The War on Pants for Women, 1972

Ladies Home Journal, March 1972. Click to enlarge

When women began wearing pants in public, they faced ferocious criticism.  I am used to biting comments well into the 1960s. “There are fortunate girls (usually under the age of fifteen) who look well in tight trousers; but I have seen so many bulging bottoms in Capri pants, shorts, levis and jeans that I’ve grown positively to dislike the whole trouser family–in public,” wrote costume designer Edith Head in The Dress Doctor in 1959.

However, I was surprised to learn that the criticism continued into the seventies, when pants had become common attire for women of all ages.  In Ladies Home Journal I came across this interesting critique of ads put out by the chain store Ohrbach’s.

At the time, Ohrbach’s was known for its witty advertising. (I couldn’t find stand alone examples of the ads above despite long searching). The ad on the left focuses more on body shaming than age, although the model is obviously not young. “Liberated ladies, don’t get upset. Ohrbach’s is definitely not opposed to pants for women,” the ad copy states. “But we don’t think pants are right for everyone…So if you are not sure that pants are right for you, come in and try on a pair.  See how you look from the front. See how you look from the side. And then do us all a favor and see how you look from the rear.”

In the second ad to the right, age is front and center. “Ohrbach’s doesn’t try to sell everybody the same style.  We know that a mother can’t always wear the same clothes as her daughter wears. And vice versa. So we make sure we have the right look for each of them.”

I have never thought of Ladies Home Journal as a source of up-to-date style advice, but in this instance the magazine went out of its way to show that pants could indeed be for everyone.  The editors put the wider woman into a long tunic with pants, covering up her hips.  And they dressed the trim older woman on the right in a sporty pantsuit.  “A woman of 40 will never look 30 dressing like 20—but she’s still not over the hill. Teenage fashions are fine for your teenagers,” the editors comment. “Avoid them, but you still don’t have to dress like the dowager queen.”

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4 Responses to The War on Pants for Women, 1972

  1. Rhoda K says:

    I remember when women were permitted to wear slacks to work. It was the early 70s and I felt uncomfortable at first, but luckily the folks I worked with joined in immediately! Pants still sounds weird to me, I prefer slacks. 😉 Guess I’m aging myself here, but since today is my birthday, I shall go all out.

    • Happy Birthday! I remember the bank where I worked officially allowed us to wear matching trouser and top outfits in 1970. It was a relief, because kneeling down to file checks in stockings or panty hose often popped the knees — runs were very expensive on a teller’s salary. Of course, I suspect that the male executives enjoyed watching us bend over in miniskirts until the trouser suit was approved…. And nurses must have breathed a huge sigh of relief when allowed to change skirts and stockings for trouser and top uniforms.

  2. The no-pants for females rule was abolished at my high school in the summer of 1972. When we returned to class that fall all the teachers were wearing that pink and white tunic look.

  3. bellneice says:

    The no pants rule was abolished at my high school in the early 70s. They started by saying that girls could wear pants only in the winter, but no jeans. Then, you could wear pants any time of year, but no jeans. Then, they gave up. Once the door was opened, they found they couldn’t close it. For parents who objected to their daughters wearing pants to school, the executive wing (all male) response was that pants were less objectionable than mini-skirts, especially when some of the girls “didn’t know how to sit like ladies”.

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