Wise as it was worn

By Joy Carrico | Published Saturday, September 22, 2018

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Wise As It Was

One of my favorite things in old newspapers is the clothing advertisements.

I like them because they represent what merchants thought women in Wise County might buy at the time. They don’t represent “high fashion,” but are conservative representations of the times.

These conservative examples show the fascinating changes in fashion (at least to me) over the course of the history of the Wise County Messenger.

I have compiled representations from 1888 to 1988, in 10-year increments.

1888 TO 1908

Although most of the illustrations are from advertisements, 1888 and 1898 were taken from stories, as I could find no illustrated advertisements. 1908 is from an advertisement.

In the 1908 illustration, it appears the woman has a sway-back, and there is a reason for that.

Around 1900, corset reformers introduced the “health corset” which was designed to force the torso forward and jut the hips out, giving women a distinctive S-shape. The reformers were trying to alleviate health problems created by corsets, but only succeeded in changing the problems from problems with the stomach to back problems.

There’s not a ton of difference between the three styles. All show women wearing corsets and full-bodied, multi-layered dresses. My main thought when looking at these styles is to wonder how women could stand all these layers in the Texas summer.


1918 brought the war, and with it, conservation. The War Industries Board asked women to stop buying corsets to free up metal for war purposes. The structure of corsets has been made of steel since the 1860s. Skirts were also shortened to conserve fabric.

As a result, there is a dramatic shift between 1908 and 1918. Gone are those unnatural S-shaped women and now we have a freer looking woman, ready for a jaunty walk with her alarmingly sharp walking stick.


The 1928 illustration looks very much like what we associate with flappers, although this is a day dress, not meant for flapper activities. This conservative lady isn’t going to rouge her knees and roll her stockings down.

She is prim while talking on the phone in extremely harsh lighting, casting a huge dramatic shadow on the wall.

The cloche hat she’s wearing was very popular and would remain in fashion through the first of the next decade.

You couldn’t go wrong in 1928 with a cloche hat and “any hour” dress like hers.

1938 TO 1948

From ’28 to ’38 shows another big shift. While the length of skirts stayed higher, shapeliness seemed to return. To compensate for a lack of corset, sleeves grew puffier and skirts were cut to be fuller.

From ’38 to ’48 the differences are less obvious. The ’48 look is slimmer and more tailored. Sleeves are still exaggerated. But the big question is: Who could resist those fabulous victory rolls?


The fashion trends of the 1950s seem to be the most enduring of the 20th century, possibly rivaled by the ’20s.

The war was over and abundance of materials allowed fashion to kick into high gear.

Skirts became fuller and fuller, bringing back the use of petticoats.

Of all the outfits illustrated, the 1958 dress is the most timeless. It wouldn’t look too out of place today, especially if you ditch the petticoat.

1968 TO 1988

Let us all welcome the miniskirt to the party.

By 1968, the pill hats and Chanel suits of Jackie Kennedy were no longer dominating.

The late ’60s were a time of miniskirts – getting more and more mini – bold color and geometric designs.

In 1978, we have a pantsuit. And we can see how much women themselves have changed along with their fashions.

This is the first illustration that doesn’t look like a housewife or single young girl. She is presented as a professsional. She is to be taken seriously, despite the offset bun on the side of her head.

I am old enough to remember the style of 1988. That was the age of big hair, shoulder pads and high waisted pants.

Again we have another example of a non-housewife. This woman has her hip cocked and stands in a position that emphasizes power over femininity.

This exploration into the fashion changes over the last century emphasized to me the changes in the roles of women in society. As they left the realm of stay-at-home wife and mother, their clothes had to accommodate their new activities.

It’s really not practical to climb the steps into the office building in a hobble skirt of the early 20th century.

Joy Carrico is a Messenger graphic artist.

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