A to Z

This section explores an A-Z of the themes that reoccur throughout the images that we gathered for this project. 

F is for Fashion

Images of the future in the long-nineteenth-century of expressed their anxieties about changing roles – particular gender roles – through the medium of fashion. In this entry one of our student researchers, Maya Kerslake, explores some of the images produced by Otho Cushing in which fashion played a key role in signifying potential future transformations.

The first of Otho Cushing’s ‘In 1920’ image was published in Life on the 30th of May 1912 and captioned ‘Governess O’Toole of New York and Her Suite Visiting a Girl-Of-War’. The image depicts a female governor saluting another female soldier in charge; they are surrounded by many female soldiers, all dressed in traditionally masculine military uniforms. The illustration envisions a female takeover of masculine roles. Again, the late 19th and early 20th centuries saw a gender shift for women in America; Annemarie Strassel has described how Amelia Bloomer’s ‘bloomerite costume’ of wide-legged trousers worn by women implied social reform alongside fashion reform. Cushing may have been highlighting any masculine insecurity associated with women’s movement towards traditionally masculine roles and attire. Indeed, set only eight years into the future from 1912, Cushing imagines a New York military team completely transformed into women in trousers with weapons. As close as possible to the present for many Americans at the time – and notable due to Life’s popularity and publication in New York City – ‘In 1920’ satirises what may have been a dystopia to some people.

The second ‘In 1920’ image, released in the November 21st 1912 issue of Life, imagines ‘Governess O’Toole’ commanding an all-female selection of soldiers at the historical West Point military academy in New York. Most of the female soldiers are dressed in military uniforms with trousers and many stand in line, ostensibly reporting for duty. ‘Governess O’Toole’ smiles and smokes a cigar as she watches the soldiers; an explosion is depicted in the background, with the soldiers acting out a ‘drill’.  At the same time as women’s fashion changed, women had also started gaining an increased amount of education and independence. Between 1900 and 1910, as pointed out by Mary E. Cookingham, the number of women holding university degrees in the United States rose by 60%. With more women gaining higher educations and academic professions, Cushing’s satirical predictions that women may have taken male authority positions in 1920 can be validated in fact.Our final image from Otho Cushing, published in the December 10th 1914 issue of Life proposes a future of revealing fashion and alternating gender roles in the 1914 illustration ‘“Weren’t They Funny?”’. Leaning freely on each other, a man and a woman wear small Grecian-style garments which do not cover the entirety of their bodies. The woman’s hair is exaggerated as she smokes from a pipe; the man wears a large feathered hat and his skin is covered with many coloured images, perhaps representing tattoos. They both stare at pictures of men and women in traditionally gendered attire of the 1910s, captioned ‘1914’. This illustration perhaps embodies fears or anticipations about the future amid changing women’s fashion and the ‘New Woman’ movement in the late 1890s. Christopher Harrity notes that Cushing was known for his style of ‘social criticism’.Therefore, he may have been aware of the way women’s fashion had become more masculinised – the rise of trousers in sportswear, for example, inspired an exploration of fashion that was not defined by gender.

Otho Cushing, ‘Weren’t they funny?’, Life, 10th December 1914, p. 349