Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Studies


Charles F McGovern

Committee Member

Alan C Braddock

Committee Member

Leisa D Meyer

Committee Member

Shirley Wajda


Rural women relied on their knowledge of fabric despite rapid changes in the women’s clothing, textile, and fashion industries. They created narratives of personal and group identity through their lived experience of dress, drawing on textile knowledge to make fabrics serve their distinct needs. Three broadly defined groups interested in the relationship between fabric and female identity played significant roles in shaping textile discourses in the early twentieth century: rural, predominantly white female middle-class consumers, mediators (in the form of home economists, government agencies, and consumer advocacy groups), and business executives in the fashion and textile industries who shaped and directed the production of fabric and clothing. These groups produced different, and at times competing, forms of textile knowledge which shaped discussions and understandings of dress as a lived experience. This dissertation examines three types of fabric – cotton, silk, and rayon – to interrogate the relationships between people and fabric as part of the interconnected processes of production and consumption, as well in connection to trends in changes in taste, aesthetics, and personal presentation. The chapters operate as case studies of a specific fabric, tracing change over time within each chapter. Each chapter considers distinctions between usage while simultaneously tracing how rural women used each textile to gain knowledge and have their perspectives taken seriously.




© The Author

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