The shirtwaist: Changing the commerce of fashion | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 5, Issue 1
  • ISSN: 2050-0726
  • E-ISSN: 2050-0734



The introduction of ready-to-wear shirtwaists in the 1890s was a beginning point for significant growth in the women’s apparel industry. The almost universal acceptance of waists by women at all economic levels initially both shaped and was shaped by the organization of the men’s shirt and collar trade. These companies recognized sales potential and, as one of the most organized segments of the industry, had the capabilities to produce in large quantity. However, with seemingly unquenchable demand, competition escalated quickly. It soon became an industry characterized by rapid growth, style competition and style piracy. The incredible profusion of styles at every quality level and price point also altered how retailers marketed ready-towear, and facilitated changes in women’s perceptions of fashion. As they wholeheartedly adopted the shirtwaist in its many variations, it appeared to be a democratic style desired and worn by all women, consumers who understood and demanded access to fashion.


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