Tag Archives: pants

Women in Pants – The Aftermath of World War I

While my main focus is sportswear, I sometimes have to take a slight detour to see other forces that were at work in the journey toward women wearing pants. One such detour is the influence of World War One. Many articles about women wearing pants will bring up WWII as being a watershed moment in the movement toward females in pants, and that is a true depiction. But we also need to remember the woman workers of WWI, as it was they who were truly the pioneers.

I’ve written a lot about how bloomer gym suits and knickers on the hiking trails helped ease women into pants. But we need to remember that these were mainly women with money. What about the working class woman who had little time for leisure pursuits and no money for college? It’s likely that the first pants experience of most working class women was with a bathing suit, but it was during WWI that so many women took over jobs traditionally done by men. It made sense to adopt the working attire of men as well.

The young workers above are wearing overall suits, and you can tell they have seen some very hard days. But note the shoes on the woman on the right. It looks as if she has pressed into service an old pair of dress shoes. One had to make do with what was available.

WWI ended in 1918, but work overalls continued to be offered to women. The illustration above is from a 1921 Montgomery Ward catalog. I have seen ads for sewing patterns for similar garments into the 1920s.

The wearing of overalls for work during WWI and the years immediately afterward did not directly lead to women taking up trousers for regular wear. It was, however, one of the many steps that allowed women to see the practicality of pants, and which got people used to the idea of women wearing pants.

This is a card advertising a calendar for 1919. It’s most likely that WWI was still going when the card was distributed to the customers of Swift & Company. Women working – and wearing pants while working – was depicted as the patriotic thing for women to do.

In writing about my photo I got to thinking about how history is taught. So often we look at WWI as a time period from 1914 to 1918, with battles from trenches, and poison gas, and No Man’s Land, and then the Armistice on 11/11/18. If individual people are considered at all, it is usually in anecdotes of Christmas Day cease fires or stories of heroic officers leading charges across barbed wire.

But how much more interesting history becomes when people, both men and women, are put into the big picture. By this I mean not just political changes brought about by war, but more importantly, the social changes. When you stop and think about it, your life today is influenced more by the social changes (including the beginnings of working women wearing pants) than by some of the political ones. (The formation of Czechoslovakia comes to mind, that is unless you live in the former country of Czechoslovakia.)

Looked at it this way, the history of clothing takes on a significance that is often overlooked.

 

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1920s Rayon Pyjamas

One of the great finds I made last week was this pair of 1920s pyjamas. The seller who had them is a regular at the antiques market, and she specializes in things other than clothing, but she usually has a rack of vintage lingerie as a sort of afterthought.  They were mislabeled as nylon tricot, which was a bit puzzling.

Anyway, I was happy to find them.  Pyjamas from the 1920s are hard to find and I am glad to add these to my collection.  Pyjamas are one of those garments that started to bridge the gap between what was acceptable to be worn in the home, and what was okay for public wearing. These are technically lingerie, but many women in the late 1920s followed the avant garde in Italy and started wearing these at the beach over their swimwear.

There are several things that identify these as being from the 20s.  Scallops were a common design feature of the time.  They are seen on outerwear as well as lingerie.  Also, the edges were finished with a picot stitch machine. This newish invention was very popular in the twenties, as it worked so well with the flowy fabrics of the day.

The legs of the pants are straight.  After about 1930 pant legs got wide and flowing, much like the bellbottoms of the late 60s and 1970s.

While examining the pants I got a little surprise. Near the hems were two little slits with finished edges.  I’m thinking there were originally ties that gathered in the legs slightly.

Here I have inserted a piece of ribbon through the slits to make a bow which puts a little pleat in the leg.

I have no way of knowing what the original ties were made of, but I do happen to have some 1920s ribbon in pink and blue.

The top of the little pocket on the blouse and the neckline are finished with a gauze fabric that matches the blue rayon.  It is possible the ties were made from this fabric.

The blouse originally had a belt, as evidenced by the presence of belt loops.  These are located on the side seams, slightly below the natural waistline, as one would expect in a 1920s garment.

