History of Pants Reveals Fashion Is Battlefield in War of the Sexes

The history of pants reflects the battle of the sexes as portrayed in the fabulously illustrated coffee-table book Pants: A History Afoot by Laurence Benaim.

The earliest portrayals of females in pants date from more than 500 centuries BC. These bottoms were baggy and often worn under tunic-like garments.

Women as well as men wore trousers back then. The big difference was cultural. For example, Mediterranean cultures, according to Benaim, described the northern peoples who wore pants as barbarians (p. 13).

Fashion Trend History Converges with Story of Women's Rights

The author describes breeches, knickers, and leggings as features of medieval European society. By the mid-1500s, various noblewomen were adopting pantaloon-like pants as a symbol of independence.

This began a contest over who could wear the pants in the family that endured for centuries, often symbolizing the social contest for women’s rights.

A fashion magazine declared feminine pants “unseemly” in 1830 (p. 37). The writer George Sand (Aurore Dupin) "was the first to make pants her feminist uniform" less than a decade later (p. 41).

Sand and Chanel Helped Normalize Pants for Women

One biography I read several decades ago suggested Sand's preference was pragmatic. She wanted to get into the standing-room-only section at at Paris shows, available only to men.

This eccentric behavior did not stop her from being all woman and the lover of Polish composer Frederic Chopin. Sand is one of the foremost contributors to women's role in the history of trousers.

Pants remained a symbol of defiance for the Bloomer girls and took hold when females entered the World War I industries circa 1918.

Chanel's Motives Also Pragmatic in History of Pants

Coco Chanel, whose slender figure could not compete with the curvy silhouette of Victorian dress, did as much as anyone in those days to normalize the boyish look.

Women enjoyed the new freedom of these outfits, without restricting corsets and waist-cinches.

Hollywood Made Trousers Glamorous

Hollywood films and celebrities glamorized pants and trousers. They have never really fallen out of fashion since.

Today's woman can choose from a wide variety of chic pants that flatter the post-50 figure.

Find out the basics of how to get a good fit from waist to hem.

Whether the leg is cigarette slender or flowing and loose, whether the length is floor-length or cropped, the history of pants shows that this apparel remains a favorite for contemporary women.

More Reviews

Jackie: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.. What Would Jackie Do? is a guidebook for making style an essential element of how one lives; in her case with courage, discipline, and balance.

Vreeland, Diana. Her autobiography of her world as influential editor of Vogue coincides to some extent with Chanel's rise to fashion power.

Essential Style, Essential Self by fashion expert Alyce Parsons and personality systems experts Kathy Hurley and Theodore Donson suggests ways to express yourself by what you wear.

Lady Gaga is an innovative fashion icon for the young set. But she wasn't the first to dress in bubbles.

Style Rx by Brigette Raes treats body type and other ways to enhance your look by choosing wisely.

Return to Fashion Advice for Women in Books and Media


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