Fashioning Feminism: How Clothes Made the Movement

By Claudine Zap.

I know it's hard to believe, but when I wake up in the morning and pull on a pair of jeans and a top as my uniform for that day, I am making a political statement. Just think about it: Women in this country, American women, wore corsets, bustles, and girdles as their get-up. And that was only a century ago. Liberating? How can you be free when you can't freely breathe?

A show that closes on August 15 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art deserves a last look. If you never got to catch it, don't worry. You can get a close-up with the video below and check out a Flickr slide show.

The exhibit got tons of press when it opened this spring because the gala was hosted by none other than Oprah Winfrey, and boasts an audio tour narrated by style icon Sarah Jessica Parker. But the show is a testament to how fashion reflected the enduring strength, drive, and bravery of the American woman. Let's take a look...

While the show opens on the bejeweled formal look of the turn of last century, the next look of the 1890s shows the "Gibson Girl" expanding her freedom of movement with looser skirts to support her sporty moves: a woolen bathing costume (which as my mom pointed out when we viewed the show, would easily have drowned anyone wearing it in the water), tennis whites, women on bikes, women on skates, women astride horses. Still in corsets.

Next up, the Bohemian. Women showing their arty side finally lose the corset. It's a loser look, paired with lots of shoes (can we talk?). Then the age of the Suffragist, who marched for -- and won -- the right to vote. With the political movement comes the Flapper, in shorter frocks that de-emphasized the bod but made it easy to dance the Charleston while knocking back bootlegged liquor.

Finally, the glamor that brought in modern-day Hollywood with screen sirens like Rita Hayworth and Greta Garbo. Now all eyes were on the American woman -- and fashion really had nothing to do with it.

See video of the fashion installation here.