American Clothing - 1900s AD - Twentieth Century American Clothing Styles
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American Clothes - 1900s

Mill girls
Girls working in a mill, about 1900 AD

By about 1900, though, cloth and clothing got cheap enough that there was a big change in how people thought about clothes. Instead of wearing many layers of clothes, a lot of people started to wear different clothes every day. Young kids wore cotton dresses - both boys and girls, until they were about five years old! Older girls wore short dresses, only to their knees, and then as you got older you would gradually wear your dresses longer until they were down to the ground. Older boys wore short pants, and then when they were about ten or twelve they started to wear long pants.

Canadian homesteaders
Canadian homesteaders

During World War I, soldiers needed most of the cloth for uniforms and bandages. it was hard for women to get cloth for their own clothes. They started to make their clothes simpler and their skirts shorter, to save cloth. A lot of women were also working in factories, and they needed practical clothes.

Men mostly wore wool pants, wool jackets and vests, and cotton shirts, just as they do today. Often they wore suspenders instead of a belt. They always wore hats when they were outside (but never inside).

Coke ad with flapper
A Coke ad from the 1920s

In the 1920s, women wanted to wear looser, more comfortable clothes. They wore shorter dresses - even above their knees! And they started to wear bras under their dresses instead of corsets. More women started to wear silk dresses, but silk came from China and it was very expensive. Coats made of raccoon fur were the coolest thing to have. As Europeans began to get to know the Inuit people better, they started to copy Inuit parkas and anoraks for their own winter clothes.

Navy parka 1950s
A United States Navy parka, 1950s

By the 1950s, many women had begun to wear pants at home, and if they weren't dressed up. Girls weren't allowed to wear pants to school, though, even in the 1960s, and women couldn't wear pants in a restaurant or in church. By the 1970s that had changed, and by the end of the 1900s many women wore pants more than they wore skirts or dresses. Men continued to wear wool suits and cotton shirts to work for some kinds of jobs, and cotton jeans for other kinds of jobs.

Learn by doing: graph how often you wear pants or a skirt/dress
More about American clothes history

Bibliography and further reading about American clothing:

North American clothing before 1500 AD
North American Economy
American History home

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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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