Annie Jenness-Miller and Dress Magazine

I’ll be the first to admit that anything older than 1915 is pretty much a mystery to me.  Even so, I’m fully aware of the debt that modern dressing owes to the efforts of those far-sighted individuals of the 19th century that worked to “reform” women’s dress.  I was happy last week when Susan Grote introduced me to the work of Annie Jenness-Miller.  To quote Susan:

“Annie Jenness Miller (b. 1859) was a leader in the American Dress Reform Movement and the Aesthetic Dress Movement in the late 1800s. An author and platform speaker, she advocated exercise for women, less restrictive clothing, and education and careers for women, among other radical ideas, while trying to incorporate aesthetically pleasing designs in her reform dress clothing. In addition to her books & lectures, she published Dress Magazine, which was briefly called The Jenness-Miller Magazine Dress, and then simply The Jenness-Miller Magazine.  Jenness-Miller also began selling patterns for her aesthetic / reform dresses and underwear for women and girls.”

All the illustrations here are from 1888 and 1890 copies of the magazine.  Susan has a bound volume of the issues for sale now on ebay.   She has shared a few items of interest that I’m sure you will enjoy.  All the illustrations click to enlarge.

How many women in 1890 do you suppose were employed as geologists, or even had rock collecting as a hobby?    In Annie Jenness-Miller’s world, healthier clothing led to one’s horizons being expanded.

“The business worker finds in her bicycle ride, to and from her place of occupation, opportunity for exercise which calls into play every muscle, and which refreshes every nerve and fibre of her being. Her bicycle gown, if it is a Jenness-Miller one, allows freedom to every movement, and she rides as easily and with as much absence of consciousness regarding her style of dress as any man upon his iron steed.” – April, 1890.

 Jenness-Miller was also concerned about healthy clothing for children.  In an article called “What the Little Folks Should Wear” she wrote, “A child should be dressed from the moment of its birth with reference to its physical needs….[in] garments … which restrict as little as possible the growing body…. Yet a little maiden of eight years was recently heard complaining that she could not get down on the floor to play, her corset was so tight.”

Annie Jenness-Miller advocated the wearing of a union suit for underwear.  She explained that the union suit would keep a woman warm and permit her to wear fewer garments overall.

Jenness-Miller was a dress reformer, but she did not completely reject fashion.  In this dress from 1890 you can see how the effect of a bustle is created through folded and draped fabric.  And while she advocated the demise of the corset, she did devise an under-bodice that was lightly boned to maintain a more fashionable shape.

The Isa dress from 1890 was appropriate for tennis with the looser bodice and shaped sleeves.

To see more of the illustrations, check out the ebay listing. And many thanks to Susan for sharing this great magazine.


Filed under Proper Clothing

18 responses to “Annie Jenness-Miller and Dress Magazine

  1. I have to admit, I think the clothing here is beautiful; however, I am thankful that the matter was settled long ago that women could wear clothing more suitable to the task (especially bike riding). And I cannot imagine my kids not being able to get down to play, because the corset was too tight!! On a lighthearted note, we are so far removed from this kind of clothing…that my kids love to *play* dress up in that way…. making long, flowy skirts out of anything they can find, including an old feather tick comforter!


    • That’s an interesting thought about your kids loving to play dress up. I think historical dress appeals on so many levels, but I agree that I love having not to wear the often constricting clothing of the past.


  2. “Like a winged thing she vaulted to her wheel and was off.” Love it! I’ve reminded just today that I’ve gotten so accustomed to not wearing painful clothing – especially shoes – that we have it so much better than the ladies before us.


  3. I also love that “winged thing” quote! How fascinating! Looking at the pics on eBay, these dresses look more flowing and elegant than the exaggerated shapes of fashion at that time. I especially love the “Cleopatra” dress, the “Sappho House Gown” and the one on the bottom left of the 5th image on eBay.


  4. Christina

    I am very interested in the Dress Reform Movement so thank you for this. Regarding rock collecting as a hobby – it was a very popular pastime, as was fossil collecting during the Victorian period. Women geologists were breaking new ground (sorry about the play on words) and challenging male domination in that field. The chap in the blazer stands no chance.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Teresa

    I love the bicycling picture and the quote to go along with it.


  6. Yes the dress reform women are my heroes, though a lot of guff is written about corset wearing, but I do love the sporting attire that heads this post, I must make that bloomer suit!


  7. Thank you for this! I’m reading a series of novel from the 1910s where the main character seems to have absorbed a lot of these ideas. There’s always more to discover, isn’t there?


  8. Susan

    Thank you, Lizzie, for helping to spread the word about Annie Jenness-Miller and her magazine. I do hope someone with an interest in researching dress reform — or a library that’s able to put it online or make it available for research — now knows that this bound volume exists. It belongs to a friend who had to move to Alzheimer care; it was a great relief to her to know that her vintage clothing collection & library were finding homes where they would be appreciated, thanks to the internet. Since there were no comparable items online, I initially priced this volume at the amount she paid for it years ago. But we do want it to find a good home. (I think her daughter still has some individual copies of the magazine, too. I could ask, if anyone is interested.) I can be contacted through the EBay listing.


  9. There were indeed women geologists in 1890, as Christina pointed out. I got a link to an article about Florence Bascom, a pioneering woman geologist. Thanks to Lynn Mally and her sister for the link.

    Click to access gt98feb8_9.pdf


  10. Pingback: Jenness-Miller Rational Dress Underwear for Women | witness2fashion

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