The First Lady Pants in Congress

9 Women Arrested For Wearing Pants

In the 1850s, women's petticoats alone could weigh 14 pounds. With the addition of foundation garments, bustles, multilayered skirts and bodices, a fashionable woman's outfit could cross the 20-pound mark. In response, early feminists and social progressives began arguing for dress reform, and some daring women of the day donned bloomers and shorter skirts at the risk of arrest. Even after women's pants first entered high fashion in the 1910s thanks to influential French designer Paul Poiret, it took decades for trousers to trickle down into the daily wardrobes of American women. As late as World War II, women wearing "men's pants" might be nabbed by police for violating anti-cross-dressing laws, demonstrating how fashion isn't nearly as superficial as some might think.

When did women start wearing pants?

The history of women wearing pants is about far more than fashion. Caroline and Cristen explore the gender and class politics interwoven with pants slowly entering the female wardrobe and why men began wearing them in the first place.

When did women begin wearing pants?

Before men started wearing the crotch-covering legging we call trousers, everybody wore skirts in one form or fashion (see also: loincloths, tunics, togas, kilts, etc.). And why not? Skirts are far simpler to construct and facilitate more cooling air flow to the nether regions, which would've been a godsend in the pre-air conditioning days. But then, thanks to the rise of horseback infantries, trousers (see also: breeches, codpieces, tights, etc.) became the below-the-belt manly uniform of the masculine masses. Western women, meanwhile, continued wearing skirts, and not just simple wrap-around numbers. We're talking multi-layered, heavy, floor-length ensembles often further supported and puffed out with the assistance of cage crinoline, petticoats, bustles, or other clunky foundation garments, depending on the era (see also: corsets).

Why Men Wear Pants

I hadn't given much thought to why men wear pants until I started looking into why women wear skirts. The only known clothing to predate the skirt is the loincloth, which means that for a long time, skirts were unisex, as Valerie Steel, director of the museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, told CBS News: "Men and women both wore skirts in ancient times. Once you had the initial idea of weaving a rectangle and tying it around yourself, you had basically the skirt. And if you look at say ancient, Egyptian paintings, you see men and women both wearing what's in effect a skirt." So why and when did the skirt begat the pant (Fun fact: "pant" is derived from 4th-century Roman Saint Pantaleon)?