By the mid 1960s, pants for casual wear had entered the mainstream of American fashion. I distinctly remember buying a pair of fuchsia stirrup pants in 1966, which I wore with a boxy fuchsia top covered with embroidered flowers. Ah youth! There is no way on earth I would wear that color or style today.
The Spring/Summer Sears catalog of 1966, a gift from a friend, has pages and pages of pants for sale—stirrup pants, bell bottoms, jeans, slim pants of various lengths, and even maternity wear. The only limitation was the sizing. Most were available in standard junior and misses sizes with hip measurements ranging from 32 to 42 inches.
But what if your hips were bigger than 42 inches, the fate of many older women? Going through the handy index for the catalog, I was pleasantly surprised to see pants on offer in women’s sizes 38 to 44, accommodating women with hip measurements from 43 to 49 inches. Not only could larger women find stirrup pants and jeans, there were also slim pants on offer in various lengths.
Still the choices were limited compared to those given to women who wore standard sizes. Sears decided that larger women wanted only neutral colors. There were no plaids, no prints, no unusual textures, or fancy details. The denim pants above, for example, were sold only in navy and wheat to the larger set, not in checks or turquoise. And women with hips larger than 49 inches could not buy pants from Sears at all.
So is the glass half empty or half full? And do Sears’ assumptions—that larger women wanted plain colors and no frills—reflect what these women really wanted or what the company thought they should have?