Women, pants, and power have been mixed up together since suffragist Amelia Bloomer paraded around in “Turkishtrousers” in the 1850s. Bloomer’s goal was to reform women’s clothing, with its restrictive corsets and heavy skirts, but her outfit brought mostly ridicule from a public that largely believed trousers, along with the vote, were men’s prerogatives. The bicycle craze of the 1890s helped open women’s minds to the idea of wearing divided skirts or knickerbockers for sports. Even so, as the fight for women’s voting rights kicked into high gear around the turn of the 20th century, pictures of women in trousers remained potent images for anti-suffragists who argued that a woman who “wore the pants in the family” usurped male power at home as well as in the voting booth.

Women in pants and other imagined abominations of a post-suffrage world (men watching babies or doing housework were two popular themes) were frequently depicted on picture postcards of the era. Dubious humor was a hallmark, but sometimes eroticism crept in, too. “Pants are made for men, not for women. Women are made for men, not pants,” reads the first line on a postcard from 1906 showing a pretty miss in a low neckline holding a pair of newsprint trousers. A series of postcards from 1909 featured cute “suffragettes” (alleged to be more militant than suffragists) in trousers. A winsome “Pantalette Suffragette” accessorized her mannish overalls with an enormous picture hat and dainty high heels, while a “Suffragette Coppette” brandishes a rolling pin and shows off her tiny waist as a well-dressed gent ogles her from the background. Even 100 years ago, sexy ladies weren’t threatening to men.

Another card showed a priest turning away a would-be attendee of a women-only lecture for being dressed in pants. The artist poked fun at the similarity of the priest’s hassock and trousers and the woman’s fashionable “harem” pants and jacket. The card seemed to insinuate that clergymen weren’t “real” men—and women in pants couldn’t be considered “real” women, either.

Museum of Femoribilia By Lynn Peril

  This article first appeared in our Dec/Jan print edition of BUST    Magazine. Subscribe Now!

Tagged in: women, sexism, Postcards, pants, illustration, from the magazine, fashion   

The opinions expressed on the BUST blog are those of the authors themselves and do not necessarily reflect the position of BUST Magazine or its staff.

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