Monday, February 6, 2017

Women and Trousers. No big historical deal, or the triumph of the harpies in trousers?

 This overalls wearing lass, whom is portrayed an industrial giant (take that, Rosie the Riveter) is wearing overalls, albeit one of the baggiest pairs of overalls ever.  She's also wearing a canvass cap to cover her hair, with hair styles being voluminous at the time.  She doesn't look very happy, we might note.

From Reddit's 100 Years Ago Today Subreddit:

Munich Authorities Put Ban On Bloomers

Military Aroused Because Women Have Been Wearing Them To Church

So reported the New York Times.

A review of the article reveals that Bavarian authorities were appalled by women taking up trousers, which they'd done as they were working in male roles given World War One.  Perhaps they were feeling like Rooster Cogburn in True Grit by that time of the war:
I'm a foolish old man who's been drawn into a wild goose chase by a harpie in trousers and a nincompoop.
 Well, probably not.  Their concern seemed otherwise, as the article also noted:
In Bavarian health resorts "attention-challenging imitations of peasant girls' costumes" are also under the official ban. This action is necessary because, according to the police, visitors at the resorts and especially women not taking part in Winter sports had adopted bloomers and similar costumes, "even wearing them to church".
In other words, when the headline writer wrote aroused, he meant it.  The authorities found these costumes, as well as the traditional German, or rather Bavarian, female clothing distracting.  The latter may seem particularly odd, but in fact if you take a look at something like the St. Pauli Girl beer label you'll note that, surprisingly for an item of traditional European dress, Bavarian female peasant attire did in fact emphasize certain female features, although unlike modern Oktoberfest costumes, the skirts were certainly long and the overall costume was not licentious, although apparently the Bavarian authorities thought they were, along with the indecency of trousers.

Well, this means I may have been off the mark on something.

Frankly, I've long thought the entire "harpie in trousers" thing to be a myth, and that while women probably didn't wear trousers as a rule, except perhaps in agricultural work but that it was unlikely  that it was a big deal when they started too. But, it would appear, I may been off.

And this (changes around this time period, not women in pants) is just the sort of very thing that this blog supposedly looks at it.

So, let's take a closer look at women wearing pants.

No, don't run out and do that. Rather, let's see what we can find out about this story.

Okay, traditionally, in modern times, women have not worn trousers. Rather obviously, when a person says something like that, they have a certain idea of "modern times" in mind (and I'm not about to get into that hyper absurd use of the term "post modern", nothing is every "post modern").  What I basically mean by that is the last several hundred years.  And yes, that's a long time.

And, rather obviously, something has changed within the last couple of hundreds.  Women seem to wear pants most days, after all.

Okay, lets start there.

Wearing pants and skirts, whether male or female, is a cultural deal.  Most cultures most places dress men and women differently.  Indeed, they all do.  And it's likely that there's a functional reason why skirts are widespread wear for women, crossing innumerable cultures, while trousers are much more common for men, as a rule.

 Good Woman Plenty Strike and her daughter, both in typical  native dress and finery, circa 1900.  Dress amongst Native American cultures varied considerably but as a rule, male and female dress varied, not surprisingly. At least in the West, dresses were the rule for Indian women and breaches for men.  Women never wore breaches.

Native American woman circa 1910.

Japanese mothers and their children, fishing, early 20th Century.

Which of course doesn't mean that no woman had ever worn pants anywhere until the 20th Century.

Indeed, there were a few cultures, although they are a distinct minority, that featured pants wearing women.  The Scythian's, for example, had women who wore pants, rode horses (hence, probably, the pants, as we'll further explore) and fought with the men on horseback, at least to some degree.  The Greeks were horrified and impressed by them, and found them to generally be huge.

Male Scythian warriors. The women who fought dressed about the same way.

The Scythian's would be ancestral predecessors to the Iranians, partially,and frankly compared to the Greeks, they were huge.  Greek warriors, based upon what we can tell about them now, were tiny people.  Probably about 5'4" or so on average.  The Scythian were no doubt much bigger and so to the Greeks they looked like giants, including the Scythian women.  If you are short, and you are encountering women who are pants and armored wearing gals of about 5'6" or so, they're really darned big and more than a little scary.

That's what gave rise to the myth of pants wearing Amazons, a much exaggerated Greek myth.

But they weren't the only women to affect such dress over time.  At least according to some, Gallic women in some cultures did as well.  Trousers, it should be noted, were a nifty Gallic item much commented upon by the Romans, who took up wearing Gallic trousers, made out of  fabric that was basically denim, themselves.

Okay, so some women wore trousers before modern times. But culturally, it was limited.  It's limited, it should be noted, for practical reasons, but I'm not going into them.  I'll merely hint at them by noting that undergarments, i.e., underwear, are a very recent invention for men and women actually.

