Knickerbockers for Women: From Under the Hiking Skirts to the Fad of the Hour – Part III

By the turn of the 20th century, knickers or breeches under a short, wide skirt became the hiking outfit most mentioned in magazine articles.  There were some exceptions, most notably an article written by outdoorswoman Annie Peck.  In 1895 Peck became the third woman to climb the Matterhorn, but she was the first to do so without wearing a skirt.  In her day Annie Peck was well-known, her adventures being widely reported.  In 1901 she wrote an article for Outing magazine detailing her climbing and hiking outfit and expressing strong views about the inappropriateness of skirts on mountains.

“…Men, we all know, climb in knickerbockers… Women, on the contrary, will declare that a skirt is no hindrance to their locomotion.  This is obviously absurd, and though a few ladies have climbed mountains like the Matterhorn in extremely scanty and abbreviated skirts, I dare assert that suitably-made knickerbockers… are not only more comfortable but more becoming… A scant skirt barely reaching the knee and showing the knickerbockers below, such as some ladies have worn, is as ungraceful a costume as could be devised; and for a woman in difficult mountaineering to waste her strength and endanger her life with a skirt is foolish in the extreme.”

But even the independent Ms. Peck had to concede to the skirt convention when on easier hikes.

“Among our own little mountains it is customary to wear a short skirt… If ladies were independent enough to adopt the plan, as some few have done, of leaving the skirt under a rock, they would generally be seen only by members of their own party… Of course in any case knickerbockers should be worn beneath.”

It seems as if women took Peck’s advice.  In a 1904 article in Outing, hiker Rena Phillips described how she had a big pocket put on the back of her jacket so when out of sight of civilization she could remove the skirt and place it in the pocket.  For the next ten years or so, the knickers and removable skirt seemed to be the most popular option, being mentioned in numerous articles and accounts.  One writer in 1913 claimed she rarely wore her hiking skirt but always carried it with her as it was useful as a rain cape.

As strong as the skirt convention was, it was being challenged by 1916.  In that year William J. Whiting wrote an article for Outing titled “Should the Woman in the Woods Wear Skirts, Bloomers, Riding Breeches, or Knickerbockers?” He argued that the wearing of skirts in the woods was a form of false modesty.

“The skirt is useless, is in fact a positive hindrance, and so by its very presence calls attention to the fact that she is a woman, and modest, or trying to be, thus defeating its object.  Anyone who has seen an emancipated woman dancing over rough trails in glee at her freedom… with no useless freak of costume to call attention to her femininity rejoices that so many now recognize that immodesty of attire is really unsuitability.”

 

Whiting went on to declare that only knickers were suitable for hiking.

6 Comments

Filed under Camping and Hiking, Proper Clothing, Sportswear

6 responses to “Knickerbockers for Women: From Under the Hiking Skirts to the Fad of the Hour – Part III

  1. The photos are just amazing–and I’m going to do some research on Annie Peck. I wonder what she wore when she wasn’t hiking?

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    • Annie Smith Peck was a very interesting woman. She was well-educated and worked as a teacher until she gave it up to be a mountain climber. She was a real celebrity, with that photo I used being distributed for purchase by fans! I’d love to see what you dig up on her other attire.

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  2. Too sad that Abercrombie is no longer the same…that wonderful tailored/finished sportswear -and the lost quality of the fabrics/ buttons used…no wonder women loved it.! After being stuffed into corsets ,etc. !

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  3. Ah, progress. It was a long time coming! My young mother, in her homesteading days in the Northern Canadian prairie, wore a thin cotton “house dress” in which to do her many chores in and out of the house. Many years later, when she moved off the farm, she bought her first pair of bluejeans, and wore them in the house, out of the house, in town, at the movies. She bought jean suits, decorated jean jackets—she saw them as an expression of freedom.

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