We Wear the Pants: A History of Empowerment in Women’s Fashion (and Where Gnara Apparel Comes In!)

We Wear the Pants: A History of Empowerment in Women’s Fashion (and Where Gnara Apparel Comes In!)

Women's History Month

Pants are more than pieces of apparel; they’re political statements, straight from the seams of rebellion, sewn into symbols of empowerment. For Women’s History Month, we’re delving into the history of why We Wear the Pants.

Gnara Apparel We Wear the Pants
CEO & Co-Founder Georgia Grace (GG) rocking our WWTP tee

While the earliest known examples of trousers date back to 3000 BC – variations of which have been worn by men for several millennia* – pants have only been an “acceptable” everyday clothing option for women in Western society for a couple decades. When we consider the brief timeline below (which will almost certainly blow your mind), it’s apparent that the women’s pant industry in the US in particular is extraordinarily young, which explains why we haven’t seen much innovation in this space until now.


 Let’s unzip some American history:


In 1851, Elizabeth Smith Miller introduced what became known as bloomers – the first pants-like clothing for women, to New York. The initial designs consisted of a short jacket on top, paired with a knee-length skirt, which partially covered up loose “Turkish” pantaloons inspired by a trip to Europe. This garment got its name from Amelia Bloomer, who was the editor of the first newspaper for women, The Lily, and regularly wore the baggy trousers that gathered at the ankle in her many speaking appearances in New York City. 

Other early advocates of bloomers included revolutionary women like Mary Edwards Walker, the first female surgeon in field duty during the Civil War, as well as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, leader in the American women’s rights and suffrage movements. 

Despite the popularity bloomers gained during this era of social reform, the innovation stirred up significant controversy, wearers were publicly ridiculed, and women resorted to wearing them only while riding bicycles or doing other forms of exercise, or in the privacy of their homes.  

"The Bloomer 'Costume'" drawing via Library of Congress


American women were *briefly* permitted to *sometimes* wear pants again in public when they – you guessed it – took over jobs traditionally held by men during World War I. We saw this trend again during World War II. Meanwhile, Luisa Capetillo challenged mainstream society by becoming the first woman in Puerto Rico to wear trousers in public. As you might expect by now, she was sent to jail for what was considered to be a crime, until charges were later dropped.   


Despite frequent photographs at this time of actresses like Katharine Hepburn wearing pants, Helen Hulick, a teacher from California, was arrested for wearing pants in 1938. She was testifying in court (against men who burglarized her house) and chose to wear slacks for comfort. The judge found her attire inappropriate and ordered her to return the next day wearing a dress. She did not. (Hell yeah, Helen.) She was held in contempt of court and briefly jailed, sparking discussions about gender norms and women's rights, yet signaling that there was still progress to be made.
Image via Los Angeles Times Photographic Collection


Despite their need for pants on the jobs that they took over for many men during World War II, women faced restrictions in social establishments throughout the 1940s and 50s, and were denied entry to some restaurants, clubs, and other areas with strict dress codes. If you binged Lessons in Chemistry like we did, then you are familiar with how taboo it still was for women to wear pants at this time – protagonist Elizabeth Zott’s cooking show is nearly canceled on this premise (i.e., her insistence to wear practical pants for her science experiments on live television). 


The Women's Liberation Movement of the 1960s and 1970s marked a pivotal moment in history, as women across the United States organized for gender equality. At the forefront of this movement was the fight for autonomy over one's body and choices, including clothing. Pants became symbols of freedom, independence, and the rejection of traditional gender norms. Pat Nixon was the first American Lady to wear trousers in public, and Title Nine amendments declared that dresses could no longer be required of girls and women at schools, colleges, and university campuses.

"Women's Liberation" poster (1970) via Library of Congress


Despite the progress of the Women’s Liberation Movement, it wasn't until three decades later – 1993 – that women were permitted to wear pants on the floor of the U.S. Senate! This change came after Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, along with a group of female senators, pushed for a revision of the Senate dress code, which previously required women to wear skirts or dresses. Hillary Clinton became the first woman to wear trousers in an officially American First Lady Portrait. 



Even in the 21st century, examples of unequal treatment regarding women's attire persist, including discriminatory dress codes in schools and workplaces, unequal scrutiny of female athletes' clothing choices in sports, and expectations of adherence to traditional dress codes in certain cultures and religions, all of which hinder women's autonomy and reinforce gender stereotypes. Not to mention the lack of functional, fashionable options for women’s outdoor apparel, which is where we come in. 



Our mission is to remove these barriers by redefining women’s apparel and challenging the status quo through our apparel. We took the TED Talk stage  to discuss the intersection of women's empowerment and fashion, highlighting the historical significance of pants as symbols of liberation and autonomy. We have a vision to empower women, embrace boldness, and proudly claim our autonomy and anatomy.  


Gnara Co-Founders give TEDx Talk

For all those reasons and 1,000 more: We Wear the Pants. 

Present: March 2024

Cole Brauer hits land this week as the First American Woman to Race Around the World Solo. The best part? She did it wearing our Go There Pants

Cole Brauer

Cole aboard her boat, named 'First Light,' in our Badlands Beige color way. 


Know a woman doing bada$$ stuff in our Go There Pants or other products featuring our patented GoFly Zipper Technology? We wanna know, and feature them! 

Tell us in the comments!



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