Women in Trousers



Today’s blog is about women wearing trousers in literature: tracking a modest history of the role of women, as authors used clothes choices as a way of defining character, class and even morals. The entry appears on the Guardian newspaper’s books blog here. 



One of the tantalising details to emerge from newspaper extracts of the latest Bridget Jones novel is that fifty-something-year-old, widowed Bridget opts for jeans for an evening out with her old boyfriend Daniel. And not just any old jeans but "a brand chillingly called Not Your Daughter's Jeans".

Clothes have always played an important part in Bridget's life - and this particular fashion choice puts her in a tradition of trousered women in fiction which goes back to the early 20th century. 
In Norman Collins' London Belongs to Me (1945, but set in 1939) the sad fate befalling a minor character gets what you can only think is this rather judgmental sartorial newspaper headline: TROUSERED BLONDE DEAD BY STOLEN CAR.     She is also described as having "coloured toenails and extensive head injuries" – clearly asking for it. 
On the other hand, in Agatha Christie's Body in the Library (1942, but with a pre-war setting), Miss Marple blames the low-rent victim for wearing a posh frock: "A girl of – of our class" (hesitation because she knows she is being snobbish) would "change into trousers and pullover, or into tweeds" for an outdoors outing. Or to be murdered in of course.

Click here to read more...




Most of the authors & books featured in the entry have appeared on the blog: Stella Gibbons with Westwood, Nancy Mitford’s Pursuit of Love, Noel Streatfeild’s The Painted Garden, Barbara Pym and Excellent Women, Mary Norton’s The Borrowers



And of course Bridget Jones. Twice.


Comments

  1. Moira - Congratulations on making the Guardian blog. And this is really an interesting post! I'm reminded of Christie's Five Little Pigs in which the murder took place presumably in the mid-20s. One of the main characters is Elsa Greer, a young woman who chooses to wear trousers and not the more demure dresses and skirts of the day. That somehow adds to her reputation as 'a thoroughly unprincipled young woman' as one character calls her. Sooooo interesting!

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    1. Brilliant Margot - you'd think I'd have remembered that one from one of my all-time favourite Christies, but I didn't! Thanks for reminding me. Her clothes do make Elsa, with her bright yellow pullover too: Christie was adept at using such choices to make character points.

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  2. Women in trousers - I must check to see if I have a book of that name on my shelves. If I haven't I really ought to!

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    1. If all else fails you could write one. I think 'trousered blonde found dead' would also make a great book title, and one of yours rather than mine....

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  3. A very interesting post here and at the Guardian. I was racking my brain because I thought I remembered reading something about trousers on a woman that seemed out of place to me, but then I realized it was when we were watching the 2nd episode of the most recent season of Foyle's War, and Sam (Foyle's assistant) was wearing trousers. That is after the war, so probably not that unusual for the time. And she looked very nice in them.

    Maybe I think of wearing pants as newish because it took a long time in the South for such clothing to become acceptable for other than very casual wear.

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    1. Thanks Tracy - my husband is a big fan of Foyle's War, and I really like the actress who plays his assistant. It's interesting to see where people adopted trousers early on and where they didn't - I wouldn't have known that about the south.

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    2. If I read more books set in the South (and I should) I could probably find examples. But usually when reading books set in the South I have too much of an emotional reaction.

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    3. That's interesting - you should write about it....

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    4. That's a good idea. It would take some thinking about.

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  4. I have no idea about women wearing trousers in fiction. It never dawned on me, but I do remember Nancy Drew wearing dresses while sleuthing.

    We were not allowed to wear pants in high school in New York in the 1960s. Had to wear skirts, even during snowstorms and freezing rain during horrid winters. I remember it well, especially when my half-slip fell down as I left the bus a block from my high school. What did I do? Ignore it and walk away, never looked back.

    Thankfully, that changed but I don't know what year. It was an impossible policy.

    I do know that with the mysteries series impacted by the U.S. women's movement written by Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton and Marcia Muller the protagonists -- V.I. Warshawski, Kinsey Milhone and Sharon McCone -- that they could never have pulled off the feats that they have if they had worn skirts or dresses. Never.

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    1. I loved researching and writing that subject Kathy - and I think every woman has her own contribution and story to offer. At the school my children went to, girls are still not allowed to wear trousers - though that is very rare in the UK, it's an anomaly.

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  5. Really?
    Actually, when I see private or parochial school uniforms if they have them, they're always with skirts.
    I couldn't bear to see children wearing skirts/dresses in the cold, rain, snow, ice. Not after my Chicago winters walking to school in snow up to our hips.
    Well, at least public schools here allow children to wear pants. The struggle
    here is how short they can be ... the girls push the limits on short everything or low-cut, whatever, the limits are pushed.

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    1. My children went to what you would call public school (ie an entirely state-financed school: confusingly, public school means something different in the UK). But state schools (as we call them) can set their own uniform policies, and tend to have much stricter rules than in the USA - my children had half their education in the UK and half in the USA (always in state schools) so I am always interested in and aware of the differences.

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  6. That is a great topic. I wonder what great women detectives kept wearing dresses. Harriet Vane? Miss Marple, of course.
    Maybe some policewomen, but over here, they usually wear pants, unless they're higher-ups.
    The lawyers who have to go to court -- yikes: They wear high heels and short skirts. When I asked a public defender friend about her high heels, she responded: "You should see what the prosecutors wear!" Higher heels.

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    1. I think your thoughts on this are showing why I thought Clothes in Books was a great topic for a blog!

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  7. Who would have thought? I didn't read the blog for awhile because I wondered if I was interested in clothes in books. But reading the posts and then the commentary makes me think in a different way and remember a lot about my past reading life going back to when I seriously dug into books in high school, and then later spread out to other books. And the analysis of the books and the commentary is great.

    I started serious reading at 13 when I read Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, and read on from there. Living in a reading household, I was always reading, even when I walked down the block to the grocery store. I can't read like that any more, too much to do, dvds, news, the Internet, lots of terrific blogs like this one.

    But, as always, the problem is, I keep adding more book titles to the daunting to be read list, which I'm now afraid to look at.

    Also, as I notice, readers in Europe have a different reading experience than U.S. readers, and that's interesting. While I read Christie, Sayers, Tey, Cronin, Maugham, Zola, as a teen-ager, mixed in with Sinclair, Steinbeck, Wright, Baldwin and other U.S. writers. Then with the advent of the women's movement, so many women were publishing fiction, then wonder books with women sleuths whom I still love.

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    1. Your reading history is interesting. I too lived through & enjoyed the wonderful explosion in women's writing. Great to have so many good books- so hard to find time to read them!

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  8. Yes. I want a T--shirt with the slogan, "So many good books, so little time." Unless we figure out cloning or how to live without sleep or drop all housework and other tasks or get another 12 hours into our day! Or get reading vacations, my favorite.
    Have not had enough of that this year but the summer is not yet over.

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    1. When you get that T-shirt, can you get one for me too, please....

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  9. If I find a T-shirt like that, I will let you know!

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