Women enjoyed increased educational and employment opportunities after the end of World War I. As they became empowered, they sought greater freedom of movement in their clothing, too. Women took part in sports and recreational activities and required clothing for outdoor play or physical exercise. The advent of World War II found more women entering the armed forces and the workplace. Trousers became commonplace in a woman's wardrobe by the 1940s and were typically styled with a high waist.
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By the 1930s, stylish women could purchase comfortable "pajamas" -- a lounging outfit of matching top and trousers for day and evening wear. Baggy denim trousers were available to wear to the beach, too, as women pursued more athletic activities. Actress Joan Crawford was photographed working out with weights in a sweatshirt and casual wide-legged, full trousers in 1933, reflecting how women's roles and clothing had changed dramatically since WWI.
A Tailored Look
Stars such as Marlene Dietrich were wearing men's styled suits with high-waisted trousers by the mid-30s. Katherine Hepburn also preferred slacks, and her fashion sense reflected her image as a beautiful but independent woman -- whether the camera was running or not. In a publicity shot on the set of "The Philadelphia Story" (1940), Hepburn exudes self-reliance as she poses, wearing the tailored look of high-waisted trousers and blouse, without frills or flashy accessories.
Copying the Look
Women's trousers in the 1940s were straight and slim in style compared to the wide, full trousers of the 1930s. Sewing patterns throughout the '40s continued to reflect clothing designs made fashionable by Hollywood, and women could create their own Hepburn-like high-waisted trousers.
A Classic Look
After the end of World War II, designers brought back longer skirts and opted for more expensive fabrics and vivid colours. However, slacks remained a popular alternative to skirts. While a sewing pattern from 1940 pairs high-waisted trousers with a square-shouldered jacket, the same type of trousers are complemented by a less formal bolero vest and full-sleeved blouse gathered at the wrist in a 1947 pattern. But formal or casual, high-waisted trousers remain a classic look.
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- "American Costume, 1915 - 1970: A Source Book for the Stage Costumer": The Second World War (1940 - 1946); Shirley Miles O'Donnol; 1989
- Internet Movie Database: Joan Crawford, 1933
- Internet Movie Database: Marlene Dietrich, 1935
- Internet Movie Database: Katherine Hepburn, 1940
- Vintage Patterns: Hollywood No. 1428
- Vintage Fashion Library: Simplicity No.1971