I have always considered Amy Vanderbilt (1908-1974), America’s mid-century manners maven, something of a fussbudget. Consider her 1952 advice on evening meals: “Every woman should change for dinner, if only into a clean house dress…Fresh clothes and makeup, even if you are to be alone with the children for a simple meal, are psychologically sound and bring a needed change in the day’s pace. Fresh grooming for evening is one of the criteria of gentility.” (Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Book of Etiquette, 1952)
That’s why I was surprised to discover that she was a staunch advocate of pants and pantsuits for women in public in 1971, at a time when the practice was still somewhat controversial. “Who’s wearing pants?” she asks. “Practically everybody. College girls and grandmothers. Nurses in white pants uniforms, lady lawyers in court and well-tailored clubwomen. In big cities pants are increasingly seen on streets and offices.”(Ladies Home Journal, January 1971, 24)
She does have a few caveats, of course. Some restaurants refuse them, so ask ahead. Be careful with accessories. Distinguish between outfits for the street and for evening wear. Remember your femininity. Watch the fit.
But this a short list compared to her enthusiastic endorsements. Pantsuits are appropriate for work and for evenings out, she writes. One can even wear them to church and funerals. She would not object to a woman in a pantsuit calling on the President. “Aunt Minnie might frown, but she is more than likely already in a pantsuit herself.”
Vanderbilt obviously practiced what she preached. The small photo accompanying the article shows her at age 63 wearing a pantsuit while talking with Jean Larriaga, the owner of Le Mistral restaurant in New York. In the article, she implies that she was trying to convince him to change his policies on pantsuits.