Threads Through Time-Suffragette White

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Suffragette Dress and Sash
Modern reproductions

 

Unknown artist
Suffrage Sheet Music, 1915
Paper and Ink
On loan from the Old State House Museum, Little Rock

 

Unknown artist
Postcard, Suffragette Coppette, 1909
Paper and ink
On loan from a private collection

 

Unknown artist
Postcard, Where, Oh Where Is My Wandering Wife Tonight?, 1909
Paper and ink
On loan from the Old State House Museum, Little Rock

 

On October 25, 1915, 25,000 women marched for five miles through New York City protesting for their right to vote. Sandwiched by throngs of men in dark suits, the lines of women clad in white became a visual sensation seen in black and white photographs on newspapers across the country, and created the iconic look of the movement. Women have used “suffragette white” since to highlight important moments in women’s history, and to pay homage to those who came before them.

During the campaign for voting rights, suffragettes were being attacked for being too masculine. Cartoons, posters and other propaganda showed them ignoring their families, being angry and ugly, and looking masculine by wearing pants. To combat this inaccurate image, movement leaders settled on the white dress to represent them. It symbolized purity, the color of respectable womanhood. It was also an economic choice, since white fabric was affordable and available to all women. The suit was accented with a sash of purple, white and yellow. These colors represented loyalty (purple) and hope (white), and honored Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (yellow, derived from the Kansas sunflower they used when campaigning for suffrage in that state in 1867). The look showed the world that having the right to vote will not remove their femininity.

Suffragette white continues to mark historic occasions for women. In 1969, Shirley Chisholm wore it on her first day in office when she became the first African-American woman elected to Congress. Geraldine Ferraro wore it when she became the first female vice-president candidate in 1984. Hillary Clinton’s white pants suit worn on the night she was selected as the Democratic nominee for President in 2016, became a modern symbol, as seen in the work by Lauren DiCioccio. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wore it during her swearing in ceremony as the youngest member of Congress. Recently, during the State of the Union address on February 5, 2019, most of the Democratic female members of Congress wore it in tribute to those original suffragettes and in solidarity to protest the sexism displayed in the current administration.

Suffragette white and the sash are just two examples of women using fashion for their cause. Sometimes, it is en masse like the pussy hat; other times it can be subtle in the form of a symbol or color in jewelry. From the sash to the pussy hat, women continue to use the power of fashion to make statements, unify their image, and create change.