It’s Women’s History Month! I received a fun comm peice from the folks at Cotton. You know, “the look, the touch, the feel of the fabric of our lives…” people. They sent out a look back in history of women wearing
the pants jeans. And PS, Cotton People, I want to be on the Denim Council! Read on! (Edits, Images, Brackets, Links, and Bolds are my add-ins.)
WHO’S WEARING THE PANTS, NOW?
A Look Back at a Woman’s Right to Wear Jeans
It was less than forty years ago that bona fide blue jeans first adorned the cover of Vogue. Observance of Women’s History Month would be remiss without mentioning the recent rights of women to wear pants, let alone denim. Today, according to Cotton Incorporated’s Lifestyle Monitor™ survey, the average woman has an average of 7 pairs of jeans in her wardrobe. Not so even 50 years ago.
To be fair, some women did wear pants as far back as the Victorian Era. The Pit Brow Girls, for example, were poor daughters of British coal miners who pushed wagons from the mineshaft to a stock heap, stacked the coal and raked out any stones. Their attire was distinctive: a pair of trousers covered with a skirt, and a headscarf to protect their hair from coal dust. This was not a fashion statement, but the practical workwear of a class of women forced to earn wages. Ironically, it would take another era of working women to make trousers acceptable for the so-called fairer sex.
Work, war and film have been influential in shaping the shape of women’s trouser-wearing. In the 1939 film, The Women, Manhattan socialites visit a dude ranch, in full, high-waisted, stiff-denimed dungarees. Vogue and Mademoiselle both deemed denim appropriate for dude ranching and Levi’s had already jumped onto the trend with their short-lived Lady Levi’s line in 1935. But jeans were less a fashion statement and more a costume of Western color.
During World War II, Rosie the Riveter was an icon representing women who took up the labor slack while men were fighting overseas. In 1943, a then-unknown model named Betty Bacall modeled Rosie’s signature denim coveralls on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar. Rosie became a familiar image. And, while her accompanying caption, “We Can Do It!” did not directly refer to women donning trousers, fashion icons such as Marlene Dietrich and Katherine Hepburn did not split hairs, even after the war when most women traded in their coveralls for aprons.
Perhaps influenced by Rosie, Dietrich and Hepburn, Wellesley College students felt the freedom to wear blue jeans on campus in 1944. But, then a “scandalous” photo of denim-clad Wellesley Girls appeared in an issue of Life magazine. Dubbed “the sloppy look,” it created a national stir and set ladies jeans-wearing back a good decade.
Flashing forward to 1954, Grace Kelly reclined on a sofa in Hitchcock’s “Rear Window,” wearing a pair of jeans and reading an attire-appropriate book about traveling in the Himalayas. As Jimmy Stewart dozes off, Kelly discards the book and switches to the latest issue of Bazaar, making a silent but powerful connection between fashion and denim. But, thanks to “The Wild One” (1953) and “Rebel Without A Cause” (1955), a pervasive association with blue jeans and juvenile delinquency had entered the public consciousness. Thanks James Dean and Marlon Brando! So widespread was the detrimental denim mindset, that the Denim Council was formed in 1956 to combat declining sales.
In 1961, the Denim Council’s efforts paid off with a major public relations coup: the newly-formed Peace Corps allowed its first 200 volunteers to wear jeans. This ushered in a new era across the board. It was a brave new world of positive revolution, rock-and-roll and, to bring the topic full circle, women’s rights. And, when Vogue featured blue jeans on their cover in the early 1970s, denim received its official sartorial sanction.
Since the 1970s, women and blue jeans have traveled the scenic route together; weathering rebellion, cultivating the designer jean craze of the 1980s [*shaking fist at Brooke Shields and her Calvins!*] and elevating the truly simple concept of denim trousers to premium and elite status. And the future of the blue jean never looked brighter. Women are embracing denim and finding it acceptable at a variety of social functions; 78% of women say they prefer to go places where they can wear jeans, up significantly from 73% last year, and an overwhelming 88% of female respondents to the Lifestyle Monitor survey indicate that jeans are in their future, not their past.
If I could wear jeans everyday to work, it’d be an awesome day everyday!