Often the subject of intense debate, fashion both registered the most pressing issues of the day and provoked them. In prewar America, the length of a dress, the color of a man's shirt, the size of a hat, and the height of a pair of shoes brought to the surface the country's ongoing concern with womanliness, gentlemanliness, and "Americanness," as it focused attention on the health of the nation and the state of its soul. Far from being a mere flourish of history, fashion was the most literal expression of who we were as a nation.

Fashions for women in the American 1920s generated heated controversy and obsessive concern about what the world was coming to, and dress reformers took aim at fashion from several vantage points.

The dress-reform movements of the nineteenth century failed. After the moralizing sermons and pamphlets on the unhealthful wickedness of corsets, after zealous demonstrations against the skirts that swept the farmyards of America, and after the careful design and presentation of alternative styles of clothing, little changed. In the first two decades of the twentieth century, women still wore corsets, their stirts still dragged in the filth of the street, and their clothing still prevented them from moving easily. At the beginning of the twentieth century, in brief, women's clothing still identified them as the weaker sex and as the property of men. But by the end of World War I, all this was beginning to change. A revolution in dress

occurred, seemingly spontaneously, as American women invested their energies in new forms of work and pleasure, and dressed to fit the requirements of job or play.

Everybody had a stake in the changes that were in the air in the early part of the century; and almost everybody made suggestions, ranting for or against the tidal wave of new styles of clothing and of living. This discourse was multifaceted. Many argued about women's dress from a moral standpoint, a preoccupation that surfaces in more anti-fashion discourse. Several other considerations as well, including medical, economic, and aesthetic concerns arose as well. The variety of opinions expressed on these matters seems infinite. Young, old, male, female, sanctimonious, or irreverent, many Americans felt the need to announce publicly what they felt women should or should not be able to wear.