Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Handmade History: Shirtwaists
Shirtwaists, or blouses, were mainly manufactured in what we would consider sweatshops today (like the Triangle Shirtwaist Company, where a tragic fire took the lives of over 150 women). Normally made of cotton, these were the everyday tops worn by working women and housewives in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Higher-quality versions were made of finer fabrics including linen and silk, and as this 1918 note from the New York Times explains, usually found in specialty shops. As the "Roaring 20s" approached and New York tastes became increasingly affluent, these finer shirtwaists, which were often custom sewn and and hand-decorated, grew in demand to the point that even department stores began to carry them.
But then, as now, it seems, many did not appreciate that handmade items have an intrinsically higher value than manufactured goods. Just a few months after the note above appeared in the fashion columns of the New York Times, this item ran: