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Women given permission to pursue pants 100 years ago

Woman wearing pants
Posted at 4:42 PM, Jun 13, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-30 17:45:14-04

INDIANAPOLIS — No matter what they were called, pants, slacks, and trousers were off limits to women for much of recorded history. In the United States, it wasn’t until 1923 that the attorney general declared it was OK for women to wear pants in public.

“Though that statement was made, it wasn't really a ruling,” Amy Vedra Director of Reference Services at the Indiana Historical Society says. “It wasn't really a law that was put into effect.”

But despite that statement, women tended to stay away from pants.

“It was very situational, you wouldn't have seen a lot of women just wearing pants all of the time, they would have been wearing them for certain activities,” Vedra says.

“In 1923, we're just post World War I, and a lot of those women had gone into the factories, and had gotten a taste of wearing pants.”

But the option to wear pants was far from buttoned up.

“Women have always had an uphill battle when it came to having any kind of rights,” Vedra says.

It was a battle waged well into the 1970s. The push for the Equal Rights Amendment and organizations like the National Organization of Women helped give women a leg up on their pursuit of pants.

“I think women's activism, when it came to especially voting rights, and women's rights and equality, that was really the spark,” Vedra says. “That's when you see the activists pushing back and really fighting for their equality to wear what they want and to be who they want to be.”

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