Skirts went up and shoes came out
If you picture a woman dressed in Victorian apparel, a long dress or skirt gently grazing the ground probably comes to mind. And as elegant as that look was, it was also pretty disgusting when you think about it. Any time women left their homes, they were walking on streets full of garbage, human and animal waste, and general dirt and grime. This left the bottom of their dresses filthy.
Once people had a better understanding of how infectious diseases spread, these long, trailing skirts were also seen as unhealthy, given that the wearer could literally sweep dirt and germs into a home. As a result, hemlines began to come up. And when that happened, women’s shoes were on display for the first time, meaning that footwear became an essential part of fashion, instead of simply something functional.
There was an emphasis on getting fresh air
Back in the day, most people thought that infectious diseases were spread by ‘miasmas’ or poisonous vapours that could invade a human body and make a person ill. At that point, there was fear surrounding ‘bad air’ that could come into your home and bring disease with it. But once germ theory became widely accepted and replaced concern over miasmas, the attitude toward fresh air changed dramatically. Before antibiotics were used to treat conditions like tuberculosis beginning in the 1940s and 1950s, doctors prescribed fresh air and sunlight as cures. As a result, there were public-health campaigns urging people to open their windows.
The 1918 flu pandemic brought more women into the workforce
World War II is typically credited with bringing women out of the home and into the workplace, but before that the 1918 flu pandemic had a similar effect. Between men fighting World War I and falling ill with influenza, there was a shortage of manufacturing workers, and women filled that void. By 1920 – at which point World War I had come to an end and the influenza pandemic had calmed down – women made up 21 per cent of all gainfully employed individuals in most Western countries. The impact went beyond simply having more women in the workforce: because of their indispensable role filling traditionally male jobs during the pandemic, women had more leverage when seeking equal pay and the right to vote.
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