Skip to main content
Select Source:

Shirtwaist

Shirtwaist

The shirtwaist was a tailored blouse or shirt worn mainly by working-class women in the early years of the twentieth century. The shirtwaist was often worn with a fitted or looser A-line long skirt. Sometimes it was worn with a "tailor-made," which was a skirt-and-jacket suit. The shirtwaist had a rounded neck or came with a tailored collar. Many buttoned up the back, and women who could not reach behind them had to call upon a husband or female family member to close the tiny buttons.

The advantages of wearing shirtwaists were many. Shirtwaists emphasized a natural waistline to give a flattering look to the figure. They allowed freedom of movement. The garments were manufactured in volume and therefore were affordable. They were relatively small items and could be washed by hand in a sink or washbowl and ironed quickly.

Even though many women wore corsets underneath shirtwaists to maintain sculptured figures, the shirtwaist was a liberating item of clothing. It took the place of the stiff, tight, high-collared bodices of the nineteenth century.

By the early 1910s cotton shirtwaists were worn by hundreds of thousands of working women. Through the decade the garment changed according to fashion trends. Early shirtwaists featured pleats in the shoulders that reflected the puffy-shouldered Gibson girl look popularized in the sketches of American artist and fashion illustrator Charles Dana Gibson (18671944). By 1914 shirtwaists had less rigid puff shoulders and often were worn untucked so that some fabric flowed below the natural waist. That look later made way for the dropped-waist dresses of the 1920s.

Shirtwaists worn by housewives and female factory workers usually were solid white cotton blouses with simple pleating that allowed for mobility. Shirtwaists also served as garments of women office workers, or even as dressier fare. Better quality daytime shirt-waists were made of fine cotton, silk, or linen. Fancier shirtwaists could be part of evening outfits. These more decorative garments often were custom sewn. They featured such fabrics as silk, laces, taffeta, and sateen and some displayed lively patterns.

Because the shirtwaist was primarily a working woman's blouse, it most commonly was manufactured as ready-to-wear clothing. One of the factories that produced this item was the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City. In 1911 this factory entered history books as a place of infamy when it burned down. Lacking any safety codes to protect workers, the disaster resulted in the deaths of 146 female workers. The disaster led to a major upgrade in safety regulations for factory workers.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Ballentine, Michael. "Those Glorious Gibson Girls." Town and Country (May 1983): 194-204.

Gibson, Charles Dana, and H. C. Pitz. The Gibson Girl and Her America. New York: Dover, 1969.

Kheel Center, Cornell University Library. The Triangle Factory Fire. http://www.ilr.cornell.edu/trianglefire (accessed on August 18, 2003).

Lieurance, Suzanne. The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and Sweatshop Reform in American History. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow, 2003.

Snyder-Haug, Diane. Antique & Vintage Clothing: A Guide to Dating and Valuation of Women's Clothing, 18501940. Paducah, KY: Collector Books, 1997.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Shirtwaist." Fashion, Costume, and Culture: Clothing, Headwear, Body Decorations, and Footwear through the Ages. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Feb. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Shirtwaist." Fashion, Costume, and Culture: Clothing, Headwear, Body Decorations, and Footwear through the Ages. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 24, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/fashion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/shirtwaist

"Shirtwaist." Fashion, Costume, and Culture: Clothing, Headwear, Body Decorations, and Footwear through the Ages. . Retrieved February 24, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/fashion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/shirtwaist

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

shirtwaist

shirt·waist / ˈshərtˌwāst/ • n. a woman's blouse that resembles a shirt. ∎  (also shirt·waist dress or shirt·waist·er) a woman's dress with a seam at the waist, its bodice incorporating a collar and buttons in the style of a shirt.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"shirtwaist." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Feb. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"shirtwaist." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 24, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/shirtwaist-0

"shirtwaist." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved February 24, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/shirtwaist-0

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

shirtwaist

shirtwaistbarefaced, baste, boldfaced, chaste, haste, lambaste, paste, po-faced, red-faced, self-faced, shamefaced, smooth-faced, strait-laced, taste, unplaced, untraced, waist, waste •toothpaste • foretaste • aftertaste •shirtwaist

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"shirtwaist." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Feb. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"shirtwaist." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 24, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/shirtwaist

"shirtwaist." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved February 24, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/shirtwaist

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.