Trousers and Gender Equality

Trousers (or pants in Australia and United States of America) were considered to be inappropriate for women until the late nineteenth century. Partially as a result of women entering the workforce, the popularity of the bicycle and the women’s movement, the resistance against women in trousers gradually vanished. In China and Malaysia, trousers have long been considered acceptable for women.

There are some religions that prohibit women from wearing trousers and require all women and often young girls to wear only skirts or dresses. These include: Orthodox Jews; Traditionalist Catholics (Society of Saint Pius X); Mennonites; and Pentecostals.

Pre-20th Century

In the 1660s, women began to adopt masculine styles. They wore riding habits consisting of a ‘petticoat’ (skirt) and a coat similar to a man’s. In the 18th century they continued to wear a riding habit for most outdoor activities. This ensemble evolved further in the 19th century as women began to participate in a wider variety of sports. A variation of trousers was finally introduced into the female wardrobe when cycling became popular in the 1890s. In addition, during the late 1800s, women started to wear pants for industrial work. The Wigan pit brow girls scandalized Victorian society by wearing trousers for their dangerous work in the coal mines. They wore skirts over their trousers and rolled them up to their waist to keep them out of the way. Women working the ranches of the 19th century American West also wore trousers for riding.

Early 20th Century

It was Eastern culture that inspired French designer Paul Poiret (1879–1944) to become one of the first to design pants for women. In 1913 Poiret created loose-fitting, wide-leg trousers for women called harem pants, which were based on the costumes of the popular opera Sheherazade. The French designer, Gabrielle „Coco“ Chanel (1883–1971), loved wearing trousers herself, often dressing in her boyfriend’s suits, and she began designing pants for women to wear while doing sports and other activities. Chanel designed horseback riding trousers for women, who had previously ridden sidesaddle in heavy skirts.

During the 1930s pants continued to be stylish, although they were still shocking to many. Audiences were both fascinated and horrified by glamorous actresses of the time, such as Marlene Dietrich (c. 1901–1992) and Katharine Hepburn (1909–2003), who wore trousers regularly. Though some designers created tailored slack suits for women, wearing pants was still not widely accepted. Some conservatives considered women in pants unnatural and masculine. However, by 1939 Vogue, the respected fashion magazine, pictured women in trousers for the first time, and many women wore pants for playing golf or tennis and riding or bicycling.

World War II

During World War II, women working in factories and doing other forms of „men’s work“ on war service wore trousers when the work demanded it, and in the post-war era trousers became acceptable casual wear for gardening, the beach, and other leisure pursuits. In Britain, because of the rationing of clothing, many women took to wearing their husbands’ civilian clothes, including their trousers, to work while their husbands were away in the armed forces. This was partly because they were seen as practical garments of workwear, and partly to allow women to keep their clothing allowance for other uses. As this practice of wearing trousers became more widespread and as the men’s clothes wore out, replacements were needed, so that by the summer of 1944 it was reported that sales of women’s trousers were five times more than in the previous year.

In the 1960s, André Courrèges introduced long trousers for women as a fashion item, leading to the era of the pantsuit and designer jeans and the gradual eroding of the prohibitions against girls and women wearing trousers in schools, the workplace, and fine restaurants.

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4 Responses to “Trousers and Gender Equality”

  1. nigist каже:

    Chica…finally an english entry:) Loved the topic and the research you did. It comes just when I start abandoning

    I will put a link to your blog on mine.

  2. sanja каже:

    :-))) Welcome, chicita… Actually, this is not my research, I took it from Wikigender :-)

    P.S. You have your blog? Hm… I didn’t know, but will check it soooon :-)

  3. Dusica Grabovic каже:

    Odlicno! Pozdrav od Dusice