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Although we are celebrating nearly 100 years since the roaring twenties, there is still so much to learn about this important decade in American history.
Did Women Wear Pants in the 1920s?
Yes, women first began experimenting with wearing pants (called trousers back then) and wearing pants suits in the early 1920s, although it did take a few decades to become the norm.
This was at first seen as scandalous, but it was an important milestone for women’s rights. By wearing pants, women could enter sports, do paid labor, and “compete”, if you will, for their place in what was traditionally a man’s world.
Similar to flapper attire, wearing pants was considered inappropriate. Some men felt threatened by them, but once a few women began wearing them, the trend became unstoppable.
If you’re interested in being that daring young woman from the roaring twenties who was brave enough to wear pants (picture Amelia Earhart), then this article is for you.
There are so many cute pants outfits that have that retro flare to them! These are sure to make you a hit at any Great Gatsby party, wedding, costume party, or cosplay event.
Were Pants Popular in the 1920s?
Well, they were, and they weren’t. Women started wearing pants during this decade, but even for some women, it was not always accepted.
Wearing trousers had long been a man’s realm, so it took quite a while for some people to accept the idea of women wearing pants.
However, some women were almost forced into wearing pants due to their lifestyles or employment.
What Pants Were Popular in the 1920s?
If you were a farm worker, for example, you couldn’t really wear a long dress and milk cows without showing plenty of leg. During WWI, women were needed to work in factories or do the jobs men traditionally performed. It would be next to impossible to expect a woman to repair airplanes wearing a floor-length dress and stockings!
Most women resorted to wearing overalls or coveralls for these types of jobs.
Once they experienced the difference and convenience of wearing pants, there was no stopping them.
Females also began working in cabarets. This was a type of drag show that featured women dressed in more manly outfits, usually a tuxedo.
The tuxedo would be altered to fit the more feminine form. Again, women began to seek out trousers that they could dress up to look feminine but still enjoy the comfort of trousers.
If you would like to go with something different, the cabaret look is easy to pull off. Wear a tuxedo that is designed for women. In the 1920s, women would wear the pants a bit short so you could see their ankles. Cuff the pants or get them hemmed.
You should wear a Panama hat and a bow tie along with women’s Mary Jane shoes to show that you are, in fact, a woman.
You could add a rattan cane if you really wanted to go all out!
There were also some sports where women wearing pants was accepted by nearly everyone.
Women’s Sporting Pants
While some of these are similar to knickers, they were still considered pants.
Golf was quite a popular sport in the Jazz Age. It was perfectly OK for women to pull on a pair of knickers, long socks that covered the knees, and even wear some lace up Oxford shoes, as long as she made sure to hold a golf club. Some even wore ties!
If you want to dress like Jordan Baker, the pro golfer from The Great Gatsby, you could wear this outfit, minus the vest and don’t forget the lace-up Oxfords!
This was acceptable as long as you were “golfing”, but in some small towns, it was actually illegal for women to wear knickers or pants!
As movies (or talkies as they were called) became more popular, it also become more common in the 1920s for women to be directors.
As a director or camerawoman, a female could get away with wearing jodhpurs, a long-sleeved button-up shirt, oxfords, and a newsboy cap.
And who could forget Amelia Earhart? Her mother was apparently a fan of letting little girls dress as they liked, and Amelia favored knickers from a very young age.
If you have plans for a costume party, you would really stand out from the crowd of flapper dresses by wearing a daring Amelia Earhart outfit with pants and the hat included!
There were other brave young ladies who bucked the fashion trend of dresses and dared to wear pants.
Which Famous Women Wore Pants in the 1920s?
Several 1920s women wearing pants actually had to wear pants that were made for men, usually including the suspenders and ties, sometimes the hats and Oxfords to match.
Italian singer Nella Regini was a fan of men’s suits. She didn’t wear the vest, but there are plenty of photos of her wearing a man’s tweed pants, a jacket, and spats.
For a feminine touch, rather than a tie, she wore a long silk scarf tied at the neck but flowing to the waist.
Who could forget the ultra-feminine Coco Chanel? She was perhaps one of the most prominent women who proudly wore pants that were not for men!
