American Sportswear, Part II: Pants

As promised, here is part two of my article on sportswear.  Today we’ll be talking about pants.

For many working women, their first experience with wearing pants came in World War I.  And in the late 1910s and in the 1920s  many high school and college girls were wearing bloomer pants as part of their gym attire.  Women were also wearing knickers and breeches for outdoor sports such as riding and hiking.  But even though young women were growing up wearing certain bifurcated garments, trousers were still considered to be solely for men.

By the mid-1920s, daring ladies were wearing “trunks” under their sports frocks.  By the early 1930s they were called shorts, and they were no longer confined to being under a dress.  A garment called a playsuit, quite similar to the gymsuit, was a one piece shirt and shorts, and it came with a matching skirt that was removed for the beach or picnic, and then put back on for the return to town.  In the photo above the skirt is buttoned over top of the playsuit.

I’m afraid I can’t say who came up with the idea for the playsuit, but I feel certain that it did not come from the swimsuit.  In structure it is much more similar to the gymsuit.  But I do know that it first appeared in the very early 30s.   It remained popular through the early 1960s, and in the mid 1970s  and the 1980s made brief reappearances.

1930s beach pyjamas

Slacks for women appeared in the 1920s, first in the boudoir and on the beach as pyjamas, but by the early 1930s they were worn for skiing, sailing and other leisure activities.  Increasingly, pants and even men’s style trousers, were seen in magazines on actress like Katharine Hepburn.  By the late 1930s, women were seen wearing slacks in movies.

But it took World War II to really turn American women into pants wearers.  During the war slacks or overalls were a necessity for women working in factories and farms. When the war was over women continued wearing the practical and comfortable slacks for casual events and in leisure time.  And increasingly, shorts were acceptable for the most casual occasions such as picnics and beach parties.

1940s shorts set, by Lorch of Dallas

I’ll end this series tomorrow by talking about some of the post WWII sportswear trends, and some of the important sportswear designers and makers.


Filed under Sportswear, Vintage Clothing

3 responses to “American Sportswear, Part II: Pants

  1. Vintage playsuits are so cute and comfortable. I was glad to see them back in fashion this summer. I hope they stay around at least a few more years.


  2. I love playsuits. I have a few in my vintage collection and am always on the look out for me. They’re cute and comfy!

    I remember absolutely hating culottes during the 80s when my mother bought me a pair to wear to school but I’m finding myself liking those again. It’s funny how our opinions on styles change!


  3. Pingback: The Colors of Summer: Red, White, and Blue | The Vintage Traveler

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