Checking bathing costume hemlines

Up until the 1930s beach regulations in America, Australia, Europe and elsewhere prohibited females from showing too much bare flesh.


Stylish Flapper

An unknown stylish young women of the 1920s posing in elegant Flapper fashion. Her short, sleeveless dress and bobbed hair were the fashion signifiers of the new woman who challenged the old social rules about what a woman should and should not wear.

The New Woman and Snapshot Photography – Nicola Goc

The “new woman” emerged at the end of the nineteenth century at a time when the last stages of the long struggle for suffrage and equality were being played out alongside the advent of new forms of transport, work opportunities, and the establishment of new entertainment industries that allowed women to visually occupy the world in ways unthinkable a generation earlier. 

The “new woman” label, originally a referent for middle-class women, quickly became relevant to all women who challenged patriarchal structures and entered public life. American feminist, Winnifred Harper Cooley, claimed in 1904 that the ‘finest achievement of the new woman has been personal liberty’.  ‘This,’ she said, ‘is the foundation of civilization’.[1]  Part of that personal liberty was the right to financial independence and in America between 1910 and 1920 the number of women working in clerical and sales work, previously the domain of men, increased from 17% to 30% and by 1930 there were almost two million women employed as secretaries, typists and file clerks and another 70,000 as saleswomen.[2] Similar patterns occurred across the UK, Australasia and Canada.

At the same moment as women were gaining new freedoms and claiming a visual place in the world outside of the home the first affordable, roll–film hand–held camera was launched in 1888 by George Eastman at Kodak. This roll-film technology transformed photography from an activity that required technical and chemistry skills to one in which anyone could participate and led to new ways of visually communicating lived experiences that placed the snapshot photograph at the centre of social discourse. Images of women had ‘traditionally been the province and property of men’[3] but snapshot photography offered women the power to produce and control their visual representation. Annette Kuhn argues that looking at a photograph ‘may turn into contemplation, even into voyeurism. The voyeur’s pleasure’ she argues, ‘depends on the object of this look being unable to see him and to this extent, it is a pleasure of power, and the look a controlling one’.[4] The advent of snapshot photography saw the power dynamic in the production of photographic representation shift from the male as producer and as consumer and voyeur to the female as producer, as subject and as consumer, transforming the way females understood their visual corporeal presence in the world. – Nicola Goc.

[1] Winnifred Harper Cooley (1904) The New Womanhood, New York: Broadway publishing company p. 31

[2] W. H. Chafe (1991) The paradox of change: American women in the 20th century. New York: Oxford University Press pp. 65-71)

[3] Annette Kuhn (1985) The Power of the Image: Essays on Representation and Sexuality (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul), p.10.

[4] Ibid p.28.