There is a line of stitching in the back of the neck.  Could this mean there was once a label?  I’m not sure, as it seems to be an odd thing for a 1920s garment, but what would be another explanation?

There are two different types of stitches in the pants.  I’m pretty sure the pyjamas were commercially made due to the picot edging and the tiny French seams.  But I also think the pants were shortened at the waist. Note the vertical side seam, and the double stitched casing for elastic at the waist. The thread of the casing stitches does not quite match.

In the 1920s most women were not wearing any sort of legged garments, so pyjamas were a big step in the move toward women wearing pants, even if they were seen mainly in the boudoir.

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Girls Will Be Boys

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.

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1920s Tomboy Hiking Suit

 

One of my latest acquisitions came by way of Instagram.  I know that some people think that social media is just for teenage girls to get themselves in trouble by posting nude photos of themselves, or for pictures of the neighbor’s cat, or for showing off your breakfast at Starbucks.  But I say it is what you make of it, and that includes scoping out items for my sportswear collection.

I couldn’t believe this knickers and vest set that was posted by @thegirlcantdance.  I contacted her and she sent more photos and a detailed condition report.  Even though I already have a linen knicker set, this one is khaki twill, and was less of a fashion piece than my “Fad of the Hour” set.  So I was thrilled to be able to add it to my collection.

The tern “tom boy” (or is it “tomboy”?) was already in common use by the early 1920s went this set was most likely made.  I love how the label name fits in perfectly with the idea of girl as garçonne.  A note about the label: Even though it reads “Trademark”, there is no evidence of this label on the US trademark database.  Those of you who were teens during the 1970s might remember a different label that was called Tomboy.

The knickers are fitted at the waist, without a waistband.  I mentioned in the comments a few days ago that you can generally tell female pants from male before the mid 1960s because the great majority of them have a side opening, whereas male pants have a front fly.

Some former owner had a small waist, and you can see the stitching where darts had been inserted.  The buttons had also been moved but I put them back in the original position so that the pants would hang properly.

I’m really happy that this was complete with the button belt.  So often the small pieces are missing.

I think it is interesting that although it was becoming acceptable for women to wear knickers, the manufacturer made sure to provide an over-vest that covered that crotch.

The knicker legs also close with buttons.

How much more do I have to say about knickers?  Al the present I’m pretty much finished with the topic.  But in the world of fashion history, one never knows when a new discovery will be made, so don’t be surprised if I revisit knickers again sometime.

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Filed under Camping and Hiking, Collecting, Sportswear

Along the Way to Women Wearing Slacks – Beach Pyjamas

One reason I know I’ll never be able to write a book is because I’m too easily distracted.  For the past two months I’ve been immersed in old magazines and books, looking for references to women’s hiking attire.  But I also found myself being attracted to other subjects that kept turning up, especially ones that had to do with women wearing pants.

Most intriguing was the way beach pyjamas burst onto the American fashion scene in 1925.  In January, 1925, Vogue speculated on the success of the daring new style:

All the shops are showing the new and brilliant beach pyjamas, so successfully worn at the Lido – so daringly sponsored by one lone Newport leader last summer.  Will they – or won’t they – be seen at Palm Beach?  Poiret, for one, declares that they will.  But customs are very different at the Lido and at Palm Beach, and it is unlikely that their popularity will be as great in this country as in Italy.

To me, the term beach pyjamas conjures up a vision of the wide legged one-piece pyjamas worn in the early 1930s.  But Vogue was referring to an entirely different silhouette.  The beach pajamas of the 1920s were more like pajamas of today, with narrow legs and consisting of two pieces.  The photo above is from a 1925 ad for Best & Co.

The Lido Pajama is the latest thing for beach wear.  These have wool jersey trousers and a smart little mandarin top of bright patterned rubberized silk banded in jersey.

By April, Vogue had taken another tone when referring to beach pyjamas.  In an article titled “Warm Weather Accessories,” beach pyjamas were mentioned almost matter of factly.