So, for most of human history, in most places, most of the time, women have worn skirts.

Moreover, and contrary to what some feminist theorist would have it, working women typically wore skirts, even when doing fairly heavy labor (but for that matter, certain types of skirts have been worn by men in some places, including ones doing heavy labor).  That is, women certainly worked, but they worked wearing skirts.

A rather manly looking Baron Simon Joseph Fraser Lovat,1908.  His son, the next Lord Lovat, was a notably eccentric field commander during World War Two.  He's wearing the re-invented Scots kilt, which actually wasn't quite what the traditional Scots actually wore.  It is, however, a skirt.

Recruiting poster aimed at Scots during World War One. Scotch soldiers actually did wear kilts into battle in the Great War, or at least at the start of the Great War.

A well dressed Greek brigand, armed with an Arab rifle and dressed in traditional Greek clothing.  Yes, that's a skirt.

No, it wasn't simply hard labor that caused women to take up pants.  Indeed, again contrary to what some might suppose, and previously explored here at length, women have always worked, and in more agricultural and agrarian societies, women's work has typically been as arduous as men's.  It's simply been, however, different.

Women with fairly heavy skirts were perfectly capable of the arduous work of a lightly mechanized, no non mechanized, agricultural society.  Their dress was not a deterrent to any of the domestic labor they were tasked with, nor, in the cases where their roles were outside of the home, was it a deterrent.  Again, without going into detail, given the nature of the clothing below the clothing, it was suited for their natures and the reality of existence.

So what changed?

Rosie the Riveter went to work in overalls, right?

 Rosie the Riveter.  First working woman, right? Well not so much.

No, that wasn't it.

It's hard to really say how the change came about, but we know that women in the Frontier West of the United States (and almost certainly Canada as well) were wearing trousers by mid 19th Century.  I've quoted True Grit above, but that comment isn't far off the mark in some ways.  If you read the book or watch the newer version of the story on film, you'll note that Matie Ross takes an old pair of her father's trousers to wear while riding.  And that's exactly, or nearly exactly, what  a lot of frontier women did.

The common denominator in pants wearing by women seems to be . . . . the horse.

Consider the example of the Scythian's above.  Their women, the Greeks noted, we wearing trousers.  Their men were too. The Greeks (men and women) were wearing skirts.  What was up with that?  Well, the Scythian's were a mounted people.

Riding a horse had become a frontier necessity for those living a rural life in North America the further West Americans went.  Not an option.  Riding side saddle was the preferred, even mandatory, method of riding for a woman out of Frontier conditions, for a bunch of reasons, but it didn't suit Frontier conditions well.  This had a lot to do with distance, and it had a lot to do with agricultural practices.  In the East, horses drug a plow and pulled a cart, and maybe were used for riding some.  Indeed, one well known American breed, the Morgan (which probably actually started as the Canadian, which probably started as the Norman Horse) was valued as it could be used for everything in that fashion.  Plow, cart, buggy and saddle.

 Female rider in Texas with a heavy side saddle, circa 1905.

Riding suit, 1901.  This suit is for riding side saddle, but it features a type of trouser.

But this wasn't the case the further West you went. By the time women were living West of the Mississippi, if they were living on homesteads, they needed to know how to ride, and how to ride fairly readily.

Martha Jane Canary, "Calamity Jane", circa 1901.  This is likely at some sort of a Wild West show.

She didn't always dress in that fashion, however.

Lucille Mullhall at rodeo at the 101.  Mullhall is dressed in a fashion fairly common for young female Western riders at the time, including ones who rode rough stock.  She's likely wearing split skirts, a sort of skirt/pants combination designed for riding.

Indeed, as this became more common, clothing designers reacted and women's clothing began to accordingly change. As depicted above, in the West, the "split skirt" came in, a sort of skirt that had legs, like pants, to allow the female riding to place her rides over the horse, in the male style, and use the stirrups on both sides of a stock saddle, rather than have to use a side saddle.  Women had been riding before that, to be sure, but this meant where wearing trousers was regarded as indecent for them, they had a somewhat practical option.

Once you go down this road, however, the results begin to play out for themselves. As at the same time it wasn't just the introduction of a certain type of riding that began to drive things, but labor of all types became more mechanized.  That was about to play a major role in things. But riding, I think, lead the charge.  Indeed, we've somewhat noted that before:

Subtle evidence of changing times?

Two photos, taken on the same day, December 3, 1919, in the same location.
Top rider is well turned out, and riding side saddle.  Younger rider below is wearing puttees, broad brimmed hat, and an English saddle.

Subtle evidence of changing times?  Or just different disciplines?

