Tag Archives: Women in Pants

1970s Pants Set by Stephen Burrows

A big part of my goal in developing my collection is to show when and how and what types of pants were being worn by women. The pair above shows one of the last hurdles women leaped over in the quest for bifurcation – pants as evening wear. In the 1950s women were wearing at-home evening ensembles, often with a long, open skirt over a pair of slim pants. But even in the late 1960s, the day of the tunic pantsuit, women were often denied entrance to restaurants when wearing pants. There are many stories floating around about women who stepped out of their pants and then were allowed to dine wearing only the tunic.

But just a year or two later, things were changing. Designers and fashion magazines were showing pants specifically designed for a night out.  Pants had clearly crossed the finish line, though there are plenty of instances of women being denied the right to wear pants even today.

The set above is by Stephen Burrows, who gained fame as a designer in 1968 when he was given a boutique space withing Henri Bendel, Stephen Burrows World. In 1973 he went independent with his own business and label. My set dates to that second period.  It was during this period of Burrow’s career that he participated in the famous “Battle of Versailles” in November of 1973.

Even when designing in black, Burrows managed to put in a color accent. He had become known for finishing the edges of his clothes with a zig-zag stitch, and he often did the stitch in red.

Both the tunic and the pants are made of three layers of sheer and floaty chiffon. The sleeves are just one layer, which leaves them sheer, giving a bare, but actually covered up look.

This is a magnified look at the little sparkly dots on the fabric. You can see that they are tiny metal strips that are clamped around the weave of the fabric. I can’t imagine how this was created. By hand? By machine?  A few of them are missing, mainly from the shoulders. That’s understandable.

The pants have been professionally altered to enlarge the waist.  At first this puzzled me, as the back of the elastic casing was overlocked, which made it look original as it continued over the added piece. A closer look revealed that the stitching was a bit uneven, and the Stephen Burrows label had been shortened in the process.

The alteration does not bother me, mainly because it does not affect the way the set displays. I will sometimes remove later alterations to a garment, but I plan to just leave this one as it is. The fabric is delicate, and I could end up doing more harm than good to the piece.

I spent several days engrossed in early 1970s Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar magazines, hoping to find this set featured. I wasn’t so lucky, but there was an editorial in one 1973 magazine that showed a very similar Burrows top along with a flowy pantsuit by another designer.

I was pretty darn tickled when I spotted this gem when visiting friends at Style and Salvage. I want to thank them for giving me first dibs and for the use of their photo. But most of all thanks for letting me hang out and interrupt your busy day. Vintage friends are the best!

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Collecting, Designers, Proper Clothing, Vintage Clothing

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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Filed under Proper Clothing, Viewpoint

Currently Reading: Women in Pants

Dear Readers, I am having some problems with my computer, and so I’m not able to make any new posts. While we are waiting for a miracle cure for my old HP Touchsmart, here is a post from five years ago.

I’ve been reading this book, Women in Pants, for the past day or so, and I’ve got to say how much I really loved it.   Ironically, I almost didn’t buy it; in fact had passed on it several times.  You see, I was prejudiced against it for several reasons.  First, there are more photos than there is print.  That is usually a bad sign for me, as I love great old vintage photos, but I like a  little information served up with them.  It’s been my experince that books full of vintage photos usually are just about what you see.  And that leads me to former objection number two, which was this book is pretty much the collection of one person, author Catherine Smith.  Again, I’ve really come to suspect books of this type as being long on images, short on info.

I’m happy to say that I did take a chance on the book, and I was terribly wrong about it.  Smith and Greig present a well researched, beautifully illustrated book on the subject of women who literally wore the pants in an era when it was almost completely socially unacceptable to do so.  The photos Smith and others have collected are accompanied with insights gleaned from many primary sources, which are quoted liberally throughout the book.

While the book shows women wearing pants in the expected ways – college girls in bloomers playing basketball, stage actresses dressed as men during performances – there are some really interesting and off-beat photos of women dressed as men lovers and even all female weddings with half the women dressed as men.  And then there are the women adventurers dressed as men as they flew aeroplanes and scaled mountains.  Fantastic stuff!

As a collector of old photos of women in sportswear, I’ve looked through thousands of vintage photos.  Usually the older ones just get a quick glance from me, but now I’ll be looking for the crooked mustache and the too large suit coat!

And here are some of my favorite women in pants:

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Filed under Currently Reading, Proper Clothing, Vintage Photographs