Women in Trousers? Scandalous!

Over the course of time, cultures and mores change and along with those changes, fashion too often changes.  This is particularly true of women in trousers.

Early Persian paintings depict women in pant-like garments and women throughout the Eastern World have long been wearing a type of trousers.  The same cannot be said for the Western women; especially women from the English speaking world.  At one time it was taboo for a woman to wear trousers.  It was considered unladylike or even sinful for a woman to wear pants.  In Canada a woman was called to confess that she had worn trousers while riding her bicycle to work.  She should have worn a dress or skirt.

There has always been a rebel or two and one such woman was Elizabeth Smith-Miller.  In the 18th century she made a debut in a design borrowed from the East; Turkish-styled trousers.

It is not that the Western woman did not wear trousers; she did, but she wore them for outdoor work or for ‘men’s work.  In the 19th century in England women who worked in coal mines scandalized Victorian society by wearing pants under their dresses to work.  Once there, for ease of shovelling coal, they rolled up their skirts so they were not cumbersome.  In the American West women who worked on ranches wore trousers for outdoor work such as riding horses; and during World War II women wore trousers to work in factories while their husbands were at war.  But skirts and dresses for women were still considered the norm and women who wore trousers were frowned upon.

In 1939, Vogue magazine, for the 1st time, pictured women in trousers.  By the 1960’s designers such as Yves St. Laurent were designing classy pantsuits.  Over the course of time, it became more and more acceptable for women to wear trousers to the workplace, although pants were still taboo.  By the 1960’s, some businesses permitted their female women to wear trousers to the workplace.  Schools were slower to catch on to the new trend.  It was not until 1968 that some schools started to allow their female students to wear trousers to the classroom.  Schools, even into the 1970s, continued to relinquish their hold and the number of female students wearing pants to the classroom continued to grow.

So, in the West, the tradition of women wearing pants or trousers has only been around for about 50 years.  But we have since come a long way.  By the 1990’s it was reported that about two-thirds of the female population wore trousers to work several times per week.  As for the study hall, the most common sight in North America or Canada is girls studying in blue jeans.

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