By: Evelyn H.

In 1851, a young woman by the name of Elizabeth Smith Miller was working hard in her garden, digging in the dirt and watering the plants. Every time she knelt down to get closer to the earth, her dress hem would get trapped underneath her. Every time she walked past a bush, her skirt’s flowy cloth would snag on every thorn and leaf. Every time she tried to stoop down to investigate a plant’s fragile flowers, her long dress would stubbornly flap about in the wind and obscure her view. And she was sick of it.

So, Miller went inside, grabbed some spare cloth and sewing thread, and got to work. Soon, she had designed what history would know her best for: a simple pair of Turkish-style pants that ended at the ankle. These trousers also included a smaller skirt sewn over them that cut off about four inches below the knee. These pants were inspired by the women in Europe wearing similar garments. 

This may seem like a small step above a dress, but it was a lot more comfortable, and got in the way less often. In fact, this new kind of clothing for women was a revolutionary step forward in the way of women’s rights. Miller and her three good friends, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Amelia Bloomer, wrote about this new fashion statement. They also spoke about it, and wore the “Turkish trousers” publicly. News of these “pants-dresses” began to spread like wildfire, and in America, the names “Bloomer costume” and “Bloomers” soon stuck to them.

Miller was not the one to come up with the idea of pants; she merely helped push the idea that they could be an article of clothing for people of all genders. One of the earliest recordings of women wearing pants is found on painted pottery, dating back to 400 B.C in Ancient Greece. These paintings depict female warriors rushing into battle, arrayed not in dresses and skirts, but in leather trousers. The original reason for the creation of pants was that people many, many years before now needed something comfortable to wear while riding horseback. And so, they sewed two pieces of leather together, in order to protect their legs from the blisters and bruises that commonly came with riding equestrian companions for many miles.

Now that we know the ancient history of women’s trouser-related attire, let’s go back to miss Elizabeth Miller. Fast forward to a time when news of the Bloomers had traveled across America, and many reports of women being arrested in New York City for wearing Bloomer costumes started popping up. Girls and women all over the nation were being shamed for simply wearing a new type of more comfortable clothing, and as one can see, things were getting pretty out of hand in New York. The reports cleverly covered up the actual reason these women were arrested (wearing Bloomers) by stating that they were “performing indecent behaviors.” In reality, these innocent women were seen as troublemakers and were being put in jail simply because they were expected to cause trouble later on.

Now consider women’s fashion in the 1900s. Daring women were taking to the fashion runways, sporting a new line of pants created by French couturier Paul Poiret. His pants were known as jupe-culottes, or Harem pants, and  they were created in 1911. A decade later, beach pajamas became a fashion statement. They were like baggy, comfortable pajamas that people wore on outings to have fun at the seashore—and they included pants rather than a skirt!

On top of this, well-known actresses such as Marlene Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn started to regularly wear pants. And, because of all these combined factors, normalization of pants for women started to become more prominent, bit by bit.

However, women were still being prosecuted for wearing trousers, despite the situation slowly getting better. A school teacher named Helen Hulick went to court in 1938, aiming to testify as a witness to a burglary. However, when Hulick arrived at the courthouse wearing a nice pair of slacks, the judge told her she had to go home and change into a dress. She refused, and the court held two more sessions across the span of multiple days—and Hulick showed up to each of them wearing pants. The judge deemed this as a crime and sentenced her to five days in jail.

As the world entered the years of World War II, women began to wear pants even more often. Trousers were more comfortable and functional in the factories, and since most of the men were fighting in battles far away, women had a more prominent place in the workforce than ever before. But soon after the war ended, pants suddenly became less common for women to wear. The reason was a new fashion trend called “Dior’s New Look.” It featured flowy skirts with cinched waists, and many people pushed back against it; they said that it was reinforcing the idea that women’s clothing had to stay “traditional,” as it was in the past.

As we move even closer to the modern-day, 21st century on the pants timeline, we hit the 1960s and 1970s. At this point, pants were starting to reach a high in women’s fashion—women were wearing pantsuits, bootcut jeans shining with sequins, and tuxedos. Pants were, and still are, a masculine category of clothing, and the power that these women emanate while wearing these styles is just spectacular. 

Even in today’s society, men are more commonly associated with trousers. But, with every step that women with passion and drive take towards gender equality (in both fashion and everyday life!), we get closer and closer to a brighter future for men and women alike.

Websites that include more information on Elizabeth Smith Miller, Susan B. Anthony, Amelia Bloomer and the history of women and pants:

No comments:

Post a Comment