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the New Woman

June 13, 2007


In 1935 Man Ray photographed Coco Chanel, the doyenne of the French fashion world who, by the 1910s, had already adapted sportswear to daily life and capitalised on feminizing masculine fashion. Her pose in the “little black dress” became the hallmark of 1930s fashion.

The image of the New Woman, an ideal of fashion and glamor -following the widespread ‘modern’ textiles and avant-garde new clothing designs, was closely associated with the image of the Modern Woman, a symbolic identity which stressed woman’s sexuality and youth and was reiterated in market publications during the 1920s and 30s.

But the question is how much this image of New Woman had to do with changing the actual conditions of most women? Did it serve anyone else’s ends outside the circle which advanced a fusion of art with commercial enterprise?

In fact, it could be argued, that the act of popularising such images concealed the complexity of women’s real lifes (it also surpressed another emerging identity of the Modern Woman as a lesbian); and the idea that it derived from art circles masked profound economic and cultural changes (see W.Chadwick Women, Art & Society 1990).

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