Demure to Deviant : Ladylike Fashion in the Twentieth Century

There are many meanings and uses of the term “ladylike”. Ladylike as a concept can be defined through the language of fashion but it can also be used as a moral or religious standard. Ladylike is a contextual idea. Within the fields of fashion studies and the commercial industry of fashion “ladylike” has varied meanings depending on the context in which it is visually presented. Within the fashion industry itself, the concept of ladylike can be presented in a somewhat straightforward “modernized traditional way” as in the “new classic” available at the US based retailer Talbots or deconstructed as a concept and presented in a self referential way such as French couture house of Dior had shown on the runway and in print advertisements throughout the tenure of creative director John Galliano. Additionally, defining ladylike in terms of fashion can be problematic as its visual signifiers change rapidly over time. Rules of etiquette and appearance relax and bend and sometimes come full circle when they are concerned with sartorial acceptability within a given group or society.

According to Vogues Book of Etiquette, even though decorum, which in the above quotation can be presumed to mean “rules of fashion”, may have relaxed from the early decades of the twentieth century, but at the time of publication, deviating from the norm when dressing was still considered offensive, indiscriminate and exhibitionistic.