Coco Chanel wore the first bell-bottom pants, also called palazzo pants.
She favored super-wide leg pants perhaps because this way it resembled a long skirt, or perhaps she simply liked the style. You’ll find plenty of photos of Coco wearing these wide-leg pants paired with a sweater or a sleeveless blouse and a sweater.
Katherine Hepburn was another trendsetter. You’ll find as many photos of Hepburn wearing pants as you will of Coco Chanel. From a young age, Hepburn said that she thought boys had all the fun, so she decided that if she dressed like a boy, she could have fun, too!
If you have beautiful auburn hair, you can recreate Hepburn’s look by wearing a man’s suit, usually minus the vest, and a soft, feminine blouse.
Now, Hepburn would pair her suit with either men’s Oxfords or women’s heels, so the choice here is yours. If you want to go with heels, these would be a good choice.
Katherine Hepburn was criticized for wearing pants so often, but one thing you can never say about her was that she looked manly. To get the Hepburn look, keep things soft and flowy.
Did Women Really Wear Pajamas to the Beach?
Yes, they did, in a way. Women wore more daring swimsuits during the 1920s than at any other time in history. They quickly discovered that they needed (or wanted) some type of coverup that would keep them from being overexposed as they walked to and from cars.
Women also didn’t want to wear anything too constricting or too heavy since it was hot. The answer became something known as Beach Pajamas.
These pajamas were quite loose so they would easily go on over a wet bathing suit. If you can picture silk pajama bottoms with a flowing robe, you’ll have an idea about what these were like.
One can almost picture Daisy Buchanan from The Great Gatsby wearing a pair of beach pajamas.
Before long, women were wearing beach pajamas around the house and even to a friend’s house.
These pajamas weren’t designed to sleep in necessarily, but that changed in the 1930s as beach pajamas for the beach fell out of fashion.
Colorful prints and patterns, especially Oriental designs, were quite popular. It was common for women to wear sandals with these outfits, similar to this design.
The first tanning oil was released in 1928, and women were encouraged to look “healthy” and tan. That meant less covering up at the beach,
Women’s magazines also followed suit. They began to change their tone, calling beach pajamas trousers or slacks as the style changed.
What about Female Gangsters?
While you won’t find many pictures of molls, the women who accompanied the infamous gangster of the 1920s, there must have been plenty of them who favored pants.
If you’re going to a costume party, the moll is always a popular outfit. For this look, most women ditch the shirt and wear only the vest. And don’t forget the fedora!
If you prefer, you can go the opposite route and wear just the shirt and suspenders, no vest.
For a slightly different look, some women opt to wear the jacket to look more “tough”.
Don’t forget the fake Tommy gun for some extra fun!
We love this ultra sexy-looking moll costume!
This costume has a little different cut to the pants, which makes it look quite authentic!
For plus-sized gals, you’ll love the way this gangster moll costume fits perfectly!
Last, but not least, is this fun outfit. While the shirt may not be historically accurate, everyone will know exactly who you are dressed as, and some may call you Mrs. Capone before the night is over.
The main idea is to have fun with whatever costume you decide to wear! Why bother if you aren’t having fun?!
While many women were wearing pants for work or while doing chores at home as early as the 19th century, these were typically worn in private where they wouldn’t be seen by other people.
This all changed in the early part of the 20th century when women were made to work in public jobs after most men went off to fight in WWI.
Once women realized how easy and comfortable pants were, they really didn’t want to go back. Of course, older women found trousers objectionable, but younger women embraced them.
It would be several more decades before women were free enough to wear pants every day in almost any situation you can think of.
However, as with most things, once women find a good thing, they don’t want to go back to old ways of doing things or old ways of dressing.
While women today are free to wear just about anything, we wonder how long it will be before men decide that dresses feel more “freeing” than pants.
Written by Kerry Wisby – GatsbyFlapperGirl.com
Owner & Founder of GatsbyFlapperGirl.com
Kerry Wisby, a former teacher with a BA in English, is the founder of GatsbyFlapperGirl.com. With a passion for all things 1920s, including The Great Gatsby novel, her website is the ultimate source for Roaring Twenties fashion, history, and party ideas. Read more about Kerry here.