From Bloomers to Land Girls, this new online archive celebrates women wearing the trousers
A new visual archive bringing together images of bloomers, knickerbockers, culottes and all manner of bifurcated or ‘divided’ garments is telling the story of trouser-wearing women via an online gallery of digital images spanning more than a century.
Women in Trousers: A Visual Archive has been developed by Cardiff University’s Special Collections and Archives to provide a visual account of the complex and sometimes contradictory meanings represented by women ‘wearing the trousers’ from the 1850s to the 1960s.
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The project is the brainchild of Dr Becky Munford, Reader in English Literature at Cardiff University’s School of English, Communication and Philosophy.
“From Joan of Arc to Amelia Bloomer, and Mary Edwards Walker to Marlene Dietrich, trouser-wearing women have been associated with periods of social and political upheaval, women’s liberation, radical thought, aesthetic innovation and erotic freedom”, explains the academic who developed the archive for students, schoolteachers, researchers and anyone with an interest in gender and dress history.
Dr Munford is now inviting members of the public to submit their own photographs of family members wearing trousers via email at email@example.com for the archive’s ‘Who wore the trousers?’ section.
“The response has already been fantastic,” she says. “With several moving stories emerging from these photographs, this is one of the most exciting and valuable parts of the project. We would love to hear from anyone who has a photo to share or a story to tell”.
Elsewhere the archive documents the momentous cultural, historical and political shifts affecting women’s lives across the period via sections covering sport, the military, cycling, work, war and the Women’s Land Army.
The images have been drawn from a range of sources, including newspapers, periodicals, photographs, illustrations and drawings, and while “trousers and other bifurcated garments” provide the main focus, the archive is also home to images that illuminate the general history of women and dress reform in Britain, Europe and America.
The project also features an online exhibition of original works by Anne Thalheim, Astride Two Worlds, inspired by Dr Munford’s project.
Dr Becky Munford teaches and researches in the fields of modern and contemporary women’s writing, gender studies and dress and fashion history. Currently writing her latest book, Making Strides: a Literary and Cultural History of Women in Trousers, she is author of Decadent Daughters and Monstrous Mothers: Angela Carter and European Gothic and co-author of Feminism and Popular Culture: Investigating the Postfeminist Mystique.