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Women In Pants Once Meant Fireworks

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Lippincott's, Digital ID 1258819, New York Public LibraryYes, Marlene Dietrich was our mystery lady. While none of us who pay attention to fashion history are surprised anymore by the furor over women wearing pants, it still remains more than a little surprising how little documentation there is on that specific piece of history. I’d recommend to those teaching costume and fashion studies that they get their most promising grad students to work on this aspect of women’s dress.

As I looked through literature on the subject, I was shocked at how sketchy information is about the true origins of something like the pantsuit. The obituaries for Yves Saint Laurent labeled him as the inventor with his “Le Smoking” pantsuit in 1966, and a full-fledged “pantsuit” in 1970. Yet in a sweep of other books, I saw Andre Courrèges and British designer Tommy Nutter credited with the original invention.

The fact is, that just like searching the origins of the term “fashion victim,” researching the beginnings of the pantsuit calls for a systematic, detailed perusal of published literature, especially newspapers—along with some clever sleuthing. In the meantime, the Europeans have beaten us to basic documentation itself: the only books in our collection on the history of pants are in French and Italian!

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