Fashions at Iowa State

Women's Golf 1916

1916 Women Golfers with Long Dresses

Women’s fashions at Iowa State have changed radically since the late-nineteenth century. The first women students wore long dresses with high collars and long sleeves. The dresses were built from sturdy, heavy material, and corsets gave women an hour-glass-shaped waist. Hats began to grow larger at this time as well. Women typically wore their long hair up, off of their shoulders.

By the twentieth century, dresses became shorter and less constricting. Dramatic changes occurred in the 1920s when women adopted the “flapper” look with short, sleek hair and a shapeless dress with a flat chest. Women exposed more of their legs and arms.

ISU Homecoming 1945

1945 Homecoming Participants

By the 1940s, women’s fashions had changed once again. The Freshman Handbook in 1946 advised female students that “common sense and good taste are the keynotes of the college women’s wardrobe.” Practical matters came before high fashion, especially regarding the cold, wet weather characteristic of Ames. The handbook’s authors advised that “well matched sweaters and skirts with blouse and jacket combinations are in order for campus wear. Also desirable are a warm, serviceable sport coat…a dress coat, usable as a formal evening wrap; a smart tailored suit; one or more hats for teas, receptions, luncheons, church and concerts; two or more “date” dresses, and one or more formals.” The handbook advised new students to bring two pairs of sport shoes because “Iowa State’s campus is a lot of ground to cover.” For winter weather, slacks or ski suits were recommended as well as a rain cape or reversible for wet weather. Because picnics were popular on the north side of campus, the handbook writers noted that new students should bring a couple pairs of blue jeans and some plaid shirts. 

The 1951 Freshman Handbook reiterated the concerns regarding dress for women students. College freshman were advised that “practical casual comfort dictates what the Iowa State coed wears both on dates and in the classroom. Women were encouraged to “include a few full skirts, because on the day you’re hurrying to classes across campus, you’ll find the narrow ones too confining.” Popular shoes in the 1950s included “saddles or loafers,” and during the winter months, women wore crepe-soled shoes because “they make the probability of getting to class over icy sidewalks a better risk than almost any other kind of footwear.” In the dorms, students wore wool robes and snug pajamas with comfortable slippers that did not click like heels did on the hardwood floors. On the weekends, women wore dressy skirt and sweater combinations, casual wool jerseys or corduroy-type dresses, and a special dress when attending teas, dinners and informal dances.

Homecoming Candidates

The 1950 Homecoming Queen Candidates

During the 1960s and 1970s women could finally wear pants around campus. Some women still wore dresses, although the style had changed from the 1950s. Women’s dresses during the 1960s were short, ending above the knee. Most women, however, wore dressy slacks with matching sweaters or blouses. Gradually women wore blue jeans and sweatshirts or t-shirts.

Walking to Class

Walking to Class, 1988

Twenty-first century fashions for women on campus bear little resemblance to the clothing worn by the first women students at Iowa State. Female students still wear comfortable, practical clothing, but most students do not wear dresses around campus. Most students wear sweatshirts or t-shirts, jeans, and tennis shoes. Pajamas that were traditionally worn in the residence halls are more frequently worn on campus, especially before and after an early-morning class.