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The Nineteenth-Century Women's Dress Reform Movement

Document 5

SHORT DRESSES.

       Early in the summer . . . some of the leading women in the Association took the liberty to dress themselves in short gowns or frocks, with pantaloons, (the fashion of dress common among children,) and the advantages of the change soon became so manifest, that others followed the example, till frocks and pantaloons became the prevailing fashion in the Association. The women say they are far more free and comfortable in this dress than in long gowns; the men think that it improves their looks; and some insist that it is entirely more modest than the common dress.

CHANGE IN HAIR DRESSING.

       The ordinary practice of leaving the hair to grow indefinitely, and laboring upon it by the hour daily, merely for the sake of winding it up into a ball and sticking it on the top or back of the head, had become burdensome and distasteful to several of the women. . . . The idea of wearing the hair short and leaving it to fall around the neck, as young girls often do, occurred frequently, but Paul's theory of the natural propriety of long hair for women (1 Cor. 11) seemed to stand in the way. At length a careful examination of this theory was instituted, and the discovery was made that Paul's language expressly points out the object for which women should wear long hair, and that object is not ornament, but 'for a covering.' In this light it was immediately manifest that the long hair of women, as it is usually worn, coiled and combed upward to the top of the head, instead of answering to Paul's object of covering, actually exposes the back part of the head, more than the short hair of men.  These considerations seemed to establish satisfactorily the natural and scriptural propriety of women's wearing their hair in the simple mode of little girls, 'down in the neck.' Accordingly some of the bolder women cut off their hair, and started the fashion, which soon prevailed throughout the Association, and was generally acknowledged to be an improvement of appearance, as well as a saving of labor.

 -- Excerpts from "Short Dresses," and "Change in Hair Dressing,"
First Annual Report of the Oneida Association
, 1849

8. What style of dress have female members of the Oneida Community adopted?

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9. Why have they adopted this form of dress?

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10.  How have women in the Oneida Community decided to wear their hair?

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11.  What reasons do they provide for adopting this new hairstyle?

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