Sorry, Wallace and Gromit. For students, career-women and schoolgirls alike, there’s no such thing.
Trousers. Pants, keks, britches – you know the ones. They became the ripping thing for women in the roaring 20s. Luisa Capetillo, a pioneering women’s rights activist, writer and labour agitator was the first woman in Puerto Rico to wear trousers publicly in 1919. Initially, she went to prison for it, too. Thankfully a sensible magistrate ruled that sporting a garment featuring two leg-holes wasn’t actually a crime, and subsequently dropped all trouser-wearing charges against her. (That’s right, he dropped trou in the courtroom. Sorry.)
Katharine Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich made trousers glamorous in the 1930s. During World War II, clothes rationing plus absent husbands meant women had little option but to delve into their spouse’s wardrobes, donning carefully doctored civvies for work. Then came the Capri pant of the 60s, the bell-bottom of the 70s and the unforgettable stone-wash Levi 501 of the 80s. Girls of the latter decade will likely confide they spent the better part of their tweens in balloon-like cargo pants called (for reasons long-since forgotten) ‘jungle pants’.
Point is, women wearing trousers is no longer risqué – unless, perhaps, you happen to be pictures editor for the Daily Mail. It’s a near century since Capetillo first stepped out in public, making (get ready) great strides across the genders.
So why, in 2017 and despite the threat of legal action, is a UK primary school trying to send us – our crinolines and petticoats a-flutter – scurrying back to the 1900s? Why are they trying to force their female students into skirts, and skirts only?
The school, which faces being taken to court by the Equal Opportunities Commission over its ‘sexist’ rule hasn’t been named. Head over to mumsnet.com, though, and it’s abundantly clear that the school is unique only in terms of making headlines. Girls across the UK are freezing because they hate tights but have to wear a skirt to school. Mums are plying head teachers with doctor’s notes explaining why their child should be exempt from skirt-only policies. One mum is anxious her daughter, a talented gymnast, is getting in trouble for practising cartwheels at play-time in the obligatory skirt.
How dare they quash a child’s desire to cartwheel?! What message does that send to her? Young man, go ahead! Cartwheel across the playground. But you, miss, are indecent and NO you cannot put on trousers like him. You may not do what he does.
Here’s the thing: schools can really only enforce these rules until formally challenged. An Equal Opportunities Commission spokesman told the Daily Mail in September, “We would expect the school to give in long before any court hearing was necessary”.
As we learned in 1919 thanks to Capetillo, there’s no crime in a girl wearing trousers.
Earlier this year, retail behemoth John Lewis created a children’s clothing line with “Girls & Boys” on the label. The tide is turning on gender stereotypes. Archaic, discriminatory rules on appropriate clothing for sexes – and bodies in general – need to go the way of the whalebone corset. As reported in Persist, fashion house Tommy Hilfiger broadened their clientele in October by producing a collection (featuring trousers) for less able-bodied men and women. H&M recently presented a gender-neutral denim line. Corporate giants are focusing on inclusivity, growth, permission and expression of identity through clothing – irrespective of gender or physicality.
Do not forget Luisa Capetillo’s spell in jail. Legal grounds on which a school can enforce skirts-only rules for girls do not exist. Tomorrow’s career woman can – and will – enter universities, apprenticeships and the global workspace wearing trousers. It’s preposterous to stop her from doing so at the very outset.