Mrs. Delos Blodgett & daughters, December 5, 1919.  The daughters are riding English saddles, Mrs. Blogett is riding a side saddle.

Things clearly did not change over night.  Indeed, the change would be a long time in coming.  By 1900 certain types of trousers were showing up here and there, but it wasn't universally well received.  Nonetheless, they were showing up.  It's interesting to note, in the context of the headlines posted above, as women wearing pants was something that was going on by the turn of the prior century, albeit only in context as a rule.

Teenage female hikers, in breaches, in 1915.

 Woman in overalls working on a Stutz Bearcat, 1916.

But then something started to accelerate the change.

 "The New Woman". Stereocard, intended to be comedic.  Woman wearing nickers supervising man in dress doing laundry.  "Who wears the pants in this family?"  It's sort of difficult, frankly, to really get the comedic content of the card now, in 2017, and its even more difficult to grasp why anyone thought that this was sufficiently amusing so as to dedicate a stereocard to it.

And that was the Great War.

Now, it isn't as if World War One came around and women all went to trousers. But it is definitely the case that the idea that women went in mass into industrial employment, or employment during World War Two, is a fallacy.  Women were hugely critical to industry during World War One and it's really World War One that provided the big jump of women into traditionally male work; and in everything from the farm to the factories.  And with that came an absolute need that women be clothed in attire that suited the work that they were now doing.


This didn't happen overnight, but by 1916 it had become pretty obvious that things were beginning to change.

Early in the war, when women went to work in place of men, either on the factory floor or in the fields, they went in their usual attire.  I.e, dresses.  But fairly soon it became obvious that this was dangerous.  Fairly soon, women were wearing overalls, an event sufficiently newsworthy that I've read three different period articles about it from major newspapers, all from the 1916-17 era.

Women turning artillery projectiles.  Note the vast number of unguarded belts.

The reasons for this are fairly apparent.  It isn't that women had never done any work before.  Far from it. Given the laborious nature of domestic labor, and farm labor, at the time, they worked constantly. But this new type of work involved a vast amount of machinery.  And the machinery was extraordinarily dangerous for somebody in loose clothing.  

This had reflected itself in male clothing for quite some time, amongst those who engaged in fairly heavy labor, including farmers.  Work with belts and moving machinery put a premium on not having floppy clothing.  Men's clothing had, accordingly, become less and less bulky and less and less superfluous in the 18th Century.  Compare, for example, the standards of dress of the late 1700s with those of the late 1800s.  Women's clothing was required to catch up virtually overnight.

Female British mechanic.  Noe, while not easily visible, she's wearing an overcoat and trousers.  This woman was working in this role during World War One, but it should be noted that as the British introduced female drivers to the military support it also required them to be very mechanically knowledgeable.

Woman of the Woman's Land Army.  Women had farmed for eons, and in largely female clothing, but the early 20th Century was the start of a much more mechanized era in farming.  This woman is using a walking plow but is dressed in trousers, a frankly more appropriate form of clothing than a dress, although you can find plenty of examples of women plowing in dresses during the period.

As this occurred the new female clothing reflected looser traditional female clothing to a degree. So it was not as if, as a rule, women simply affected male clothing for the Great War, although there was definitely some of that which occurred.  Purpose designed clothing for women was, however, longer and looser, reflecting dress design a bit.

Depiction of girls in the Women's Land Army in clothing typical for that organization.  Breaches with a loose overcoat.


And oddly enough, in that strange way in which war changes everything, the First World War had the collateral impact of changing women's undergarments as well.  Existing women's undergarments, when worn, and contrary to widespread popular myth they weren't by all women every day, were quite restrictive.  Women going to work wanted to be, of course, decent but wearing restrictive undergarments under heavy clothing is not a recipe for comfort.  Somewhere on the Roads to the Great War blog there's a thread on this, but I couldn't find it.  What it would reveal, if I could, is that the flood of young women going to work not only brought in a revolution in female outwear, but female underwear, given that women who wanted to present decently in the company of men, frankly, wanted to also be comfortable at work.  In other words, no stiff corsets in town, if you worked in a factory in town.

Depiction of various types of women's working clothing during the Great War, including military style clothing and labor clothing which was approaching being very close to male in style.

As we've  noted before, for the most part women did not remain employed outside the home in large numbers, although larger than often imagined, following World War One.  This had to do with the nature of labor at the time, as we've discussed.  But the war seems to have affected a permanent clothing change to a degree.  It's definitely the case that in fairly short order all forms of female dress was less bulky than it had been, probably reflecting a variety of things.  And trousers, having come in, stayed.

 Female motion picture cameraman, 1916.

