Friday 2 September 2016

Women Wearing Pants & Jeans in the 50s, 60s and 70s

I was born in an era when ladies wore hats and gloves. Not gloves for warmth, or hats for protection from the sun. These were accessories worn for appearance, because that was how ladies dressed when they were going out.

At my Christening, all the ladies wore hats and gloves, not that I can remember, but that's what the photos show. They were all dressed like my Godmother in the photo above. Yep, that's me as a little baby.

This was the 1950s, a time when women predominantly wore dresses or skirts, not pants, slacks or trousers.

Women did wear pants, and had done prior to the 1950s, but in the main, pants were worn to serve a purpose, not for fashion. They were worn at home or for manual work, but not for going out.

Growing up in the 50s and 60s, I have no recollection of my mother wearing pants at any time, even at home out in the garden.

She did wear pants, though, in the decade before my birth, but I only have two photos to prove that she did. On both occasions she was riding a horse at a relative's farm, where she and my Dad stayed in the mid 1940s. In all other photos of that farm visit, Mum was wearing skirts. Photos of the women who worked on the farm, show that they wore overalls or pants during their work day.

During WW11 there was an increase in women wearing pants. As men went to war, and women took over their jobs, women in manual jobs adopted the men's clothing for practical and safety reasons.

Although most women still dressed in skirts and dresses when they left the house, and indeed, at home, too, there were some women who wanted to extend the wearing of pants to occasions other than work. In December, 1939, Vogue showed their disapproval... We deplore the crop of young women who take war as an excuse.. for parading about in slacks. Slack, we think, is the wordSource: Fashion on the Ration

And I suppose that attitude was typical for the 40s and 50s.

It was OK for us kids, though, but again, only for very casual occasions, or at home. As a toddler I wore overalls for warmth in Winter,.

But when we went out, it was dresses or pinafores, even in Winter. Imagine kids now-a-days playing in mud and near water in dresses. 

An outing to a wildlife sanctuary in the late 50s, and we were dressed in our best clothes - no pants in sight, well, not on the females, anyway. I have another photo taken the same day, with most of the men wearing suits and ties. This is my sister with the kangaroos at Koala Park. There's a photo of me dressed in similar attire - black patent leather shoes, rolled down socks and a woollen pinafore.

A day out on the harbour with Dad, in the early 60s, showing both my sister and I in our tartan skirts, and Dad in a suit, and carrying one of our handbags. At least we didn't have to wear gloves and a hat, as we often did on a trip to the city. Can you see my Paul McCartney pendant?  

It would have been far more practical to wear pants, but, it just wasn't done. And, to be honest, at the time, we wouldn't have wanted to be seen out and about in the casual pants we sometimes wore around the house in Winter. They were purely for warmth and when we didn't care how we looked.

This is the only photo I can find of me in pants, as a young girl. There's a few photos of my sister and I in overalls as toddlers, but as young girls, it seemed we rarely wore pants. I suppose part of the reason is that no one bothered to take photos of us at home doing everyday things. Ha, ha.. why didn't Dad know I'd want to see photos decades later. 

That's my neighbour in the beanie. I wonder if Mum wore pants that night.

Cracker Night, as a child, was the highlight of my year. That's me in the right of the photo, holding a bunger (banger, firecracker). It wasn't a tuppenny bunger - I was too scared to light those. But it was larger than Tom Thumbs.  Cracker Night was held every year in Australia on Empire Day and later moved to the Queen's Birthday long weekend. But as kids, we didn't care why or what we were celebrating, we just loved the excitement and the thrill of Cracker Night.

Sometime before the big day, we'd go down the street to purchase our firecrackers. Even before we were teenagers, we were allowed to go by ourselves and choose which firecrackers to buy. The only limitation I was aware of, was how much money we were given.

I was quietly very pleased with myself when I got up the courage to light and very quickly throw bungers, always relieved at the loud bang, knowing I'd thrown it far enough away not to cause damage to me or anyone else. In reality, I much preferred the showy and spectacular Catherine Wheels and Rockets.

By the time my third child was born, Cracker Night was banned in most parts of Australia. In the state and territory where it's still legal for the public (adults only) to buy fireworks, it's far more regulated than in my day.

Back to the purpose of the post, Cracker Night was in Winter and we dressed for warmth, hence the pants. But most of the time it was dresses, skirts or pinafores.

To keep warm in Winter when wearing dresses, we wore the most uncomfortable tights - looked and felt like how I imagine a penguin feels. When we went to High School (age 12yrs), we got to wear thick stockings with a garter belt. Dress lengths were on the rise and the stockings were more unpleasant than the tights, as the top of the thighs were uncovered and cold. The worst part of wearing stockings was the ever so uncomfortable garter belt that held the stockings up. We thought we were grown up, though. Thankfully pantihose were invented during my time at High School. I will never, ever find stockings and a garter belt sexy!!!!

Fast forward to teenage years and the mid to late 60s. Slack suits became fashionable for teens and young women. I wish I had a better photo of my first ever slack suit. Yes, it's a little large, but I made it during sewing lessons at school. By today's standards, it's way too big, but not so then and I didn't care anyway. I was very proud of it. Mum will never forget that slack suit - the jacket is fully lined and she helped me to finish it at home.

At around this time, I can remember the female teachers at our school fighting to be allowed to wear smart slack suits. Not just pants with a nice top, but full suits. And they won!!!

Whilst I loved my slack suit, it was only intended for Winter wear. During the Summer months, Mum carefully packed it away with the rest of our warm clothes.

