Women and trousers

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Since the adoption of trousers in Western Europe in Late Antiquity, trousers have been largely worn by men and not by women until the early 20th century.

Amazon wearing trousers and carrying a shield with an attached patterned cloth and a quiver. Ancient Greek Attic white-ground alabastron, ca. 470 BC, British Museum, London

In 1919, Luisa Capetillo challenged the mainstream society by becoming the first woman in Puerto Rico to wear trousers in public. Capetillo was sent to jail for what was then considered to be a "crime", but the judge later dropped the charges against her.

Women increasingly wore trousers as leisurewear in the 1920s and 30s. In the early 20th century female pilots and other working women often wore trousers. Actresses Marlene Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn were often photographed in trousers from the 1930s. During World War II, women working in industrial work in war service wore their husbands' (suitably altered) trousers, and in the post-war era trousers were still common casual wear for gardening, socialising, and other leisure pursuits.

Similarly, in Britain during the Second World War, because of the rationing of clothing, many women took to wearing their husbands' civilian clothes to work while their husbands were away in the armed forces. This was partly because they were seen as work garments, and partly to allow women to keep their clothing allowance for other uses. As the men's clothes wore out, replacements were needed, so that by the summer of 1944 it was reported that sales of women's trousers were five times more than in the previous year.[1]

In the 1960s, André Courrèges introduced jeans for women, leading to the era of designer jeans.

In 1969 Rep. Charlotte Reid (R-Ill.) became the first woman to wear trousers in the U.S. Congress.[2]

Pat Nixon was the first American First Lady to wear trousers in public.[3]

For a period in the 1970s, trousers became quite fashionable for women. In the United States, this may be due to the passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which ruled that dresses could not be required of girls. Dress codes changed in public schools across the United States.

In 1989 California state senator Rebecca Morgan became the first woman to wear trousers in a U.S. state senate.[4]

Hillary Clinton was the first woman to wear trousers in an official U.S. First Lady portrait.[5]

Women were not allowed to wear trousers on the U.S. Senate floor until 1993.[6][7] In 1993, Senators Barbara Mikulski and Carol Moseley Braun wore trousers onto the floor in defiance of the rule, and female support staff followed soon after, with the rule being amended later that year by Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Martha Pope to allow women to wear trousers on the floor so long as they also wore a jacket.[6][7]

Since 2004 the International Skating Union has allowed women to wear trousers instead of skirts in competition if they wish.[8]

In 2012 the Royal Canadian Mounted Police began to allow women to wear trousers and boots with all their formal uniforms.[9]



There are a number of religions that prohibit women from revealing their legs, requiring all women and often young girls not to wear trousers but a long dress[citation needed]. By contrast a sizable majority of Sikhs often believe wearing trousers is preferred for Sikh women to maintain modesty.

Although many contemporary Mennonites have no dress code, among traditional, conservative Mennonites, sometimes referred to as "Old Order Mennonites", long skirts or dresses covering most of the legs are required. They also wear dresses and skirts because they believe men and women should be distinguished from one another. "Deuteronomy 22:5 The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God." (KJV) Conservative conferences usually demand that women wear a specific style of dress. This is usually in the style of the cape dress, with a double covering or "cape". Most non-conservative conferences allow for the wearing of trousers by women.[citation needed]

Pentecostal women choose to wear skirts because of the Biblical commandment that women must not wear men's clothing; however, this is mandatory.[citation needed]

In Orthodox Jewish belief, the space between a woman's legs is considered to be a private area, and therefore, must be covered by a garment[citation needed]. However, in other cultures wearing men's clothing is forbidden biblically under the prohibition of Lo Silbash ("A woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man", Deuteronomy 22:5). In some Jewish communities, such as the Jews from Arab countries and Modern Orthodox communities, it is reasoned that trousers provide an extra form of modesty.[citation needed]

On 13 November 866, Pope Nicholas I wrote to King Boris I of Bulgaria: "Whether you or your women wear or do not wear trousers neither impedes your salvation nor leads to any increase of your virtue"[10] (sive vos, sive feminae vestrae, sive deponatis, sive induatis femoralia, nec saluti officit, nec ad virtutum vestrarum proficit incrementum - Patrologia Latina, CXIX, 1002).[11] Some members of the Society of Saint Pius X have spoken of the preference of women's wearing skirts rather than trousers.[12] Cardinal Siri's letter has also been cited as justification for women wearing skirts and dresses.[13] In addition, Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Church's principal theologian, also taught that "outward apparel should be consistent with the estate of the person, according to the general custom. Hence it is in itself sinful for a woman to wear man's clothes, or vice versa; and it is expressly forbidden in the Law (Deuteronomy 22)..." [14]


