Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Textiles and Clothing

First Advisor

Jane Farrell-Beck


This study was an attempt to determine whether fashion, the clothing industry, or the retail trade played a role in bringing women into the profession of prostitution in St. Louis. This study also examined the common beliefs of the period including the conviction that young women fell from grace if they had an excessive love of dress. The people of the Gilded Age were concerned about whether their young women behaved and appeared appropriate while maintaining their virtue, despite the temptations of fashionable society. Fashion was of primary importance in the lives of most nineteenth-century people. However, young women who needed to work had an even more difficult time maintaining their virtue, since they received such low wages and still had to pay for the basic necessities of life; food, shelter, and, of course, clothing. Women who worked in the fashion industry sometimes had to turn to prostitution in order to supplement their meager incomes.;I used St. Louis as a case study of a large, well-established Midwestern city that had a thriving apparel industry in the nineteenth century. St. Louis also was interesting because the City Council essentially legalized prostitution with the Social Evil Ordinance. I also examined the impact of the Social Evil Ordinance on the prostitutes' lives and what it revealed about why the women became prostitutes. The Ordinance lasted from 1870 to 1874 when the state nullified it, ruling that it violated state laws against prostitution. Prostitutes were a unique group of women to study because few researchers have examined how fashion influenced the women's choices and the potential impact, positive or negative, that fashion or the apparel industry had on their lives. Furthermore, the prostitutes' appearances affected the amount of money they earned; therefore they needed to dress well. Additionally, women in the clothing industries or the retail trades were susceptible to prostitution because they were so poorly paid while simultaneously being exposed to the finest apparel items that they often desired or needed. The combination of poverty and temptation led many women into prostitution.



Digital Repository @ Iowa State University,

Copyright Owner

Jennifer Marie Schulle



Proquest ID


File Format


File Size

185 pages