Articles on Women's Clothing Expenses, 1900-1902


"The Well Dressed Woman" from Cosmopolitan, February 1900

Father John A. Ryan, in his 1905 budget allocates $107.40 for clothing for a family. As he states in "A Concrete Estimate of Living Wage," clothing should meet the "reasonable requirements of comfort," protect against inclement weather, and "enable them to appear among their fellows without hurt to that self-respect and natural pride which are indispensable to decent living." As with most material things, Father Ryan approached the issue of clothing from a utilitarian perspective. One "holiday attire" outfit is all one needs to properly socialize. However, Fr. Ryan was in a shrinking minority as attitudes toward clothing changed.1

Technology, as with many things, had made clothing more readily available. Garment factories, such as that of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire of 1911, produced ready-to-wear clothing. More and more often, these mass-produced outfits imitated the work of high-fashion designers, making it possible for the emerging middle class to dress in a manner similar to the upper class. Fashion historians explain that the middle-class's co-opting of high fashion formed another part of the democratization of society, in which class differences mattered less.



"Dressing Well on Small Means" from Ladies' Home Journal, January 1902

Magazines began altering their format to address the changes in clothing. For example, in January 1902, Ladies Home Journal introduced "The New Department of Women's Clothes." They explained its purpose: "The fashions, from an artistic, practical and economical point of view, have become a question of such size and cover a field of so much importance to most women, and particularly to women of moderate means [that it] . . . takes most constant attention and even study."2

Similarly, in late 1899, Cosmopolitan sponsored an essay contest on the topic, "The Well-Dressed Woman." As you skim the essays "Dressing Well" and "The Well-Dressed Woman," keep in mind Fr. Ryan's criteria for determining what clothing is necessary for a "right and reasonable life."



  • Compare Ramsey's modest clothing budget with Fr. Ryan's, how do they differ? What attitudes account for the differences? Why would or wouldn't he have approved of the journals' columns on clothing?
  • Is there a difference between dressing well and dressing fashionably?

1 John A. Ryan, A Living Wage (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1906), 145, 134.
2 "The New Department of Women's Clothes," Ladies Home Journal, January 1902, 41.