1900-1910: Anna Muthesius (1870-1961)
The beginning of the 1900s saw an incredible change as the Industrial Age began to influence all aspects of daily life. As society began transitioning to new ways of being, many long-held beliefs about the female body and fashion were resisting inevitable change (Maknojia).
Anna Muthesius encouraged many women to dress according to their own individual preferences during the early 1900s. Her 1903 book, Das Eigenkleid der Frau (Women’s Own Dress) encouraged women to reject Paris fashion in favor of deciding for themselves which clothing to wear (Hennessey 236). Muthesius rejected the notion of the “Gibson Girl,” whose restrictive style was defined by a large monobosom and small waist, which was enhanced by swan-bill corsets [see image]. The limiting style of the “Gibson Girl” forced women to adhere to fashion principles which were against their wellbeing, as corset-wearing caused many health issues by limiting the body’s circulation. Anna Muthesius’s ideas were revolutionary since they formed part of the first steps in freeing women from fashion constraints and societal labels which instantly differentiated women based on their way of dressing.
In a time when women’s fashion was defined by strict fashion norms, including corsets and ornamented clothing, Muthesius presented new possibilities to dressing, even against societal limitations. Although today we might think that dressing according to one’s individual preferences is normal, women were much more restricted from expressing themselves in the early 1900s. Women were not allowed to attend art school and were discourage from creative work; Muthesius went against these misogynistic norms by “promoting the Eigenkleid as a means for women to become their own artist, instead of being exploited by the clothing industry” (Gralke). Dressing in an Eigenkleid represented a departure from outdated fashion ideals; many women were brave to dress differently since they were conscious of the possibility of being ridiculed. Muthesius’s idea of dressing in one’s own style represented an early form of feminist resistance, which would later influence future feminist movements.
Anna Muthesius represented a step towards freedom for women, beginning in the ever-influential realm of fashion. Although she is not well-known today, Muthesius influenced later aesthetic and artistic dress movements (Reddy, “1900-1909”), demonstrating that a departure from the norm can have freeing long-lasting effects for all women.