Several years ago I ran across Women in Pants by Catherine Smith and Cynthia Greig. What I loved about the book was the great variety of photos showing women in pants, from homesteaders who adopted pants as a practicality, to actresses who played male roles, to women who dressed in men’s clothing just so they could have a joke photo made. Ever since reading the book I’ve been on the lookout for antique photos in which woman were dressed as men, and last week I finally found one.
There was no information at all on the back of this photo, so we can only guess at the intent of the two women who are dressed as men. And they are dressed as men, not as women who have taken to wearing pants on a regular basis. With their hair stuck under the hats, and the stance of men with hand in pocket, this seems to be a photo made purely for the fun of it.
Whatever the motivation, it does make for an interesting image.
Interestingly, two people I follow on Instagram also posted antique women dressed as men photos this past week. One was a family photo in which the poster’s grandmother was one of the women. It was identified as a photo that the young women had made as a lark.
The other one was a find like mine, with no identification. The poster assumed that the women were dressed as men because they were transgender. And while I cannot say with certainty that she was wrong in this assumption, it is much more likely that the women were merely having a fun time making light of the opposite sex.
I think that when it comes to the past, it is easy to assign the knowledge of today’s world when confronted with an unexpected image like Edwardian women dressed as men. In history it is really easy to take two plus two and come up with five. I know I’m often guilty of making inaccurate assumptions about the past, but the more I see and the more I read, the better I’ve gotten about seeing the past only through the lense of the past.