The Working Woman's Wardrobe

I enjoy the notion that the first professional women were  late-60's second-wave feminists in suntan pantyhose and polyester skirt suits, setting out for the office en masse one crisp September morning, heads high and briefcases in hand. But that's just not true, is it? Women have been earning paychecks and paying bills since the first landlord overcharged the first tenant for a dumpy studio with bad light and mice.

And what have we worn? Some of the best things. Shirtwaists and femmey neckties and uniforms. Oh! The uniforms!


From Ladies' Home Journal, 1910

And what about your feet? Pair your one-piece work dress with shoes that are both hygienic and sanitary! (Incidentally, when was the last time you used either of those descriptors? They've gone the way of "wholesome" and "unseemly". It's a shame.)

Proto-Easy Spirits c.1910


Mrs. Morton wore them with spats.
 
Mrs. Morton, "First woman letter carrier on the job", 1917


As women entered the workforce during World War II, their wardrobes got an upgrade and a little more authority. If you Google image search "working woman", Rosie still pops up first. 


Rosie the Riveter


Charity Adams, First Officer in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, c. 1943

From Ladies' Home Journal, 1942


Then there are the women who figured so heavily in my first understanding of feminism, and in my first fashion crushes. I never cease to love the way that wild, hippie aesthetics sometimes bled into mainstream fashions.

From Sphere Magazine, early 1970's 

Mary Tyler Moore, 1970's

Let's close with the "I'm trying to be a grown-up lady" suit worn by a teenaged Mariel Hemingway in the last scene of "Manhattan". It speaks volumes. It perfectly frames her as the precocious ingenue and sets up a compelling bit of cognitive dissonance (it's ugly! it's ill-fitting! it's the most beautiful thing ever!) that jams with her character (we love her, we pity her). The whole thing just zings.

Mariel Hemingway in "Manhattan", 1979