Looking Flash: Disreputable Women's Dress and 'Modernity', 1870-1910
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The cant word 'flash' has been used in Australia and other parts of the English-speaking world since the late eighteenth century. When it was applied to women, it referred to sexual and criminal knowledge and an interest in flamboyant clothes. This continued to be the case in the years between 1870 and 1910, the period dealt with in this article. Using Australian examples, we explore the flash street style affected by disreputable women: prostitutes, brothel madams, thieves, badly-behaved ballet girls, or young women institutionalized under industrial schools laws. We show that eclecticism was the hallmark of these women's 'flash' style. Their look involved clothes that were second-hand and freshly purchased, ready-made and hand-sewn, fashionable and unfashionable, relying on an array of so-called traditional and modern dress practices. In showing this, we question the preoccupation of most scholarship on women's consumption with the modern and new. Placing too much emphasis on modernity underplays the durability of older practices of consumption and gender in this period while overplaying the impact of modernizing developments on sensibilities and everyday life.
History Workshop Journal
Copyright 2014 Oxford University Press. This is a pre-copy-editing, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in History Workshop Journal following peer review. The definitive publisher-authenticated version, Looking Flash: Disreputable Women's Dress and 'Modernity', 1870-1910, History Workshop Journal, Vol. 78, pp. 58-81 is available online at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/hwj/dbt017.
Australian History (excl. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History)