Photo Credit Banner image,1943, Women Welders.
It goes without saying that, here at UW, we love a good pair of trousers. To help us mark International Women's Day 2022, we asked design journalist and UW. writer, Leanne Cloudsdale to dig deeper into the history of women wearing trousers and in her words, "getting shit done, being brilliant and inspiring others."
Words by Leanne Cloudsdale.
Being taught how to wire a plug, fix a puncture, check the pressure on your combi boiler or mitre a skirting board were everyday ‘girl tasks’ in our house. The father of two daughters, my dad never got the son he probably wanted. He lucked out though eh? He got to pass his ‘bloke knowledge’ down to me and my sister instead.
I’m not sure he was consciously trying to empower us. To him, this was just basic life skills stuff that every kid should learn, and for that, I’m eternally grateful. You don’t need me to tell you that women have had (to put it lightly) a tough time of it throughout history, so being asked to write something that celebrates International Women’s Day was a bit of a dream gig. It felt like an opportunity to mark the occasion with something positive about birds in trousers, getting shit done, being brilliant and inspiring others.
PC: Leanne Cloudsdale.
Seems pretty vanilla to be banging on about women in trousers in 2022, but bear with me. Because while I swan about in beaten up old vintage Levi’s or snazzy wide legged pants, it wasn’t always the case. We’ve got horses to thank for our two-part leg coverings. Men and women had been flouncing around in glorified sarongs until sometime between 3500 and 3000 BC, when some bright spark in Asia realised that skirts weren’t the ideal equestrian get-up and prototype trousers were born. The masses weren’t convinced though, so it took until the collapse of the Roman Empire in the 8th century for the great unwashed to get onboard and jettison their tunics in favour of some strides.
Fast forward to Hull in 1974 and I’m being paraded around the estate in a purple Silver Cross pram by my polyester-flares-wearing grandma. She wasn’t a fan of flouncing around in a dress (only saw her wearing one once, on her ruby wedding anniversary). Sadie preferred a blouse, cardigan, flat shoe and trouser set-up, permanently accessorised with a lit cigarette. Women like her had jobs to do and places to be. Trousers sent out a signal that you were ready for business. They were morse code for ‘anything dudes can do; we can do better.’
This attitude had been pretty handy during WWII when women (who weren’t serving in the armed forces) were at the forefront of manual labour. With the majority of the male population overseas, the females of the species were busy grafting in the weapons factories, on construction sites, driving haulage lorries and farming. It made sense for them to adopt masculine wardrobe elements to carry out these roles, which meant overalls, boiler suits, overshirts and heavy cotton drill trousers replaced their usual garb. This wartime work uniform was comfortable, practical and revolutionary. And it stuck.
PC: Palmer, Alfred T., photographer, Library of Congress
PC, 1943, Women Welders.
For me, the tomboy aesthetic is a genetic thing. My mum never wobbled up to the school gates in a 1970s maxi dress and wedges. She was more Annie Hall (which raised a few eyebrows). Can’t blame her. There’s a robust quality to menswear you rarely get on the other side of the rail. Is there anything better than baggy trousers, a t-shirt and some seriously good outerwear? Nope. Probably explains why Universal Works is the best kept womenswear secret. The brand DNA has workwear utility sewn into every seam.
UW People: Leah in; Three Button Jacket In Navy Cotton-Linen Suiting,Curved Pant In Stone Fine Twill, L/S Utility Shirt In Navy Madras Plaid 'Save That Jersey' Short Sleeve Core Tee In Ecru, Shoes models own.
When I spoke to Leah at the Coal Drops Yard UW store, she explained that “menswear has always seemed a lot more interesting. The way the UW pieces are cut and shaped works really well for me, and I can style them to either look more feminine or boyish. I’m a big fan of The Curved Pant, which is high waisted and works brilliantly for women. There’s such a good variety of styles across the collection, which makes it easy for me to get the balance just right.”
UW People: Maddie in; Bakers Jacket in Fine Twill, Sailor Pant in Fine Twill, Everyday Shirt In Oxford Shirting, Shoes models own.
Maddie at the Berwick Street UW store gets asked, ‘where are those pants from?’ all the time. Laughing, she said, “The Sailor Pants are popular with the women who shop at UW. They are my favourite style. The combination of the wide, straight leg (without a taper) and a high rise at the waist creates the illusion of a longer leg. I tend to pair mine with an oversized Everyday Shirt which helps me nail the feminine version of the ‘I’ve stolen my dad’s shirt’ look.”
It’s a no brainer. Big pockets. Easy wearing. No messing about. Sized to skim rather than swamp, menswear is the natural choice. On that closing note, I bid you all a very productive International Women’s Day. It’s time for me to roll my sleeves up and crack on.