A Well Controlled Body: Constructing The New American Woman of Fashion 1900-1940

Two more days…. Saturday is the annual symposium of the Fashion and Textiles Studies program at FIT. Here is one more paper that will be presented. We hope to see you there. The event is free and open to the public.


A Well Controlled Body: Constructing The New American Woman of Fashion 1900-1940

By Virginia Wilking

Josephine Baker 1930 Getty Images / Hulton Archive

Josephine Baker 1930
Getty Images / Hulton Archive

Although women of the modern age enjoy greater freedom and more options than their nineteenth century counterparts they are also under more pressure as cultural forces have made the female body into the focus for much of the social change of the twentieth century.

In this paper I explore the ways in which the body in motion captured the essence of modern life. Images of three influential women during the early decades of the twentieth century will illustrate the importance of movement as it related to modern fashion and the ideal form: Isadora Duncan, Josephine Baker and Joan Crawford. While each woman’s story is uniquely her own, they share one common theme: the relationship of the way their body looks– its size and shape, sexual attractiveness, its exposure both dressed and undressed – to a modern consumer culture where the body has become inextricably linked to personal identity and self worth. To explore the changing ideals and judgments about women’s bodies in the modern age I use the writings and imagery found in cinema, photographs and popular publications as core evidence.


Virginia Wilking graduated from Boston University with a BA in cultural anthropology and gender studies. During her time in the program at FIT, she has worked on archival projects for designers Reed Krakoff, Narciso Rodriguez and, most recently, the Ralph Lauren Library. Her thesis will focus on religious dress restrictions within the Muslim fashion community.
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