This thesis explores how, during a singular period in America between 1850 and 1900, femininity as a social construct played a role in crafting the ideal Victorian women. Furthermore, it examines how alternative fashions invented by dress reformers associated with the Bloomer and Aesthetic movement reinforced or deconstructed the ideal Victorian woman, thus, redefining the social construct of femininity. Dress reform emerged as an approach to a healthier lifestyle for women before acquiring political significance. In general, the primary goal of dress reform was to introduce comfortable, healthy, functional, feminine, and aesthetically appealing substitutes to mainstream fashion styles of the time. These modified fashions accommodated the emerging healthy, practical, active, and independent non-stereotypical Victorian woman promoted by reformers. Unpredictably, the progressive ideas and actions behind dress reform would have a lasting impact on American society. The predominate support and backbone of my paper comes from newspapers, women’s magazines, images, and books that allowed me to glimpse into Victorian American society. From reformer testimonies and oppositional objections, I was able to to construct and interpret the rhetorical arc of the Bloomer and Aesthetic movement.


Hettinger, Madonna

Second Advisor

Biro Walters, Jordan




Cultural History | Fashion Design | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | History of Gender | Social History | United States History | Women's History | Women's Studies


Fashion, Victorian, Femininity, Dress Reform

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



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