Many forms of dancing require females to wear skirts or dresses, either by convention or competition rules. In Scottish highland dancing for example, women don't wear trews, but instead either wear a skirt or dress including the Aboyne dress (for the national dances) or the kilt-based outfit for the Highland dances. However, tartan trews can be worn by women in the United States.

School uniform[edit]

Most UK schools allow girl pupils to wear trousers, but many girls still wear skirts in primary and secondary schools, even where the choice of trousers is given. In the late 20th century, many schools began changing their uniform rules to allow trousers for girls amidst opposition to skirts only policies - the most publicised possibly being Jo Hale vs Whickam Comprehensive in 2000.[15] Although commonly accepted that girls may wear trousers to school, no test case is known to have been brought before the courts, making the legal position uncertain on requiring skirts as part of girls' uniforms. The rule is still enforced in many schools, particularly independent and selective state schools. In fact, government guidelines expressly state the decision of allowing girls to wear trousers is with individual schools.[16]



In 2013, a bylaw requiring women in Paris, France to ask permission from city authorities before "dressing as men", including wearing trousers (with exceptions for those "holding a bicycle handlebar or the reins of a horse") was declared officially revoked by France's Women's Rights Minister, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem. [17] The bylaw was originally intended to prevent women from wearing the pantalons fashionable with Parisian rebels in the French Revolution.[17]


In 2014, an Indian family court in Mumbai ruled that a husband objecting to his wife wearing a kurta and jeans and forcing her to wear a sari amounts to cruelty inflicted by the husband and can be a ground to seek divorce.[18] The wife was thus granted a divorce on the ground of cruelty as defined under section 27(1)(d) of Special Marriage Act, 1954.[18]


In Rome in 1992, a 45-year-old driving instructor was accused of rape. When he picked up an 18-year-old girl for her first driving lesson, he allegedly raped her for an hour, then told her that if she was to tell anyone he would kill her. Later that night she told her parents and her parents agreed to help her press charges. While the alleged rapist was convicted and sentenced, the Italian Supreme Court overturned the conviction in 1998 because the victim wore tight jeans. It was argued that she must have necessarily have had to help her attacker remove her jeans, thus making the act consensual ("because the victim wore very, very tight jeans, she had to help him remove them...and by removing the jeans...it was no longer rape but consensual sex"). The Italian Supreme Court stated in its decision “it is a fact of common experience that it is nearly impossible to slip off tight jeans even partly without the active collaboration of the person who is wearing them.”[19] This ruling sparked widespread feminist protest. The day after the decision, women in the Italian Parliament protested by wearing jeans and holding placards that read “Jeans: An Alibi for Rape.” As a sign of support, the California Senate and Assembly followed suit. Soon Patricia Giggans, Executive Director of the Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women, (now Peace Over Violence) made Denim Day an annual event. As of 2011 at least 20 U.S. states officially recognize Denim Day in April. Wearing jeans on this day has become an international symbol of protest against erroneous and destructive attitudes about sexual assault. As of 2008 the Italian Supreme Court has overturned their findings, and there is no longer a "denim" defense to the charge of rape.


In Malawi women were not legally allowed to wear trousers under President Kamuzu Banda's rule until 1994.[20] This law was introduced in 1965.[21]

Puerto Rico[edit]

In 1919, Luisa Capetillo challenged mainstream society by becoming the first woman in Puerto Rico to wear trousers in public. Capetillo was sent to jail for what was then considered to be a crime, but, the judge later dropped the charges against her.


