It’s not scandalous for women to wear pants. Not now. But in 1910? It pretty much cemented you as an outcast in a social norm that believed one “bad girl” was the equivalent of five bad men so depraved and unbalanced and strange she must be.
While women strained against the rigid structure of the time and began carving small spaces of independence for themselves, pursued higher education, lived on their own as latch-key girls ( girls who, rather than at the helm of a boarding house or in a properly chaperoned coven of other working girls had their OWN APARTMENTS with their OWN LOCKS ) and even had careers: in shops, as telegraph operators and as journalists and writers, they still had a long path to trod.
A woman’s main duty and desire was believed to be a husband and a home. Dressing according to the norms, corseting herself into the feminine curves and up-doing her hair like a Gibson girl she would be marketable, marriageable material and have no trouble securing, well, security.
Women made not nearly as much as men and women who had to go it on their own: whether by choice or circumstance were inherently ostracized. While we still have dictates and fashion magazines and columns and ideals to look to in our modern society, we have far more wiggle room when it comes to shirking conventions and doing as we please. But, in 1910, while women suffragists were just starting to break down several barriers and using their wiles and wits to invoke social reform and assert as much equality as male dominance would allow them, they were still slave to societal pressure. Make-up! Fashion! The best skin care! And, to add, articles on how to become a desirable woman . The Gibson girl, a popular figure with her beautiful hair and doe-eyes and pristine porcelain features was a popular cameo of the time emblazoned on a haberdashery of knick-knacks and paraphernalia.
As is the case today, women were sorted and entreated to figure into one of these secondary boxes. Collier’s magazine spoke to 7 distinct types of modern goddess: the boy-girl, the flirt, the beauty, the sentimental, the convinced, the ambitious, the well-rounded.
Figuratively and literally boxed by the restriction of their binding attire and stays and their inability to break through societal and work-place barriers, their methods of self-improvement were offered in much the same way we target and advertise today. Of course, some girls, like my amateur detective Merinda Herringford had no qualms when it came to breaking the rules of her contemporaries.
She believes she is a woman by birth only; but keenly wants to move through the world and her staunch Edwardian society with the fluidity and ease of a man. Highly intelligent ( at least according to herself ) and disciplined enough to stay on the very fringes of propriety, often catapulting over, she wasted no time in wearing Mother Goose shoes that showed her ankles or doubling a sash around her waist to gird her skirt to shocking height. The worst? She believed in comfort. So, obviously, she went for pants. And not the flowy skirt-trousers and harem style pants that were slowly inching their way into Paris fashion. No, actual men’s pants. Her best friend and housemate Jem falls prey to her penchant for pants and is caught on more than one occasion out on the streets of Toronto, proper society scoffing and appalled to see a woman in gentlemanly attire.
But, on the heels of whatever adventure they were after, it made the ease and movement so much easier and…in Toronto winters? Well, let’s just say Toronto winters aren’t the EASIEST: they are slushy disgusticulous snowy cold and dank and horrible.
In the second book of my proposed series, Merinda goes so far as to cut off her hair. Remember this isn’t flapper era yet and she might as well have been kissing respectability completely goodbye. It’s hard enough for Jem to counterbalance her sense of adventure with her desire to maintain her feminine traits.And Merinda is not the easiest person to be associated with ... so strong her influence. She often wonders what kind of man could possibly want a woman in trousers.
Lucky, and very rarely, for her; there is one who does.
I have studied Edwardian photographs extensively and several periodicals dating to early 1910s: confessions of a bachelor girl! bachelor maids! A new wave of women!
It’s a tad funny in our society where we can ease into life in a much more liberated way and, for the most part, do and go and live where and as we please; but it’s not THAT long ago that women like my Jem and my Merinda underwent intense scrutiny.
This picture of women in trousers just makes me delight! Look at them! In men’s clothes! Shocking!
….as shocking as a female stepping out in a skirt high enough to show her ankles:
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