Resist for Change:
Women’s Progress towards Comfortable Clothing in America and its effects
The expectation of fashion of an ‘ideal’ woman circling the 20th century revolved around corsets and Rubenesque skirts- so how did we get here today, where women wearing pants have become socially acceptable? The slow alteration of women’s wear in the western world can be pinpointed on several events in history. Though the progression of comfort has been gradually implemented into a modern woman’s wardrobe as time has passed, the implicit tinge of sexualization has transcended into ideals of style and body type. The philosophy that women and girls can and cannot wear certain articles of clothing throughout periods of history persistently prove one objective: that female figures through and through have been viewed as responsible for the consequences of their fashion choices. As shown through the era of the early to mid-1900s, anything beyond the scope of what is ‘politically correct’ assumes the standpoint of taboo. It was primarily through war, high fashion and cinematic influence, that American style—and subsequent gender equality, began to shift.
One of the revolutions that catalyzed women’s comfort and functionality started with designer Coco Chanel. By integrating pants into her leisurewear collection, she triggered the normalization of pants-wearing. Her efforts towards normalizing (then) modern women’s wear and styling it in her own way paved the path to liberation. American women were further saturated within this newfound culture when in 1956, the film Funny Face depicted icon Audrey Hepburn stylishly sporting, you guessed it: pants. As the western world became aware of pop culture and fashion influence, women began gravitating to business formal attire in the workplace. However, the shift from the big screen to everyday life was a slower change.
War also advanced equal-gender constructs– the majority of men were fighting in the World Wars, which caused a vacancy within factory jobs and manufacturing goods. This left an opening for women to shed the “domesticated housewife” complex so heavily instilled on them and set off to work. Wearing pants slowly became the way to equalize men and women. This revelation created some male stigma– and if women dared wear anything ‘industrial’ or masculine, it would be deemed inappropriate. This is most prominently exhibited from Lois Rabinowitz in 1960, who was publicly reprimanded and fined for sporting professional ‘slacks’ to court. Like the jobs reserved for men preceding the wars, pants served a similar purpose in that it catered to men. An article of clothing as simple as pants had become a threshold for women to cross in order for them to be viewed as important, independent of their femininity. This resistance for change became a key factor that made up second-wave feminism, pushing against societal views that compressed women into a box of fragility and domesticated qualities.
Liberation for American women was widespread, and the change for attire was one of the prominent features within second-wave feminism. “The personal is the political” was echoed throughout the nation to signal that social justice was being served. The Feminine Mystique, written by Betty Friedan, challenged the social construct that women are incapable of accomplishing the tasks that men did; this served as a catalyst for progress towards gender equality.
The fight for pants, though recognized over time beginning from the mid-1900s, became an underlying symbol for women’s dress that erupted in the first place because of the internal sexist ideologies and continued discrimination. Women resisted the idea that appearing ‘masculine’ must result in losing respect. Despite the progress women have made, it is abundantly clear that systemic misogyny still impacts young girls and women.
The fight for pants in the preceding decades has now become modernized, evolving into the resistance of young girls and women to wear clothing they please without being sexualized. The covert sexist messages that public schools provide throughout their dress codes exhibit one of the most evidentiary examples of objectification. Countless times has the news surfaced with stories of schools sending girls to home due to ‘provocative’ clothing. Thanks to the help of social media and broader online outreach, instances like these have revealed the underlying sexualization embedded into educational constructs. An Illinois high school in 2017 released a controversial statement concerning female students’ prom attire: “Some girls may wear the same dress, but due to body types one dress may be acceptable while the other is not.” Here, the dress code’s purpose is to degrade girls’ body types and appearance, rather than regulation. Students began to protest these blatantly misogynistic rules. Tweets like “Just like to point out that people aren’t mad [the high school] made a dress code for prom, people are mad [the high school] put girls down about their body type” surfaced, creating media attention, shining a spotlight on the discrimination women face beginning from a young age.
Though women wearing pants have become normalized, systemic sexism has remained throughout history. Young women are conditioned to believe that their bodies are to blame, that what they wear defines their being. However, through resistance, powered by feminism in the mid-1900s, the western world of fashion built the path towards ever-continuous work promoting gender equality and peace to this day.
Joann Moon, a student at University High School in Fresno, California, is passionate about how day to day discussions surrounding injustices can create a positive impact and progress on society. She hopes to continue educating herself and others towards a greater understanding of the perpetual inequalities faced in the world.
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