“It is not to be questioned that all women, without regard to social position, or lack of it, would rather be comfortable than uncomfortable, and the woman who does not wish to look well is sadly out of balance with the beautiful laws of God and Nature.” — Annie Jenness-Miller, in Dress, March 1890.
Annie Jenness-Miller explained her ideas about reforming women’s dress in lectures, in books, and, repeatedly, in her magazine, Dress. This three-page editorial appeared in March, 1890. I will type out some quotations, and add some illustrations from the same issue of Dress magazine. I will run the entire text of her “Editorial Comment” at the bottom of this post. If you would like to read the complete pages in full screen, I have posted them at witness2fashion.com. Just click on the image of the page and then select the full-screen view.On page 135 she writes, “Dress reform is scarcely the work in which we are engaged, for the idea is less of reform than of physical evolution and development, and the consequent scientific clothing of the body.”
“For the most part, women wear too many garments…. With the Jenness-Miller system we endeavor to get the essential warmth with fewer garments, and the correct adaptation to the human shape and form….” To see and read about her Reform Underwear — click here.
On page 136, Jenness-Miller explains that Jenness-Miller Patterns, which could be ordered from the magazine, do not constrict the waist, because the garments are constructed upon the “gown-form, which gets rid of the band about the waist” instead of “the usual skirt lining ending at the waist on a belt.”
To show what she was criticizing, here are some typical late 1800’s outfits which have separate skirts and bodices. The weight of a fully lined bustle dress, like this one, which would usually be worn over drawers, a petticoat, a bustle cage, and another petticoat, all hanging from the wearer’s waist, could give you quite a backache. Jenness-Miller was an American; in England, rational dress advocate Lady Florence Harberton complained that no woman should have to wear undergarments that weighed more than seven pounds.
In the two-piece outfit below, which is somewhat later than the Jenness-Miller magazine, the weight of the skirt — or raising your arms — could create a problem, since the bodice does not come down over the hips to cover the waistband at all times, causing “gaposis.”
The problem of “gaposis” [a 20th century advertising term] was solved by attaching hooks and loops:
“The gown form is the lining of the outside skirt, just as the usual skirt lining is the foundation upon which the outside material is made. In the ordinary fashionable gown the lining and material hang upon the hip, abdomen, and back, from a belt; in the Jenness-Miller system the lining extends upward into a low-necked, sleeveless waist [i.e., under-bodice], the dress material only ending at the waistline, sewed firmly to the foundation, and with a tape covering the raw edges. This arrangement does not suspend the weight from the shoulders, but instead, compels each member to carry its own weight.”
I interpret this to mean that “the dress material only” ends at the waistline, while the gown-form/lining continues down inside the skirt from shoulders to hem, spreading the weight of the fabrics. Some, but by no means all, of the Jenness-Miller patterns look like a “dress” rather than a skirt and bodice.
Following are some Jenness-Miller patterns from Dress, Vol IV, March 1890, the same issue which featured her three-page editorial.
The fact that the skirt lining extended to the shoulders is not obvious from the outside of the dresses.
Alas, I have only a fragment about the Jenness-Miller gown-form from elsewhere in the magazine:
My guess at the missing parts is:
Calling a Leg a Leg
“What these women really need to learn is not to sit on the end of the spine with the back curved outward….”
Casting light on the prudery of her era, on page 136 Annie Jenness-Miller’s editorial criticizes women “who would be shocked to use the strong, refined, and proper term, leg, in speaking of these useful and necessary members,” but who “will, in a thoughtless and unguarded moment, from habit, sit in a parlor with legs crossed in a manner to display the undergarments and attract unpleasant attention.” (Those shockable women called their legs “members” or “nether limbs.”)
The Jenness-Miller School for Physical Culture
On page 137, the editor discusses her “Jenness-Miller School for Physical Culture.” She believed that women would be able to do without corsets if they strengthened the muscles of the abdomen through exercise, giving “nature’s own corsets, the floating ribs, room and freedom for proper play.” (Dress had pages of exercises for women illustrated in regular articles called “Physical Culture.”)
“The three-fold object of our system is the possession of grace, strength, and beauty…. No exercises will be allowed which sacrifice grace to strength…. Ease and freedom in motion will be taught by a variety of movements [including dance.] “Fencing, so admirably adapted to develop and fortify the chest, as well as to give agility and precision to movement, will be taught by Monsieur Senac, who has no rival in this art.”
“A form of Greek gown will be used in lieu of the suit ordinarily worn in athletic practice. This will fall loosely from the shoulder in graceful lines which will reveal the movements of the legs.”
Here is the full text, beginning with the left column on page 135:
End of page 137. These three pages of Editorial Comment were not illustrated, since the garments referred to had been described in earlier issues of the magazine. Monsieur Regis Senac ran a fencing school in New York. Carl Marwig was a dance teacher and Broadway choreographer.