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When did women start wearing trousers?

When did women swap skirts for trousers?

Picture of a 19th-century bloomer costume
Published: March 17, 2022 at 11:00 am
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When did women start wearing trousers? The short answer is in prehistory, and there have been many civilisations throughout human history that have survived the 'scandal' of its women wearing trouser-like garments.


Of course, there are plenty of societies that found it harder, many of them in the west. Let’s not forget, the idiom ‘who wears the trousers?’ is still commonplace.

It had been custom, even law, for women to wear dresses or skirts for centuries – one of the charges levied at Joan of Arc on her way to the stake in 1431 was crossdressing – and this norm was only seriously challenged in the mid-19th century.

American campaigner for dress reform and women’s rights Elizabeth Smith Miller designed a type of trouser in the early 1850s. Her ‘Turkish dress’ was a skirt to the knees with puffy trouser legs to the ankles. The outfit caught on after being advertised in The Lily, a magazine owned by American womens’ rights activist Amelia Jenks Bloomer – which is why they quickly became known as bloomers.

Change was slow, so much so that it was big news every time Hollywood A-listers Marlene Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn wore trousers in the 1930s. It was more than a century after the bloomer era before the trouser designs and miniskirts of the 1960s significantly changed attitudes of what women wore on their legs. About blooming time.


This article was taken from issue 71 of BBC History revealed


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