Suit pants, skinny jeans, bootleg denim, puddle pants, you name it. There are a lot of options of pants that women can wear nowadays-thanks to the fashion houses who keep reimagining all different types of pants to be modernized. However, do you know that pants were not common to be worn by women back in the centuries? Let's dive deeper into the history of women and pants.
The History of Women and Pants
The rise of pants as a fashionable choice for women in the Western world can be traced back to the 19th-century dress-reform movement. Before this movement, women wore long skirts that were cumbersome and restricted their movement. However, during this time, some women began wearing pants-like clothing for physical activities or household work, although it was usually done privately. The idea of "rational dress" emerged, advocating for the freedom to wear pants in public. Some saw practical benefits, like comfort and improved mobility, while others linked the freedom to wear pants to the women's rights movement, which was considered radical and controversial at the time.
Around 1851, Elizabeth Smith Miller created an early version of women's pants, called "bloomers," which included a knee-length skirt, loose trousers, and a short jacket. Despite support from figures like Amelia Jenks Bloomer. Notable figures like physician and reformer Mary Edwards Walker and suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton also championed the idea of women wearing pants. Despite gaining popularity in certain circles, bloomers sparked significant controversy. Their everyday use declined after a few years, and women's pants were once again mainly reserved for specific activities like exercise or household chores, or they were worn in private.
For quite a while, it intrigued people to see a woman wearing pants. In 1895, the famous mountain climber Annie Smith Peck achieved something extraordinary by reaching the summit of the Matterhorn. What made her climb remarkable was her unconventional attire - she chose to wear pants as part of her climbing gear. In Peck's time, women who dared to climb mountains usually wore heavy, woolen skirts in multiple layers. Peck's decision to wear pants created a stir, drawing disapproval from many, including her rival mountaineer Fanny Bullock Workman. This controversy made Peck the center of intense public discussion and scrutiny.
So, When Did It Become Normal for Women to Wear Pants?
No matter how committed the group against wearing pants was, change still happened. For instance, during World War II, practicality became more important than traditional rules, leading many women to wear pants as they took on jobs previously held by men. Even after the war, the idea of women wearing pants was becoming more acceptable, especially at home. Even though women still liked wearing pants after the war, especially for sports or casual occasions, fashion mainly focused on skirts and dresses until the 1960s and '70s.
Thanks to the women's rights movement, women demanded equal rights not only at home and work but also in their choice of clothing. This meant breaking free from societal expectations, including the pressure to wear skirts and act in traditionally feminine ways. Designer Yves Saint Laurent played a significant role in this movement by introducing Le Smoking, a tuxedo tailored for women, in 1966. This shift marked a significant step towards acceptance of pants as fashionable and appropriate attire for women in various settings.
However, there are still reminders that women have faced significant challenges in gaining the freedom to choose how they dress. As an example, in 2013, France repealed a law that prohibited women in Paris from wearing pants. France's Minister of Women's Rights at the time, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, stated that the law was originally intended to restrict women's access to specific jobs or roles by preventing them from dressing like men.
Nevertheless, our perception of fashion is gradually changing. A more gender-neutral style is emerging, both in public events and everyday life, which means that wearing pants is no longer as socially restricted as it used to be. It's no longer solely about permitting women to wear pants but it's about allowing everyone to choose their clothing without feeling embarrassed or facing criticism.(DIP/tim)