Steely Seamstress

Sewing for life

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Who wears the trousers?

I was pondering yesterday my sewing strategy for the next few months. The fact is that I haven’t got one. I’ve just been drawn to various projects either because I like the pattern or fabric or because I feel that the techniques I’ll use in the project are ones that I can do. I have tried to challenge myself incrementally; I don’t want to try to run before I can walk.

I have come to the conclusion that I do need a strategy though. There is no point making clothes that I don’t think I’ll wear and I need to replace old favourites with similar items. This was brought home to me at the weekend especially when I found a hole in my black jeans. Sadly they aren’t repairable as the fabric is rather too thin. And of course, a couple of weeks ago I cut up my green corduroy trousers to create a pattern to copy them, but I haven’t got any further with that project. Two pairs of trousers down and I’ve replaced them with nothing. I practically live in trousers so I’m already noticing that the two remaining pairs of jeans are constantly going through the wash. Perhaps I just need to wear more skirts. I have made attempts to do just this. But to be realistic in the last month I have worn a dress to work once and a skirt once and this is excessive non-trouser wearing for me!

I do come from a line of trouser-wearing women though. My mum seems to scarcely wear a skirt, much like me, and has always been like that. Likewise my grandmother (my Mum’s mum) was the same. In fact, I never remember her wearing anything else. She made all her own clothes. I have wondered whether she always dressed like that. For those growing up in the early part of the last century that would not have been the case, so the trouser-wearing must have been a conscious decision.

This sparked an interest in the history of trousers as women’s clothing and I set out to find out a little about when trousers exactly became socially acceptable and commonplace. In the early part of the twentieth century, trousers were worn hardly at all by women. Early examples of women wearing trousers include famous frontierswoman Calamity Jane and aviator, Amelia Earhart. These women wore trousers as a practical necessity.

Amelia Earhart

Screen legends of the 1930s such as Katharine Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich were frequent trouser-wearers. Katharine was well-known for her unconventional attitude and strong personality. When the costume department at RKO film studio stole her slacks (because they found slacks to be uncouth and boyish), Hepburn walked around the studio in her underwear, refusing to put her clothes on until she got her pants back! I just love the photo of Katharine below. She looks so elegant, sophisticated and yet alluring! But this is Hollywood and not real life!

Katharine Hepburn in Trousers

In the same period, trousers as pyjamas and sportswear became acceptable. The photo below shows women in a bowls match in 1935.

Playing Bowls

During the second world war things changed radically. Women took on many jobs previously carried out by men and wore overalls or trousers as a practical item of clothing for their work. I found this sewing pattern from the early war years for a pair of overalls.

1940 overalls

By the end of the war, trousers were starting to establish themselves as more accepted day-wear and patterns for trouser suits were published.

Trouser suit 1942

Immediately after the war, ultra-feminine fashions dominated in the fifties. These were characterised by full-skirted skirts and dresses. Trousers still made an appearance with high-waisted Capri trousers proving popular. Since the sixties, trousers have been worn quite commonly. Although even now, they are still shunned in favour skirts and dresses by many women for certain formal occasions. I admit even I would feel out of place in trousers at a wedding, unless I was calling the shots as the bride…….

Bride in trousers