Women’s Trousers

1920’s Fashion and Rebellion Article

A smart observer of the passing scene typed these words about the social revolution that he had been witnessing for the past six years:

“Some time ago in these pages I expressed the opinion that, so far from it being likely that the future we would see all women wearing trousers, it was much more probable that it would see all men wearing skirts…It is not many years since hockey-skirts reaching below the knees, with voluminous and ugly bloomers as a second line of defense, were regarded as a little risky…I say again that [today’s fashion] is a phenomenon which the social historian appears to be passing over. We do not realize that a tradition of centuries has within a decade been stood its head…”

“The Revolution in Dress” by Edward Shanks – 29th of August 1925, The Saturday Review

How funny and interesting it is to read this today?

The Revolution in dress article 1925


1920’s Women’s Pyjamas

Even though it was not acceptable for a woman to wear trousers, except for practising sports, in 1922 Paul Poiret showed pyjamas as ‘original attire for the hours of deshabille’. (1)

In the early 1920’s, journalists redefined indoor pants as evening pajamas and interpreted them as feminine and even feminist. Martine Rénier’s editorial “What feminine fashion has taken from masculine fashion?” contended that women only adopted attractive elements of trousers and shirts and wore them only in-doors. Making ladies trousers of brightly colored silks and wearing them with tunics or blouses lamé or muslin represented a feminization of masculine-looking garments. Rénier also praised pants as practical, comfortable, and loose enough to allow free movement. (2)

By 1924, when Vogue announced ‘Pyjamas become matters of vivid importance’, it was time to put the cards on the table. ‘The pyjama is not an amusing novelty; it has become an essential part of the smart woman’s wardrobe’. Vogue pinpointed three variations: sleeping pyjamas – ‘a lovely boyish thing of washing silk or crepe de Chine’; lounging pyjamas – ‘when informal entertainments and masquerades are the order of the day’; and beach pyjamas – ‘usually of gay printed cretonne, often worn with bright rubber wristlets to keep the sleeves in place when one loiters on the sand’. (1)

Billie Dove
Billie Dove

Sleeping pyjamas and lounging pyjamas were quite similar. These were very luxurious garments made of delicate and flowing fabrics such as silk, chiffon, satin or rayon. They feature loose, ankle-length pants that hung straight at the bottom or were drawn tight around the ankle by a ribbon or lacing. The waistlines of the pants had drawstrings. Tops were hip-length jackets with varying sleeve lengths.

Alice White modelling lounging pyjamas, 1920's.
Alice White modelling lounging pyjamas, 1920’s.

Women’s pyjamas sometimes were quite stylized, even whimsical. For instance, on occasion they were designed in silk in an Oriental fashion that featured loose, wide sleeves like kimonos. They were printed colourfully with renderings of Japanese and Chinese objects, such as paper lanterns, geisha houses, and chopsticks.

Louise Brooks
Louise Brooks

According to period fashion illustrations, beach pyjamas were similar in appearance to sleeping/lounge pyjamas. Soon they became a double-duty garment for the relaxed resort lifestyle, one that navigated easily from beach to cocktail party. I will talk about these garments in detail in the future, where I’ll dedicate a post to 1920’s Beachwear.

Schiaparelli fashions, 1929
Schiaparelli fashions, 1929

(1) Vogue Fashion – Linda Watson, 2008
(2) Dressing Modern Frenchwomen: Marketing Haute Couture, 1919-1939 – Mary Lynn Stewart, 2008


1920’s Women’s Trousers

In the same way as the sportswear revolution was responsible for deconstructing corsets, fashion movements of the 1920’s were sparked by social situations. Trousers had come in through the back door. (1)

If it had become acceptable for modern Frenchwomen to wear pants for sports, French fashion magazines, and by inference their readers, did not considered tailored pants suitable for ladies to wear on city or in public. (2)

Trousers as we see them today, never really became part of the 1920’s women’s attire.

Not one article on wardrobes included city pants, and only a few articles on vacation attire included slacks of any kind. In the 1940’s, it was still unusual for stylish women to wear pants in cities. (2)

Although you can still find some exceptions in 1920’s pictures of brave women who adopted men’s trousers as their own. Mostly still, had been worn at sports related events or indoors.

Amelia Earhart, 1928
Amelia Earhart, 1928
Washington, D.C. "Blizzard, January 28, 1922."
Washington, D.C. “Blizzard, January 28, 1922.”

trousers 3

trousers 4 5

(1) Vogue Fashion – Linda Watson, 2008
(2) Dressing Modern Frenchwomen: Marketing Haute Couture, 1919-1939 – Mary Lynn Stewart, 2008

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