For those who prefer the freedom of the pyjama is this terry cloth beach set.

Through the end of the 1920s, beach pyjamas were just that – a two-piece set of top and trousers.  The photo above was taken in 1929.

To get a better picture of what American women were actually wearing, I turned to Good Housekeeping, a magazine that had monthly fashion features but which was not a fashion magazine.  It was not until June of 1930 that I found a reference to beach pyjamas in that more mainstream publication.  The one pictured was French and one-piece, but the trouser legs were still slim.

But wide legs were on their way.  The illustration above is from a 1931 publication from Wright’s Bias Fold Tape.  You can see the transition from the older style pajamas in the green suit on the right, to the wider legs of the other two examples.

Of course I don’t know why the legs got so wide so fast, but it can be observed that the wide legged pyjamas of the early 1930s seem to mirror the shape of the floor length evening gowns of the period with their narrow waists and wide, sweeping hem.  Those of the 1920s were a more boyish look, in keeping with the “garçonne” look of the mid 1920s.

 

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Vactor’s Out-door Girl Slack Trousers

This Vactor’s Out-door Girl trousers ad dates from sometime in the mid-1930s, judging by the style of the shirt, the style of the slacks (and the fact that the button instead of zip),  and the hair style.  I actually have a sewing pattern from the same time with a shirt that is identical to the one the “model” is wearing.  Another clue is that sanforization was patented in 1930 by Sanford Lockwood Cluett.  By the mid 1930s the process was being widely used to eliminate shrinkage in cotton fabrics.

I’d never heard of the D.C. Vactor company, but I was able to find out a little bit online.  Because the ad told me that the company was located in Cleveland, Ohio, I was able to attempt a Google search that produced some results.

The first mention I found of Vactor’s was in a 1909 Sheldon’s Manufacturing Trade magazine, a periodical for the “cutting-up trade”.  I’m assuming that was a funny double entrendre.  At least I hope so.  All I learned was that Vactor’s was a maker of pants, and was located on Saint Clair Avenue in what was once a manufacturing center in Cleveland.  By the late 1910s and early 1920s, there were numerous references to the company in various clothing manufacturing trade magazines.  The last reference I found to D.C. Vactor was that his widow made a donation to a charity in his memory in 1944.

The little swatches of fabric really help one visualize how the slack trousers actually looked.  The fabric is a twill and is quite lightweight, much lighter than denim.  This does not seem to be a fancy department store product.  The price of $2.45 ($43 in today’s dollar) plus the type of fabric seem to point to this being the sort of thing that might have been sold in a small town general store or a cheaper department store.

Ads like this one were mailed to prospective buyers at stores, or were dropped off by the thousands of traveling sales representatives who paid calls to stores to take orders for their companies’ products.

 

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1930s Northbilt Ski Pants

In the 1930s skiing was a relatively new spot in the US, having become popular only in the 1920s.  After winter resorts and ski slopes were developed it became obvious that women especially were going to need clothing specifically for the sport.  It just was not practical to try to make one’s way down a mountain wearing a 1920s skirt, or even knickers that ended at the knee.  By the early 1930s companies were making full length wool ski pants for women, another great example of how active sportswear led to women adopting the wearing of pants.

Even though these ski pants were made to be functional in the snow, a woman wearing them would still want to look her best.  The waist and hip area is slim and quite fitted, with little extra bulk.

And what a nice curve there is to the side button opening.

The leg cuffs are made of a knit wool for a close fit.

And for the key to your room at the lodge, a little patch pocket was included.

These ski pants were made by the Northbilt company in Minneapolis.  According to the US Trademark site, Northbilt was first used as a brand name in 1919.  The last reference I can find to the company was in 1962.  As always, additional information about this company would be appreciated.

Here is a page from a 1936 Montgomery Ward catalog showing their selection of women’s ski pants, which are very similar to my pair.  Note that one pair has  “slide fasteners” – zippers – at the cuffs and the waist.  Button closings were slowly being replaced.

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Filed under Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Winter Sports