The question above, posed by the Ladies Home Journal fashion writer Mrs. Ralston, was apparently a controversial one in 1911. I’ll write more about Ralston later; for now it is enough to know that she was an important arbiter of taste in the magazine from 1902 to 1917. In mid 1911, she began her page long article begging her readers for patience, since “the overwhelming consensus of opinion seems to swing distinctly against the trousers skirt for women.”(34)
But the trousers skirt, where the trousers were largely hidden by the skirt, had precedents in fashion history, she argued. There were “pantelets, worn by our grandmothers,” long bloomers that were visible under large hoop skirts. In addition, many women now used a divided skirt, which hid pants underneath, for horseback riding.
Beyond this, the trousers skirt had a distinct practical advantage, Mrs. Ralston argued. They were very practical for walking in the countryside and for athletic purposes. The wearer did not need to bother with under petticoats or separate bloomers under a skirt.
Such an outfit was also useful for the “business girl,” who was out and about all day in all kinds of weather. The trousers underneath made it easier to lift the skirt modestly; narrow trousers were also easier to keep dry than elaborate underskirts.
Although she came in favor of this new fashion trend, it was clear that Mrs. Ralston felt she was taking a bold stance. She repeated continually that the trousers skirt was acceptable only in some situations, and only when the “trousers” part was largely hidden. She had nothing but contempt for the recent fad of harem trousers, where the bifurcated nature of the pants was in full view. This trend she deemed “retrograde,” “immodest,” and “unfeminine.”
Isn’t it a shame that the journal didn’t publish letters to the editor? I wonder what her readers thought.