Talk to most women today, and they don’t remember not wearing pants or slacks to work or school. Visit with ladies past a certain age, and they’ll tell about a time when schools required little girls to wear dresses or skirts to class and employers mandated females do the same at work. Moms even cleaned house in a dress. Most mothers didn’t go so far as TV stars who wore pearls and heels to vacuum, but they made certain they could answer the door without causing the neighbors to gossip about manly apparel. Granted, such fashions weren’t the cumbersome Mother Hubbard gowns or flowing long skirts pioneers wore, but they complicated daily life unnecessarily.
Some would say mid-century housewives and schoolgirls didn’t have it so bad. Unlike travelers across emigrant trails, they didn’t have to worry about their hems catching fire while they cooked outdoors or tripping on them, crossing uneven surfaces. Gals of the 30s - 60s revealed ankles and calves and enjoyed freedom of movement their grandmas never knew.
What folks don’t think about is getting to work or school during frigid temperatures and snowstorms. Some families solved the problem the way pedestrians in large cities do today. Individuals wore slacks under or over their dresses on the way to their destination and changed after arriving.
What no one took into account was the playground dilemma little girls faced. As public schools added more recess equipment that involved climbing and twirling, females struggled to prevent others from seeing their bloomers and singing risqué songs involving London, France, and underpants. Learning to read, write, and do arithmetic was hard enough without worrying about peers knowing the color and condition of personal garments.
Keep in mind, these were days either before or soon after WW II when most families couldn’t afford a week’s supply of lacy undies for their daughters. Frequently, one sibling handed clean but pre-worn clothing to the next in line, causing more than one playground confrontation resulting in a bloody nose or black eye.
With the advent of monkey bars, girls who wanted go head to head in acrobatic challenges wore summer shorts under dresses. This added to mom’s laundry, but youngsters trying to perform a flip while tucking hems under or between knees meant re-stitching seams or patching fabric on a daily basis or worse, a broken arm. It was easier to wash extra clothing.
Certainly, women who grew up wearing dresses learned decorum regarding sitting with knees and ankles pressed together. Today’s females frequently discover the necessity of such postures the first time they publicly wear a short dress. More than one teacher or boss has observed lack of awareness concerning this detail.
No doubt, about it, females and pants go together from infancy to old age. Who needs to worry about a skirt rising in a breeze or during a cartwheel, offering a peek at undergarments. Too bad pioneer women never got to find out how much easier their lives would have been if they had worn trousers.