Annie Jenness-Miller was a strong advocate for “Rational Dress” for women, and, with her sister, Mabel Jenness, wrote and published her own magazine, called Dress, probably beginning in 1887. [The title and dating of early issues was erratic, but I am assuming that, since Volume 4 began with January of 1890, Volume 2, January-February dates to 1888. The masthead of Volume II offered “the entire first volume of Dress, thirteen numbers” for seventy-five cents plus postage. By January 0f 1890, the dating clearly was established, and most pages were numbered.]
Several years ago, I was selling a bound volume of Jenness-Miller’s Dress for a friend. It included January-February of “Volume II,” and January through June of of Volume IV. At the time I had no idea of blogging, so I did not label my photos with year, month and page number. I just tried to photograph “selling points.”
Recently a scholar tracked me down and asked for more specific information. When I checked my photo files, I realized that, because I had photographed all the Tables of Contents, I could reconstruct Volume numbers, pages and dates for many items.
As often happens with the internet — at least to me — I find something online, and then discover, months or years later, that I can’t get the same search results a second time. I thought that this underwear article by Annie Jenness-Miller had been posted online in its entirety — but now I can’t find it, so, for the benefit of scholars, I’m reprinting it. And, since WordPress seems to lose files bigger than 500 dpi on the longest side after I post them, I have reprinted the text and pictures from those two pages shown at the top of this post, but broken them up into legible segments.
Here is the article “Underwear for Women,” from The Jenness-Miller Magazine Dress, Vol. II, Jan-Feb, (probably 1888,) pp. 181-82. [Added 8/19/16: You can also find the article, in full page photos that can be enlarged to readable scale, at witness2fashion.com. ]
[I don’t know how a woman wearing a “Union Suit,” under a “Chemilette,” under “Turkish Leglettes,” manages to go to the bathroom. Journalistic standards of the day may have prevented discussing this. In a different article [March 1890, page 136] Jenness-Miller felt the need to remind her readers that many women “would be shocked to use the strong, refined, and proper term, leg” so explaining the convenience of drop flaps and buttoned crotches may have been impossible. The Jenness-Miller garments do not appear to be crotchless, as many ladies’ bloomers were.]
Annie-Jenness Miller wrote frequent editorials in Dress, extolling her patterns and expounding her theories. She believed that women needed to exercise to develop graceful, healthy bodies that would not need the support of corsets, and her magazine published regular articles on “Physical Culture.”
“By freeing and bringing into action the muscles at the waist renewed life is given to all bodily functions.”
She also realized that most women would like to wear comfortable and practical clothing, but without looking noticeably out of fashion, so many of her patterns look very similar to chic clothing of the day. This is “the Helene” (her dress patterns were often given names, rather than numbers, like couture.)
Miller did not want her customers to be ridiculed, as women who wore 1850’s “Bloomer” clothing had been. Jenness-Miller’s followers wore her petticoat replacement, “Turkish leglettes,” under their dress — invisibly — rather than wearing a divided dress — except for really strenuous sports, like mountain climbing. Below, Jenness-Miller “Outing Costumes” from April 1890 are — from left to right — “For Geologists and Mountain Climbing,” “Riding Habit,” “Yachting,” and “Lawn Tennis.”
I’ll publish another of her complete articles later, but for now, if you want to know more about Annie Jenness-Miller and Dress, I recommend these sites:
Annie Jenness Miller: Dress Reform, from Dress, 1888
Dress Improvement, by Mrs. Jenness Miller, in A Celebration of Women Writers
Aesthetic Dress (for an overview of 19th century dress reform movements, with a useful bibliography)
and, of course, The Vintage Traveler’s post about Mrs. Jenness-Miller, where you will see bigger images and more quotations.
Incidentally, one reason it’s hard to find articles about Jenness-Miller online is that hyphen! Search both with and without it.
7 responses to “Jenness-Miller Rational Dress Underwear for Women”
Thanks for this!
Yet another fascinating and well research post – magnificent, thank you.
Yes, rational dress took a long time to catch on. It was not popular at first, which is why rational dress designers tried to make it look fashionable. There is, IMHO a lot of deep psychology bubbling away here. Logically, middle and upper class women should have welcomed rational dress – ease of movement, no tight corsets etc. Rational dress attacked 2 deeply held 19 century values.
First, middle and upper class women should be as ornamental as possible – unmarried women wanted to catch the rich husband, married women wanted to enhance their husband’s social standing. Therefore women accepted the tight restricting fashions of the time. The more restricting the dress, the tighter the corset – the more a woman was ornamental.
Second, rational dress was seen as “mannish”. Today we accept unisex clothes, but not in 19 cent! Women did not want to be seen as remotely looking life a man, and men did not want their God given position in society usurped by women.
A couple of asides…….
….I’ve done some costuming work for UK schools where, especially boarding schools, were single sex. This gives a bit of a problem for the school play. In the 19C it was ok for men/boys to dress as women characters on stage without raising an eyebrow. It was not considered right for girls to dress as men – showing legs, even thighs! Therefore there are many school plays written in the 19c with all women characters, avoiding the need for girls to dress as men.
….There are parallels between rational dress and tampons (ok to talk about it here?). Tampons were also very slowly accepted by women. One reason was that girls were brought up to believe periods *had* to be difficult, and anything to make them easier was wrong. Ditto rational dress….fashion was not easy to wear, but it was wrong to make it easier.
Thanks for the UK background. I suspect tampon use, like riding horseback astride instead of side-saddle, was also discouraged because of concerns about preserving a girl’s virginity. Right now, in California, we are trying to pass legislation to remove sales tax from women’s hygiene products; as mentioned in the Los Angeles Times, there is no sales tax on candy bars or movie tickets, but there is currently a sales tax on tampons and pads — as if movie tickets and candy were necessities of life, but these necessary products were not. Incidentally, Laurence Olivier’s boys’ school performance as Kate in Taming of the Shrew was remembered in his obituary (Click here. He was 14.)
…;just another little comment.
I really like the picture from the book showing a lady doing spinal twist exercises. We can do that today and no one would comment .
Many women readers at the time would have been shocked at the suggestion that she should do that…so unladylike! You could not do that exercise in a well boned corset – thus providing proof of the moral and physical need of a corset.
Sometimes it’s really difficult to see the 19 century through 19 century eyes? I try, but I’m sure I get it wrong sometimes.
One of the founders of the Rational Dress Movement in Britain was Vicountess Harberton. Middle class and upper-class women did support the movement and it dovetailed and formed part of the growth of women’s rights and votes for women c1897 but there was tremendous adverse publicity which played into the social conventions of the time.
Thank you — I just found a reference to Lady Harberton in a long editorial by Annie Jenness-Miller (March 1890) which I have posted at witness2fashion.com. I’m curious about Lady Harberton’s “divided skirt,” which Jenness-Miller describes as “kilted.” I just enjoyed an article about Lady Harberton, wearing her cycling outfit, being refused service by a (female) innkeeper. I hope to learn more about her.
Pingback: Annie Jenness-Miller’s Editorial, Dress, March 1890 | witness2fashion