The shirtwaist, a buttoned blouse styled like a man's shirt, became popular in the late 19th century. Worn tucked into a skirt, the shirtwaist blouse freed women from the earlier, more confining, corsets and bustles. Because it afforded the wearer greater freedom of movement, the shirtwaist became a favorite in the workplace. By the early 20th century, it had become the symbol of the 'New Woman.' An athlete, a garment worker, a professional -- perhaps even a voter -- the wearer of the shirtwaist was an independent woman who took a more visible role in public life than did earlier generations. This blouse and skirt combination gave rise to the shirtwaist dress, a single piece that consists of a shirtwaist bodice and full skirt. A practical wardrobe staple, the shirtwaist dress remains a lovely emblem of the independent woman into the 21st century.
Illustrations (L to R): Shirtwaist dress for the working woman, Charm Magazine, January 1954, via Rochester Institute of Technology Library; Shirtwaist dress in Under the Birches by Albert Edelfelt, 1881; Gibson Girl golfer in School Days, 1899 by Charles Dana Gibson; Women garment workers wearing shirtwaist blouses, ca 1900, from Kheel Center, Cornell University; the first nurses in the US Navy, known as the 'Sacred Twenty,' 1908, U.S. Naval Historical Center; Lady Liberty congratulates the American woman on her newly won right to vote, drawing by Charles Dana Gibson, Life Magazine cover, October 28, 1920, Anikka Becker Collection; Cotton organdy shirtwaist dress, designer Addie Masters, 1950s