DEMYSTIFIED: When did women start wearing pants in the U.S.? | Encyclopaedia Britannica

DEMYSTIFIED: When did women start wearing pants in the U.S.? | Encyclopaedia Britannica


NARRATOR: It’s strange to think about today,
but there was a time in the United States when women just didn’t wear pants. In many cultures, women wearing some
kind of trouser is an ancient phenomenon. But in the United States,
there was a time when women were expected to limit their options to
skirts and dresses—especially out in public. So when and how did this change? When did women start wearing pants? Well, first, let’s be clear that some women have
sometimes worn pants in America for centuries. Women sometimes wore pants for work
or leisure even in the 19th century, though society didn’t always look kindly
on these practical clothing decisions. The long skirts women wore
were often bulky and heavy. These clothes were both socially
and physically restrictive. They got in the way when women wanted
to enjoy a full range of motion. The dress reform movement
arose in the mid 19th century with the goal of giving women
the freedom to wear trousers for both practical and political purposes. Trousers were seen as a symbol of women’s
rights—a radical proposition at the time. It was around 1851 that
a woman named Elizabeth Smith Miller designed an outfit that would become
iconic among believers in the concept of what was called “rational dress for women.” It consisted of a skirt and loose
trousers with a short jacket on top. The design was championed
by Amelia Jenks Bloomer, and they quickly became known as “bloomers.” Bloomers eventually fell
out of fashion, but the name lives on as a description for various
baggy, divided garments for the lower body. Still, as the popularity
of bloomers faded, pants became, once again, something
women generally wore only in private or for sporting activities. It would take big changes to finally
bring women’s pants into the mainstream, and those changes came with two world wars. During the First World War, the
mobilization of men in the army meant that women began doing jobs that
had previously been reserved for men and sometimes wearing the
pants that went with them. But it was during World War II that
women in both civilian and military life began wearing pants in large numbers;
not just for work, but socially, too. It’s hard to imagine the Rosie the Riveter
wearing a skirt below that famous raised bicep. After the war, many women
continued to wear pants, but women’s fashion still tended
to focus on skirts and dresses. But more than a century after
women’s rights activists had first begun their push to reform how women
dress, the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s finally helped to break
down the stigma against women wearing pants. Today in the US, the question of
whether women can wear pants in public isn’t a question at all. Which means we’re free to move on
to the next frontier of gendered fashion— making it socially acceptable for men to wear dresses. Fair’s fair, right?

4 Replies to “DEMYSTIFIED: When did women start wearing pants in the U.S.? | Encyclopaedia Britannica”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *