Working Lives

Beryl Riley 1920s to 30s (part 2)

Beryl Riley from Bethnal Green in East London started work as a cleaner at John Lewis in 1923

Change in Women's Fashion

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But not everything was the same after World War I. Women’s role in the war, both in Britain and on the battlefields, convinced the wartime Parliament that women should vote. In June 1918 a bill granting some women the vote in elections became law.

An advertisement for Jones Bros fashionable ladies clothes. Four feamale figures in elaborate garments outside a stately home
Jones Bros ladies fashion (1914) - click to enlarge

After the tragic events of the war, Britain’s younger generation was keen to make a fresh start in every possible way. Before the conflict, fashionable clothes were elaborate (fancy, complicated) and needed lots of care and attention to be worn properly. Women who had gained more independence and freedom during the war wanted clothes to match their new mood. Designers responded with shorter-skirted styles which were very daring at the time. Less wealthy middle class families could now buy fashionable styles, too, thanks to the mass manufacture of machine-made clothes.

The greatest change in female fashion came with the new, softer undergarments. It has often been said that getting rid of traditional, heavy corsets did more for women’s emancipation (freedom and equality) than getting the vote. Previously, corsets had been so rigid women went through silent agony. They were very long, and so tight at the waist it wasn’t unknown for ladies of the time to suffer broken bones.


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