The role of design, technology and business networks in the rise of the fashionable, lightweight, ready-made blouse in Britain, 1909-1919
The blouse holds a highly significant place in the history of clothing manufacture and consumption as the first lightweight, mass- fashion garment. By 1909 the blouse, worn with a plain skirt, was well-established as a key fashionable staple in the wardrobes of women from across the British class spectrum, from clerical workers to Suffragettes, to members of the royal family. The ready-made blouse industry in the 1910s sits at the nexus between sweated workshops and regulated factory production. By c.1910 blouse designers were creating simple, loose- fitting garments sized by the collar, key factors in their suitability for mass manufacture.The First World War period is of crucial importance in the history of the blouse because despite shortages of materials, profiteering and transportation difficulties, wartime conditions actually enhanced the blouse trade. High levels of employment in industrial production for the war effort led to an increase in disposable income amongst working class women who for the first time had money to spend on new ready-made fashion, and this included ‘solid low-priced blouses’.Drawing on surviving garments, photographs, social surveys and trade journals, this thesis investigates the supply chain of this industry, from the design, making, and retailing of blouses, to entrepreneurship and new innovations in manufacturing technology and workplace practices.
This thesis aims to fill a significant gap in knowledge – the development of the lightweight, ready-made fashion industry in the 1910s, as seen through its first successful commodity the blouse.