Getting a Leg Up
September 14, 2016 § Leave a comment
It began sometime after the Civil War, when Austin had grown enough to have muddy streets. Young men and a great host of other characters stood all day in the rain on prominent corners like the corner of Pecan and the Avenue, to watch dainty feet of pretty girls make the crossing, under threat of arrest for vagrancy. Boys made jokes when the doctor held mama’s bare arm too long.
Ladies who did not wish to drag their skirts in the mud – and none of them did –complained of being the objects of this peep show. Many ladies preferred to say home on rainy days. The toxic soup of urine, animal feces and discarded garbage thrown into the open gutter, thickened with the omnipresent limestone dust, ruined shoe leather, hose, and dress fabric.
Improved sanitation practices, paved streets, and the gradual disappearance of horses and cattle from the streets eliminated this problem, but by 1910 it didn’t matter. Hemlines on street dress were well above the ankle, and low-cut pumps showed off the pretty pink ankle that momma’s boots only hinted at.
First-wave feminism was in full flower. Washington State granted women to right to vote that year.
But young women were interested in more than the vote. They liked boys and the idea of what they could do together. When the Nineteenth Amendment guaranteed all American women the right to vote in 1920 – when the Jazz Age was coming into full flower — many young women felt they had the right to do pretty much anything men did, including wearing what men wore. They also had the world war to thank for that. America needed all the cloth it could get for the war effort, so it was goodbye underskirts and hello higher hemlines. As women went to work in war production, they demanded suitable, comfortable clothing; that meant men’s-style apparel. Besides looking pretty comfortable and uninhibiting, wearing men’s clothing was heretofore forbidden territory.
The days of the uncomfortable, corseted, hourglass figure were over. The lack of a corset and a low, loose waistline gave girls that boyish Flapper look.
Flappers’ ever-shorter skirts and flimsier blouses prompted campus jokes like “Zekiel remarks that the girl who sits in front of him in his English 1 class wears a shirt waist that reminds him of Pa’s barb wire fence. It protects the property but don’t shut off the view.”
And advertising was a science now, and a course that many co-eds took with gusto, as the above-page from the 1920-21 Cactus illustrates. The eds thoroughly approved of the campaign.
The knee-length, loose-fitting skirts of 1922 (see below) were creating some “excitable boys” on campus. Their collective libido came to a head on the windy morning of February 6, 1922, on the steps of the library as they gathered to hoot their approval when the girls’ skirts took thigh-ward flight in the brisk breezes. The flock of campus buzzards was such that an assistant dean was posted to advise the girls to take the inside stairway.
Shortly thereafter, curves threw women’s fashion another curve ball, and there were new mountains to climb for the hardiest of young men.