It has often been said that the way you dress says something about you and your believes, and the political campaigners of the late 19th and early 20th century were certainly examples of this adage. Nell Darby takes a look at how the suffragettes combined style with substance.

We have journalist Charles Hands to thank for the term “suffragette”. Writing in the Daily Mail in 1906, he coined the term as a derogatory way of describing the more militant women campaigning for women’s suffrage – the right to vote. Prior to that, the women involved in the movementwhich had existed since the middle of the 19th century, were described as “suffragists”. Despite Hands’ attempts to denigrate the movement, suffragettes are today remembered with respect and admiration for their attempts to improve womens’ political and economic situation.

Perhaps the most famous suffragettes were the Pankhurst women, mother Emmeline and daughters Christabel and Sylvia, who became involved with the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies around the turn of the 20th century. In 1903, they set up the Women’s Social and Political Union. Suffragettes such as the Pankhursts fought for their rights without losing their femininity or style. In fact, a specifically suffragette style of dress and accessorising developed over time, and adopting some of this style today will give a political edge to your vintage look.

1Like political parties, the suffragette movement adopted colours to represent its mission. Unlike the single colour used by each of our parties today though, the Suffragettes used three, each symbolising an aspect of the movement. Purple represented freedom and dignity, white stood for purity and green for hope. Jewellery was created in the suffragette colours, featuring gemstones such as amethyst, moonstone or emerald. Gold, white metal and violet was also used because the initials of the three elements – G, W and V – also stood for Give Women Votes and so wearing an item of jewellery could act as a code which other women could instantly recognise and appreciate.

Wearing a brooch in the suffragette colours would have added a touch of brightness and frivolity to the average suffragette’s image; their clothing would have been plain and simple, in dark colours to symbolise their seriousness of purpose. In the pre-First World War years, the fussiness of women’s clothing as seen in late Victorian or Edwardian society, was replaced with far more practical clothes. Three-quarter length straight coats, worn single breasted with a small collar were popular and worn above a fitted blouse with small upright collar and blouson sleeves with tight cuffs with an A-line skirt reaching to the mid-calf.

Suffragette_Cab_Brooch_MAt this time, accessories would include perhaps black laced boots with a kitten heel, a cloche style hat, clutch bag, and gloves. Original Suffragette jewellery is much in demand, but examples can be found in auctions. A 1908 suffragette brooch in gold was recently on eBay for £100; an amethyst-set bangle can be bought for around £25.

An alternative to suffragette jewellery is the suffrage button; women sympathetic to the cause would sometimes wear a lapel button. Conversely, though, some would wear a button to show their antipathy towards the movement. An original example of either is rare and therefore expensive if found for sale. However, to show solidarity with our suffragette ancestors, you may also want to buy some Suffragette memorabilia, which can be a bit more affordable.

An anti-suffragette comic postcard can be yours for £10, look for an original or copy of The Suffragette publication edited by Christabel Pankhurst. When the First World War started in 1914, the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies decided to suspend its political activities, but still managed to successfully negotiate for the release of militant suffragettes from prison. In 1918, the Qualification of Women Act was passed, which gave the vote to some women. Ten years later, all women were allowed to vote on the same terms as men.

3 Responses

  1. Leonore

    My grandfather Giovanni Lanzillotti designed a long loose cape made in various colors for women to be identified according to region or organization for the Suffragettes in 1913. How can I find more information pertaining to this subject.

    Sincerely, Leonore

  2. Onesies

    You actually make it appear really easy together with your presentation but I find this matter to be actually something that I feel I would by no means understand. It seems too complicated and very huge for me. I’m looking forward for your subsequent post, I will attempt to get the hold of it!

  3. Mama Hep

    “Suffragettes such as the Pankhursts fought for their rights without losing their femininity or style. In fact, a specifically suffragette style of dress and accessorising developed over time, and adopting some of this style today will give a political edge to your vintage look.”

    I love you Q of V, but this is distasteful.