One Summer day, I came home from a Girl Guide walk, let myself into the house, dug out the bottom half of my slack suit and teamed it with a Summer top. I walked a couple of miles down the road to where Mum was, at a school fete. She was horrified to see me in the get up I was wearing - pants in Summer. I thought I was very trendy, copying the fashion of the day, even though I nearly expired from the heat of those woollen pants. I wasn't letting Mum know that, though!

Not long after making my woollen slack suit, against my mother's wishes I bought my first pair of jeans. They weren't denim, but they were jeans. It was becoming more commonplace for teenagers to wear pants, but fashionable jeans were less popular. Of the six people in the photo (before it was cropped), I was the only one in jeans. 

That's probably the first photo I have of Mr TMW and I together.

It didn't take long for jeans to become the number #1 absolute must have piece of clothing for teenagers to wear, both then in the late 60s, and for every generation since.

The style of jeans has changed many times since we began wearing them as a fashion statement in the 60s. If the style of jeans we wore had a name, I'm unaware of it - longer than capris, they finished above the ankle, were a slim fit and sat on the actual waist. Stretch denim hadn't been invented then.

Low rise jeans are not just a recent fashion, although low rise in the late 60s was not as low as in recent years.

By the time bell bottoms were at their most outrageous in the 70s, the rise had crept back up to or just past the waist. Bell bottoms weren't just reserved for jeans. I owned many pants in a similar style, but the non-jeans pants tended to be tighter at the top. Think skinny jeans tight, but these were not stretch fabric and we really had to struggle to put them on. And, they were SO tight around the crotch - not particularly comfortable, but oh, I loved wearing them with platform shoes.

Jeans and pants have grown with our generation, so they're no longer just worn by teenagers, but by women of all ages and for all sorts of occasions. In the western world, you can get away with wearing pants for almost any occasion.

Mum has never worn jeans. She hated them when I bought my first pair, and told me I could iron all my own clothes if I chose to wear jeans... and so I took over my own ironing at that point in time.

The photo above was taken in the 70s. Mum still wore dresses all the time. I do have a photo of one Aunt wearing slacks during the 70s, but I don't remember seeing many women of that generation in pants.

At some point Mum did start wearing pants, but I can't recall when. I suppose, as with most things, the older generations take longer to adopt new things. Like me, Mum has ditched the skirts and dresses, and she lives in pants.

You may recall that photo from my post, All Women Become Like Their Mothers... or do they?

Over the years, the style of pants I've worn has changed many times. One particular favourite as a teenager, was a dark blue pair of baggy crepe pants. Now-a-days, it's skinny jeans all year round. The shoes, tops and accessories dress the jeans up or down, depending on where I'm going, whilst the colours and lengths vary with the season.

I never really was a slave to fashion. I adopted the fashions I liked and that I thought suited me at the time. Looking back now, perhaps some didn't suit as well as I thought at the time. I'm hoping I can still buy skinny jeans for decades to come.

This short history of pants is written from my perspective - growing up in Sydney in the 50s and 60s. You may like to read more on the topic... 

If you enjoyed this post, you may find the following interesting...

.. Pam


  1. That is quite a history, brave of you to show pics of your teenage years, LOL! I miss the hats and gloves, as it was the same here. I got a new hat every Easter, and new patent leather white shoes for Sunday best growing up. We even got dressed up to go to the airport.

  2. I enjoyed "watching" you grow up, Pam! I've lived in the middle of the U.S. all of my life where it's often the case that we are the last ones to pick up on the latest styles. (We don't all wear overalls, like many think.) I was born in the early 60's and remember wearing dresses to public school until 6th grade. Even then, it seemed like wearing pants was a "no-no" to school. We wore snow pants under our skirts and dresses in the winter time, but they came off when inside. Our teachers ALWAYS wore hose and heels too! I cannot even imagine that today!

  3. Your memories are very similar to mine. I bought my first pair of jeans with money I had earned as a sales girl in a local Menswear Store. That didn't matter, mum still confiscated them when she found them. Nice girls did not wear jeans. Nice girls did not wear pants with zips at the front! I had the most outrageous pair of denim flairs when I first started teaching. I thought they were amazing, but, in hindsight, maybe not. Fashion is a wonderful thing, don't you think? Wouldn't it be boring if we didn't have these old photos and memories to laugh about.

    1. Oh, no - fancy having your jeans confiscated after having paid for them. And yes, I remember zips at the side - never did like them. I wore my bell bottom pants to school, too - the kids didn't bat an eyelid. I think the Principal did, though... LOL!!! Thanks for adding to the discussion, Libby.

  4. I love these posts! I remember my first pair of jeans, too. Fortunately my mother was a rebel who encouraged all new things. Now I'm more into the "boyfriend" jeans instead of the skinny ones. Two things I don't miss at all are the platform shoes and earth shoes. Do you remember those earth shoes? How did someone convince us that having the heel lower than the toe was a great idea? All I got was numb toes!

  5. I loved your trip down memory lane! I was born in '67 and one of my most favorite outfits in the 70s was a pant and jacket light blue suit that had a braided trim on it. I can remember my grandmother calling her jeans dungarees.

  6. What a fun post. I love seeing all of the pictures and reading the memories that go with it.

  7. what a post!! loved watching the transition and growing up. I am from India, my mother and her generation always wore saree which is our traditional woman wear, My generation wears it for special occassions only now.

  8. Thanks for this! Doing some research for a story set in the fifties, I was wondering if my girl would wear jeans in 1956. This helped. :)


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