They didn't come in for all uses, however.  Dresses and skirts remained the daily rule for most women. But, in certain context, it was certainly no longer that odd, and even the rule.
Sharecropper couples, late 1930s.  The women here are dressed, on the left, in men's overalls, and on the right, in women's working trousers.

Now of course most women wear trousers every day. That is a definitely real change from a century ago, or even, really, a half century ago.  The pace of change in these regards accelerated enormously since World War Two.

While no longer shocking to dress, in context, in trousers by 1950, it definitely wasn't daily female attire. Now, of course it is. This seems to really have become the case during the 1970s.

What made the final change is difficult to state.  Probably a lot of simply is that the introduction of women to trousers, and the change in female underclothing that made it easier to wear, simply made the change inevitable. Some of it, however, had to do with 1960s rebellion as at that time young women took up Levi's in droves, a definite rejection of the prior women's clothing standards.  Levis, it should be noted, did not make women's jeans at the time.  Nobody did.  Even as late as the 1980s when I was a geology student many women simply wore men's  jeans, which were always a fitting chore for them.  That was solved by soaking them in a bathtub and then putting them on.  As Levis' "shrink to fit", they shrunk to fit.

By the late 1970s, however, there were jeans specifically marketed to women; and not only by the major jeans manufacturers, but also by specialty companies that used  very definite female aimed marketing and products cut for women.

Indeed, while its only a theory, a certain creeping feminizing of American society soon started to reflect itself at this time as "designer jeans" began to cross from female clothing over to male clothing, where it's remained.  Very often today you can find men on "casual Friday's" wearing jeans that men of 1980 would have never worn.  Men in 1980 wore Levis, Lees or Wranglers.  Even now, to my rusticated view, jeans that you wouldn't gut a fish if you were wearing are suspect.  Having said that, even ranch hands now sometimes wear jeans with fancy details, something that was definitely not he case some decades ago.

At the same time that jeans started coming in for women the "pants suit", lately sported by candidate Hillary Clinton, came in.  They've largely went, but by the same token formality had enormously declined as well.  Pants suits left a lot to be desired and seeing them go has not been missed even at the same time where most women wear jeans or trousers most day.

So, everyone has accepted this and the comments such as those that started this article off have totally disappeared, right? Well, not entirely.  In some circles, surprisingly enough, wearing jeans remains a shocking inappropriate example of female rebellion. Consider the following:
However, the initial question still remains. Is God pleased with a woman wearing pants? At this point, one may definitely say that the garment itself is not the real issue. The Apostle Paul said, “I know. ..that there is nothing unclean of itself (Rom. 14:14).” There is no sin in the garment, for it is but a piece of material. The real issue is what it represents on the woman. Pants on the woman have become the symbol for the feminist movement. Gerritt Smith, an early feminist, said, “Your dress movement involves the whole woman’s rights cause.” Therefore, the woman who wears pants, be it men’s or ladies’, is identifying herself with the feminist movement. It is ironic that many women refuse to openly associate themselves with the radical feminist movement of our day, yet lend their support through the manner in which they dress. More importantly, however, is that this symbol represents a complete rebellion against the principles revealed in I Corinthians 11 :3. Thus, any woman who sincerely believes in the doctrines of the Holy Bible should seek to “abstain from all appearance of evil (1 Thess. 5:22).” Without question, God is not pleased with that which rebels against His revealed Word.
This is something I pulled off  the net while trying to research this piece.  It's from a very fundamentalist Protestant website, although it doesn't reflect the views of most Protestants and probably not very many fundamentalist for that matter.  Its interesting, however, in that women's pants, and clothing in general, remain a topic of debate in some quarters.  And a matter of practice as well.  If you look at a group of Catholic nuns today you are nearly as likely to find them in trousers as traditional simple dresses, but in contrast if you look at the collection of Duggar girls, you're never going to find one in trousers.

Indeed, there's an entire traditionalist modesty movement going on today that angles towards conservative dress for women, although not necessarily dresses for every occasion by all means.  To some degree, this is a welcome change if for no other reason that Americans really don't know how to dress and have a just reputation as the sloppiest people on earth.  Its interesting to note, however, that at least one such movement's blog, probably done by a Christian author (but not disapproving of trousers by any means) praises the dress worn by an Islamic fashion model. That dress might be a bit disapproved of by fundamentalist Muslims, but its very conservative by Western standards.  As we know, female dress in the Islamic world is a real item of controversy and its become so even in those Western nations which have large Islamic populations, such as France.

Well, pantaloons are hard to put down and I'm sure they aren't going anywhere.  In trends we've looked at over a century, here's a definite one. A century ago, women almost always wore dresses.  Now, mot don't, in the Western world, most days.  And trousers do not shock any longer.

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