Suffragette Subterfuge: A Guide to Suffragette Jewellery
Feminism and fashion often go hand in hand, and in honour of the anniversary of women getting the right to vote on the 21st November 1918 next week, we decided to take a closer look at the Suffragette movement and more specifically Suffragette jewellery.
Throughout history, fashion, art and jewellery have been created with political and social discourses in mind. In Tudor portrait paintings, traditional dress and jewellery were exacerbated to excess, to portray a person’s wealth and status, to show their political allegiances and also to show their character.
Portrait of Anne Boleyn by Unknown English Artist, Late 16th Century (Source - © National Portrait Gallery, London)
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, circa 1592 (Source - © National Portrait Gallery, London)
In fact, most recently, fashion, jewellery and politics are still an intertwined topic. When Lady Hale recently announced that the prorogation of Parliament was unlawful, all the fashion magazines exploded with articles surrounding her powerful arachnid brooch that she wore to deliver the news, helping to bolster her already impressive and influential status.
Another example is in 2017, when Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth II wore a bold blue hat dotted with yellow flowers when she opened Parliament, which many remarked that the hat had an uncanny resemblance to the EU flag. It was thought that perhaps, despite the Queen not being allowed to show any political allegiances, this hat was a subtle sartorial signifier of her thoughts towards the EU referendum in June 2016 when 51.9% of the British public voted to leave the European Union.
These cases are just a few of many where fashion, accessories and politics have crossovers. When thinking of more, Dior’s 2017 ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ Tee comes to mind, utilising Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s book of the same title, as also does Vivienne Westwood's eponymous label often using the catwalk as a place of protest.
Undeniably, all of these instances show that fashion, jewellery, and accessories are not just frivolous frippery to be ignored. So, without further ado, let’s take a closer look at Suffragette jewellery.
A brief history of the Suffragette movement
The Suffragette movement fought for, at first, white women to have the right to vote in public elections. Women’s suffrage dominated political and social discourses during the 19th century, yet it wasn’t until the 20th century where the creation of the British Women’s Social and Political Union, founded in 1903 by Emmeline Pankhurst, started to make a permanent impact.
Women’s suffrage had by this point become commonplace around the globe, notably in New Zealand where in 1893 all women were granted the right to vote over the age of 21.
Post 1903, the Suffragettes stormed parliament, heckled politicians, chained themselves to railings, went on hunger strike, were attacked and sexually assaulted by policemen, set fire to postboxes and placed bombs in buildings.
These actions were the direct antithesis of stereotypical Edwardian womanhood, which of course placed emphasis on women being pure, chaste, domesticated and not in the public eye.
Suffragette Committee Meeting, Bromide Press Print, 1906 (Source - © National Portrait Gallery, London)
Due to this, the Suffragettes received a range of negative press and ridicule in the media, demonising these women for simply wanting the right to vote. The famous death of Emily Davison, a Suffragette who threw herself under the King’s Horse at Epsom Darby in 1913, made the British Suffragette movement hit headlines worldwide.
The Suffragette movement significantly reduced during World War I (1914-1918), but only then did society generally realise how integral women were to its function. The huge loss of life, as well as men being away from home, meant that women had to help with the war effort, taking up agricultural and industrial work to help stabilise and grow Britain’s economy.
After the war ended, it was clear that Britain owed much of its success to the women of England. This lead to the passing of the Representation of the People Act which gave white women over the age of 30 the right to vote, merely 10 days after the war had ended. However, it wasn’t until 1928 where Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act passed giving all women, over the age of 21, regardless of colour, nationality or status, electoral equality with men.
Pamphlet produced by National Union of Womens Suffrage Societies, 1909-1914 (Source - The British Library)
A powerful communication tool, fashion instantly tells others our personality, our choices and to an extent our political allegiances.
Feminism, dress and suffrage dates back to the 19th century. Women’s suffrage at this point was closely tied to both the Aesthetic movement and the Dress Reform movement which fought against the use of the constricting corset and caged crinoline in women’s dress. A fitting example of this was in 1851 where Amelia Bloomer, a women’s rights activist, adopted wearing trousers, rather than a skirt. This led to ridicule of her and other feminists in the media.
This meant that the women in 1903 knew they had to do something different to get a new kind of political attention. Sure, they accepted that they were going to be ridiculed and harassed in some sense, but how they can convince other women to join the cause? Through dress. Dressing in their smartest clothes, and in stereotypically feminine garments of the time, like large hats abundant with flowers, all of the women looked elegantly political, turning up well-dressed for protests and engaging in unlawful activities. These are evident from pictures taken by Christina Boom, the Suffragettes official female photographer.
Although the women looked graceful and no different from the norm of traditional Edwardian dress, the key sartorial link were the three colours, purple, green and white. These could be easily and subtly adopted by wearing a purple skirt, white lace blouse and dark green jacket - or making a more key allegiance by wearing a suffrage sash. This meant that women who supported the cause could easily do so through what they wore, yet not be ridiculed. In these cases, many of these women were adopting the popular military tactic of hiding in plain sight.
Yet, the most subtle and one of the most significant pieces of all were suffrage jewellery.
As mentioned above, appearing well-kept was key for suffragette women, and nothing could relish and display this more than jewellery. During this period, jewellery was slowly becoming more and more available to the masses from industrialisation. Yet, it was still mostly adopted and worn by genteel Edwardian women. This meant that women of all backgrounds could afford jewellery, yet the most elaborate pieces were often commissioned by the upper classes.
This lead to a range of stunning Edwardian jewellery that was adorned with purple gems like Amethysts, Garnets and Lepidolites and Tanzanites, green gems like Emeralds, Peridots, Serpentine, and Chrysophase and white gems like Pearls, Moonstones, Opals, Clear Quartz and Diamonds.
A subtle nod to a political movement, these pieces often portrayed design characteristics of Edwardian jewellery. These were highly feminised forms of bows, floral motifs, stars, clovers, garlands, filigrees and hearts. The feminine forms added to the subterfuge that these women were adopting, making them appear elegant, genteel and possessing grace and refinement, women that were clearly educated, from wealthy families and were to be taken seriously.
Wearing these pieces, whether a pendant draped around your neck or a stick pin in your hat, a brooch attached to a wool jacket, or a trilogy ring on your finger, was a beautiful way to align yourself with the movement. Like clothes, women didn’t necessarily have to have one piece that incorporated the whole trilogy of colours, rather they could wear a Pearl brooch, an Amethyst necklace and a Peridot ring. During the second wave of feminism in the 1960s and 1970s, designers of this period were inspired by these former ideals creating revival pieces which could be both worn and collected.
If you are looking for antique Suffragette jewellery then here at Lillicoco.com, we can help! Our past and current collections have housed authentic Suffragette jewellery dating all the way back to 120 years ago. We make sure to hand-select the finest pieces, promising you the very best. If you can’t see any specific Suffragette motifs, we do have an array of individual purple, green and white pieces to choose from. So, you can display these three colours however you choose to!To find out more about our collections, or if you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or (+44) 0117 925 4798.