100 Years Ago Today

A History Of Events And Happenings From Exactly One Hundred Years Ago

Telegraph Company Issues New Dress Code In New York

The shirtwaist is a woman’s blouse and a recent fashion development that allows women to escape the confines of the restraining one-piece dress.

On May 27, 1912 when the 125 women and girls employed by the Western Union Telegraph Company in New York City reported to work, they found this note posted on the bulletin board :

“All office girls employed by Western Union Telegraph Company are required to wear plain shirtwaists with moderate high adjustable collars and sleeves that extend below the elbow.”

Most women at the company wear either an openwork waist or a shirtwaist with a Dutch neck with sleeves that stop at the elbow. The women are not happy with the new dress code causing one to comment “It’s just too mean.”

The district Traffic Superintendent was responsible for the posting but claimed the orders came from “higher-ups” but would not be specific. The Manager of the Press Department claimed to order had been given for sanitary reasons.

“The girls have been going around this building with their arms bare and with low neck waists on. We don’t care how peek-a-boo their waists are but the must wear collars and sleeves.”

Years ago the women wore long sleeves and to protect their cuffs they took blank telegraph forms and wore them around their wrists. The company lost so much money through the use of forms this way that an order was issued forbidding their use as such. When the new shorter sleeves came into fashion, the women adopted them eagerly.


Garment workers wearing short sleeved shirtwaists. The woman at right with the bow is sporting the low collars in question.

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