All We Are Saying...Is Give Pants a Chance

Monday, August 22, 2011
If there's one thing I've noticed when looking at pictures of women's fashion from the 70s, it's the plethora of pants. Much to the disappointment of men everywhere, many women traded their 60s minis for trousers and pantsuits during the 70s era. Part of the reason for this is because up until then, many women simply weren't allowed to wear pants at their place on employment. Despite the fact that 30 years earlier actresses like Katharine Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich sported trousers, as well as the working women of WWII, they were banned from the typical 1960s office. Even on Mad Men, you won't see any female employees at Sterling Cooper Draper Price wearing anything besides skirts and dresses. To quote a memo that was distributed to employees of CBS Broadcast Center in the early 70s:

Please be advised that it is not Company Policy nor the discretion of the immediate supervisor for female employees to wear slacks during the course of their normal working hours...Slacks may be worn going to and from the Broadcast Center in the morning and evening, and/or on a lunch hour, business, and personal errand. 

A week later, 30 female workers from the CBS offices in the Manhattan area organized and held a "pants-in" (not to be confused with a "pants-off"...ha.) These rebellions took place at high schools as well. 

Nurses also led the pro-pants movement for working women. Around 1970, if you got sick and found yourself in the hospital, you'd be cared for by miniskirted nurses--who struggled to keep their modesty while bending and lifting during their daily duties. Fed up with the idea of dirty old bedridden men (and doctors) looking up their skirts, seven nurses at Queen of Angels Hospital in Southern California petitioned for the right to wear pants, and won. Their victory was front page news and several other hospitals quickly followed their lead. 

Pretty soon, there was no turning back. In 1972, public education rules were reformed so that schools were required to treat boys and girls equally and that meant female students were no longer restricted to wearing only skirts and dresses. Women had won the right to wear pants in the classroom and the office. The fashion trend quickly made its way onto the TV screen, as characters such as Maude Findlay and Mrs. Partridge made pants a closet staple. And although many guys out there may not agree, women born after 1970 (like me) salute our sisters who came before us and gave us more workplace clothing options. 

That isn't to say that these new options were always sexy and flattering. I scanned the following images from a funky little book called 70s Fashion Fiascos by Maureen Valdes Marsh. Um, we fought for this?


  1. I had so many outfits like these. I remember Mary Tyler Moore did not wear pants to the office till the 3rd season of her show, which would have been 1973.

  2. You're bringing back memories! In high school, we wore "super wides" ... jeans by GWG that were soooo wide. They were brutal to walk in when they got wet.

  3. I have kept up on a lot of aspects of history, fashion, pop culture. But I somehow missed how serious the issue of pants was for women. That it was a matter for protest somehow escaped me. I guess maybe I thought it was an unwritten social norm until the 1970s. I did not realize it was dress code policy for women and girls at school and work.

    My teen daughter wears jeans every day of her life all year round. I guess I need to share with her the history of the pants pioneers that paved the way for her fashion freedom.

  4. I remember how excited I was that I was finally going to be able to wear slacks that were part of an ensemble to school (no jeans...only slacks that were part of an outfit/pantsuit). Eventually, we got to wear "Ditto" jeans because they were made of colored twill and didn't look like boys' jeans (although they DID emphasize the booty). I'm not sure but I may have had a pair of yellow plaid pants....

  5. I didn't know that women at one time weren't allowed to wear pants to work as well. The history was outlined in that 70s book I mentioned. So glad to hear this brought back memories!

  6. I kind of like all of those outfits... But I'm stuck in the 70s (and 80s, talk about some bad fashion!)...

    Robin, I'm just now watching the 3rd season of Mary Tyler Moore. I know this because I noticed she is wearing a lot of pants at work now... It's stuck out to me... Did Rhoda live by the same norms? She seemed like such a rebel! :)

  7. Pam, you do find interesting tidbits to write about. Great posts!

  8. Man, some of those "disaster" outfits are fun. Of course I'd want different fabrics and patterns, but they could be wearable... I'd snap up the sewing patterns for them in an instant!

  9. The funny thing is all the pants/slacks designs in the 70's where very flowy and wide. I wonder if that was on purpose or not? Being wide in the thigh myself,I'd appreciate a comeback....though without the plaid,polka dots or stripes.



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