Elizabeth Smith Miller is often credited as the first woman to wear pants. Miller was a suffragette. Her goal in the 1800s was to help women in the United States win the right to vote. She also aided slaves seeking freedom - her home was a stop on the Underground Railroad.
Pantaloons, as they were called at the time, were made popular by another suffragette, Amelia Jenks Bloomer. Bloomer published a bi-weekly newspaper called The Lily. It contained Bloomer's views on temperance and women's issues. Well-known feminist and suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton also contributed articles to The Lily. In addition to temperance and women's equality, The Lily promoted the concept of dress reform. Bloomer advocated a style of dress that would be less restrictive for women than the traditional style of her time: corsets, petticoats and floor length skirts.
Which Woman First Wore Pants?
Most likely, Miller read about bloomers in The Lily and designed a pair for herself. They were long baggy pants that narrowed at the ankle and were worn under skirts. These early pants were designed to give women more freedom of movement while still preserving the decency expected of Victorian dress. After Miller debuted this style of pant, a few other women donned them. However, they were highly criticized in the mainstream media. Most of the women who wore them were active in the women's rights movement.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton perhaps best summed up the significance of women wearing pants when she said, 'The question is no longer how do you look, but woman, how do you feel?"
Although Miller received a lot of attention for her sartorial choices, it was most likely Fanny Wright who was the first woman to wear pants. Wright was a Scottish woman who became a U.S. citizen in 1825. She is known as a writer, feminist, abolitionist and social reformer. Wright was the co-founder of the Free Inquirer newspaper, which she used to share her views on society.
For a few years of her adult life Wright lived in a socialist commune called New Harmony in the 1820s. There she dressed in loose bodices and ankle-length pantaloons with dresses cut to the knees. Today, Wright's style would be considered bohemian.
Trivia About the First Woman to Wear Pants
Women like Wright, Miller and Bloomer were strong advocates for women's rights and advanced the equality movement were their brazen dress and strong opinions. However, the sight of women in pants remained controversial for many, many more years.
- Susan Molinari, a Congresswoman from New York, caused a stir as recently as 1990 when she became the first woman to wear pants on the floor of the House. Molinari was giving a speech to the U.S. House of Representatives and she expected what she said to make news. Instead, her outfit got all of the headlines.
- The powerful woman's group, The Committee of 200, an invitation-only group of successful women entrepreneurs, lists among its members the first woman to don pants for a White House event.
- Katherine Hepburn was the first actress to wear pants in a major motion picture.
- Mary Tyler Moore created a controversy, wearing capri pants as Dick Van Dyke's television wife Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show.
- Charline Arthur, a country western star, was the first female singer to wear pants while performing on stage in the mid 1940s.
- During World War I, as women went to work in factories, they started to wear pants. However, the practice was still frowned upon.
- Marlene Dietrich furthered the cause when she wore pants in the 1930 film Morocco.
- Rosie the Riveter, the iconic symbol of women during World War II, made pants more popular for women.
- By the 1950s, jeans and capris had become standard attire for women.