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.”