We all take for granted these days that women wear trousers. They wear them at home and at work and no one thinks anything of it. If you go to buy a womenswear suit you will be offered the option of a jacket, a skirt and a pair of trousers. So what’s the big deal?
Well it certainly was a big deal and not so very long ago either. In 1799 a law was passed in Paris forbidding women to wear trousers in public. The law was amended in 1909 to allow women to wear trousers if they were “holding a bicycle handlebar or the reins of a horse” The law was only overturned in February 2013.
Up to the early 20th century womens’ clothing was distinctly feminine. Women did wear trousers in certain circumstances such as during WWII in factories and in coal mines. Pioneers of trouser wearing for leisure however were considered lesbians and ostracised from society.
In 1853 a Colorado miner, Arlo Howell, wrote in his journal “It’s a disgrace to see females dressed in trousers – an offence to the very fabric of civilization.”
In 1919, Luisa Capetillo was the first women in Puerto Rico to wear trousers in public. She was sent to jail for what was then considered to be a “crime”, although the judge later dropped the charges against her.
In the 1940s trouser wearing was becoming much more popular within the home and film stars of the day were sometimes photographed wearing them although this was still seen as ground breaking.
By the 1960s trousers were becoming more acceptable in society but still not for women who were working outside the home. Most jobs still stipulated that trousers were not acceptable for women.
By the 1980s trousers for women were seen as part of the ‘power dressing’ fashion on the catwalks but it was not until 1993 that the ban on women wearing trousers in the Senate was lifted.
And now we see trousers on the catwalk all the time – designers take masculine tailoring and give it sex appeal.
But have things really changed in the minds of men?
In his book Women in Trousers (2003), Demetri Marchessini, writes “The more women dress like men, the less they are attractive to men.”
And just last year the Huffington Post interviewed men about what they disliked about what women wear – “Men’s business suits….you’re a women, not a man” was one of the quotes.
And how do we feel about men stealing our style?
I’ll leave that up to you!