In 2013, Turkey's parliament ended a ban on women lawmakers wearing trousers in its assembly.[22]


In Sudan, Article 152 of the Memorandum to the 1991 Penal Code prohibits the wearing of "obscene outfits" in public. This law has been used to arrest and prosecute women wearing trousers. Thirteen women including journalist Lubna al-Hussein were arrested in Khartoum in July 2009 for wearing trousers; ten of the women pleaded guilty and were flogged with ten lashes and fined 250 Sudanese pounds apiece. Lubna al-Hussein considers herself a good Muslim and asserts "Islam does not say whether a woman can wear trousers or not. I'm not afraid of being flogged. It doesn't hurt. But it is insulting." She was eventually found guilty and fined the equivalent of $200 rather than being flogged.[23]


In California, Government Code Section 12947.5 (part of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act) expressly protects the right to wear pants (American English for trousers).[24] Thus, the standard FEHA discrimination complaint form includes an option for "denied the right to wear pants." [25]

Women were not allowed to wear trousers on the U.S. Senate floor until 1993. In 1993, Senators Barbara Mikulski and Carol Moseley Braun wore trousers onto the floor in defiance of the rule, and female support staff followed soon after, with the rule being amended later that year by Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Martha Pope to allow women to wear pants on the floor so long as they also wore a jacket.[6][7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ L.W.N. Smith. Clothes Rationing in World War 2
  2. ^ Reliable, The (2011-12-21). "Update: First woman to wear pants on House floor, Rep. Charlotte Reid - The Reliable Source". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2014-07-30. 
  3. ^ "First Lady - Pat Nixon | C-SPAN First Ladies: Influence & Image". Firstladies.c-span.org. Retrieved 8 May 2015. 
  4. ^ "Lodi News-Sentinel - Google News Archive Search". 
  5. ^ Betsi Fores (2013-06-19). "Flashback: Top 7 Hillary Rodham Clinton pant suits | Rare". Rare.us. Retrieved 2014-07-30. 
  6. ^ a b c Robin Givhan (January 21, 2004). "Moseley Braun: Lady in red". Articles.chicagotribune.com. Retrieved 2014-07-30. 
  7. ^ a b c Cooper, Kent (2005-06-09). "The Long and Short of Capitol Style : Roll Call Special Features 50th Anniversary". Rollcall.com. Retrieved 2014-07-30. 
  8. ^ "Slovak Pair Tests New ISU Costume Rules - Skate Today". 
  9. ^ Moore, Dene (2012-08-16). "Female Mounties earn right to wear pants and boots with all formal uniforms". Vancouversun.com. Retrieved 2014-07-30. 
  10. ^ The Responses of Pope Nicholas I to the Questions of the Bulgars A.D. 866 (Letter 99), translated by W. L. North (1998) from the edition of Ernest Perels, in MGH Epistolae VI, Berlin, 1925, pp.568-600.
  11. ^ "RORATE CÆLI: Search results for femoralia". 
  12. ^ Letter on trousers
  13. ^ "Notification Concerning Men's Dress Worn By Women". 
  14. ^ "SUMMA THEOLOGICA: Modesty in the outward apparel (Secunda Secundae Partis, Q. 169)". 
  15. ^ Rebecca Smithers Education Correspondent (2000-02-24). "Girl wins battle to wear trousers to school | Education". The Guardian. Retrieved 2014-07-30. 
  16. ^ "School uniform". GOV.UK. 2014-06-27. Retrieved 2014-07-30. 
  17. ^ a b "It Is Now Legal for Women to Wear Pants in Paris". Time. 4 February 2013. 
  18. ^ a b PTI (2014-06-28). "Wife's jeans ban is grounds for divorce, India court rules". GulfNews.com. Retrieved 2015-10-28. 
  19. ^ Faedi, Benedetta (2009). "Rape, Blue Jeans, and Judicial Developments in Italy". Columbia Journal of European Law. Retrieved April 26, 2011. 
  20. ^ Sarah DeCapua, Malawi in Pictures, 2009, pg 7.
  21. ^ "Beeld JOHANNESBURG FINAAL Woensdag 1 Desember 1993 Bl. 9: Malawi-vroue mag broek dra". Retrieved 2014-07-30. 
  22. ^ "Turkey lifts ban on trousers for women MPs in parliament - Yahoo News". News.yahoo.com. 2013-11-14. Retrieved 2014-07-30. 
  23. ^ Gettleman, Jeffrey; Arafat, Waleed (8 September 2009). "Sudan Court Fines Woman for Wearing Trousers". The New York Times. 
  24. ^ California Government Code Section 12947.5.
  25. ^ Instructions to Obtain Right to Sue Notice by Mail, California Department of Fair Housing and Employment, February 2013.