Bolstered by freedom of choice, women's fashion is in its full bloom in the modern age. This freedom gained abundant steam in the 1920s when flappers raised the first flags of rebellion against orthodox modesty. Since then, that newfound sense of choice has led to women's fashion evolving right along with their status in society.
Yet despite all that progress, there are vestiges of the old days. Of when a woman's value was tied to the way she was dressed.
The 19th century saw one of the first attempts of women trying to seize their right to choose and wear what they want. This move was heavily mocked and discouraged by society. There were champions among these women, such as Amelia Bloomer, who defended women's choice in her newspaper (the first to be owned and operated by a woman), despite garnering ridicule from the press. In her day, the issue was a woman's right to wear...pants!
The fight for a woman's right to pull on a pair of dungarees picked up steam with the rise of designers like Coco Chanel; herself rather fond of wearing pants. She's responsible for some of the most memorable pants designs in history.
Paul Poiret, storming the scene after the first world war, built a vast collection of his own. And around the same time, Vogue contributed, as well.
The Politics of Pants
But the push against pants wasn't relegated to the 30s. In 1969, Congresswoman Charlotte Thompson Reid, sparked controversy by a black wool, bell-bottomed pantsuit on the House floor. She caused quite the stir, drawing gawkers like a magnet and making headlines as far away as Europe. Despite some encouragement, Reid never repeated the act.
Almost twenty-five years later, Senator Carol Moseley-Braun, having recently won her seat by championing women's rights, sparked more controversy. She was the first black, female senator in US history, but the even that momentous feat would be all but forgotten when she decided to show up for work in a pantsuit--a getup that was forbidden on the Senate floor. It was an unwritten rule, enforced by doorkeepers given the power to turn away anyone they deemed not dressed appropriately.
But by the early 90s, the female presence in the Senate was finally large enough to bolster change. One of these female senators to join Senator Moseley-Braun was Senator Barbara Mikulski. But she wasn't the only one. Soon women throughout the US government joined in this silent protest, sparking what Moseley-Braun calls the "Pantsuit Revolution", eventually making women and pants the norm.
Luckily, we're not living in the days of Mad Men. Most men today would be baffled by the pantsuit controversy. But that doesn't mean that women have ceased to be judged by how they dress. In a warring world where freedom of speech is under assault, and where famine and poverty still cast shadows over many of us, these judgments seem a silly waste of time. There are other matters that should garner our attention. But that's just my two cents.