not more than half the amount needful can be taken in. Long, heavy skirts, which fetter the limbs, as well as perform the office of a street broom; a thin slipper, so that the feet are soon wet, if the earth has been moistened by dew, or the pavements by the sweeper. . . .

       How much better some simple dress, fitted to the form, but so loosely as to allow of freedom of inspiration and motion, of a material of sufficient warmth so as not to require a shawl; skirt short, so that the limbs can move freely, on the feet good boots, such as a man would wear on a similar walk, the limbs well protected by a garment which we will call pants.

       Why are short dresses, which all agree are decidedly becoming for a young miss, so improper, indelicate, and immodest, as soon as she has passed into her teens? Why must she, as soon as she puts on womanhood, cover her lower extremities to the very tip of the toe with a flowing robe, however inconvenient she may find it at times? No matter if her neck and arms are nude, even when the state of her health, and that of the weather, demand that they be warmly clad, this exposure is to be admired, not criticized. How absurd is all this?. . . If a woman dares to put off an inconvenient form of dress, and adopt another, without the sanction of fashion, she is at once vulgar, lacks taste, and refinement.

-- Excerpts from Rachel Brooks Gleason, "Woman's Dress," Water-Cure Journal, 11 (February 1851)

2. According to Rachel Brooks, what are the disadvantages of the present style of clothing for women?

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3. According to Rachel Brooks, what are the advantages of simpler dress for women?

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4. According to Rachel Brooks, how might people to react to a woman who wears the new, simpler dress?

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