By 1917 many women were also wearing some form of pants as needed for their work during World War One. Mass market retail and sewing pattern catalogs offered a variety of overall and work pants for women. But after the war ended, these patterns and garments quietly disappeared from catalogs. The skirt convention seemed to have overruled practically in women’s work dress.
But in the woods, knickers and breeches had pretty much put the skirt issue to rest. Most articles that I found on the subject between 1918 and 1930 mentioned an overskirt only as an afterthought, if it was mentioned at all. In 1920 writer and outdoorswoman Nancy B. Katz wrote in Outers-Recreation magazine that the skirted woman in the woods was obsolete.
By 1921 some brave women were wearing knickers for other sports, especially golf. The September 1, 1921 issue of Vogue showed a suit of knickers and matching long vest and declared, “This costume allows for greater freedom, whether for golfing or walking, than almost any other type of sports suit.”
The knicker suit was soon seen in stores ranging from Lord and Taylor to Sears Roebuck. There was even a popular brand of knickers called “The Fad of the Hour.”
So how did knickers for women leave the hiking trails to become a fad? Many women had become somewhat accustomed to wearing some form of pants, whether in the woods, in the school gymnasium, on the job during the war, or even in the form of a bathing suit. It may also have something to do with the 1920s idea of woman as garçonne, as dressing for women took on touches of the masculine.
In 1926 Vogue published a slightly tongue-in-cheek article titled, “They Are Stealing Our Stuff!” Author George S. Chappell lamented that feminine fashions were more masculine than not, and that “…hordes of khaki-clad [women] hikers… throng our summer byways.”
His complaint was too little, too late. Women were wearing knickers, not only for hiking, but for other casual occasions and for motor-car travel.
Here is a family group in front of the State Capitol in Augusta, Maine, circa 1925. The young woman on the right is dressed more like her father than her mother. If not for the cloche hat we might have mistaken her for a boy.
By the mid 1920s pants for women were here to stay, though it would be several more decades before women could freely wear pants on any occasion. The knickers-wearing girls of the 1920s became the pantsuit–wearing grandmothers of the 1970s, who had learned years earlier the comfort and practicality of pants.
I hope that everyone enjoyed my presentation. I appreciate all your comments, and especially ant additional information that may add to this story. The history of women wearing pants is a complicated one with many contributing factors to the end result. I’ll be continuing to investigate this fascinating story.