As we take a trip down memory lane, we realize that women’s clothing has been very significant in comparison to men’s clothing. Back then; society clearly defined the rules that required individuals to dress according to their gender. For the most part, these rules have defined trousers as men’s clothing. Shweta Bhatia finds out how women defied this rule and wore them anyway
During World War I a lot of women were hired for labour centric jobs as men went to join the army and because of this many women wore trousers and overalls to work in factories. Once the war ended, women were reluctant to give up the freedom of movement their pants had given them. Paul Poiret and Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel played a huge part in raising their popularity as a fashion item. Poiret introduced corset-free suit styles and harem pants, as seen on the popular television show, ‘Downton Abbey’. Chanel chose to wear pants at the society beach resort of Deauville to avoid exposing herself. So impactful was this decision, that her style spread quickly as her legions of followers emulated her. She was often seen dressing up in her boyfriend’s suits and began designing pants for women to wear while playing sports and doing other activities. Chanel designed horseback riding trousers for women, who had previously only ridden sidesaddle while wearing heavy skirts. “I came up with them by modesty. From this usage to it becoming a fashion, having 70% of women wearing trousers at an evening dinner is quite sad,” Chanel said. Actresses such as Marlene Dietrich and Katherine Hepburn, who wore pants regularly, fascinated the audiences. By World War II, trousers once again got a boost as more women were placed in wartime jobs.
Conservatives opposed this ‘rational’ style and warned that allowing ladies to wear pants would be as dangerous as a ticking time bomb. Many leaders believed that women wearing pants would cause them to be controversial. Editorials claimed that cross-dressing by women would cause social and moral chaos and the difference between the genders would be obliterated. If Coco Chanel worked her magic and invented this revolutionary piece of clothing for the women, Yves Saint Laurent improvised it further by breaking barriers and giving us the elegant pantsuits. “For a long time now,” he said upon his retirement in 2002, “I have believed that fashion was not only supposed to make women beautiful, but to reassure them, to give them confidence, to allow them to come to terms with themselves.”
Saint Laurent’s signature was taking menswear silhouettes and slimming them down to fit a feminine shape. He may not have been the first to put a woman in a trench coat or a safari jacket, but these items are associated with him because of the spin he gave them for the modern woman. The first ever YSL tuxedo for women, commonly known as ‘Le Smoking’, surfaced in the 1960s, paving the way for stylish pantsuits. The ‘chic beatnik’ look, which was a black leather jacket, a knit turtleneck and high boots received bad reviews but went on to become a classic.
By the late 1960s, pants on women became completely accepted for casual wear, at first, and finally, for the office. Women of all ages were wearing pants at work and at home. All design houses quickly adapted this new style making it accessible to every group of fashion followers.
With increased numbers of women, entering the workforce and politics, the fairer gender now arrived wearing pants. It seemed as if they were expressing power with the attire, challenging laws restricting women’s clothing choice. In the nineties, Hillary Clinton made history by being the first First Lady to wear pants in her official portrait.
The pants have evolved in various cuts and styles. Whether it’s the wide leg trousers, boot cut, slim fits, leggings, office trousers, high waisted, low rise and so many more, women across the world strut down the streets exuding empowerment.
Designers around the world repeat this style season after season, filling the runway with various versions of this revolutionary design. Nothing says equality more than a nice pair of pants and in the language of clothes, pants equal power. Pants on a woman disrupt the status quo. They surely aren’t ‘lady-like’!