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Women wearing the trousers – the archive of women striding across history 2

a photo of a group of women in a dance troupe

Women students wearing trousers during a mid-1920s show. Aberystwyth University Archives.

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.

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.

a n illustration of a woman wearing a petticoat over trousers

‘Bloomerism. – New Costume for Ladies’, in Illustrated London News, Vol. 19, September 27th 1851, p. 396. Source: Special Collections and Archives, Cardiff University.

a drawing of a large lady yellow trousers astride a chair

Deborah Dreadnought (pseud.), The Beauties of Bloomerism [in verse]. Edited … by D. D. Illustrated with twelve … coloured likenesses … from the designs of W. S. Reed (London: n.pub., 1852), p. 36. Source: The Illustration Archive

an illustration of a woman riding a bicycle

‘The National Cycle Show’, in The Graphic, December 15th 1894, p. 682. Source: Special Collections and Archives, Cardiff University

a blac and white photo of a woman wearing work clothes with a coal sieve and shovel

Cabinet photograph by H Wragg. of Mary Harrison aged 16 taken, late 1800s. Source: Wigan World. http://www.wiganworld.co.uk/photos/

Dr Munford is now inviting members of the public to submit their own photographs of family members wearing trousers via email at wearingtrousers@cardiff.ac.uk 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.

a photo of a woman wearing first world war factory worker's style clothing

Postcard (front) of Dorothy Frances Curtis of Cardiff (1918). Note: Photograph of Dorothy Frances Curtis of Cardiff, employed on war work and dressed in protective clothing, including trousers, as a supervisor in a munitions factory where girls packed explosives into shell cases, in Birmingham. The rear of the postcard is signed ‘Trousers’ as this is likely to have been the first time that Dorothy had worn trousers. Source: Glamorgan Archives Ref. DXFX/19.

a phot of two women walking out to the crease

J.E. Russell, ‘Women’s Royal Naval Service: Sport and Leisure during the Second World War’ undated. Source: Admiralty Official Collection, Imperial War Museum, London. Image used for non-commercial purposes under the IMW Non-Commercial Licence © IWM (A 18796). http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205186614

a black and white photo of a group of women celebrating VE Day in a town square with people and soldiers in the background

‘VE Day Post: Land Girls Celebrating VE Day,’ 8th May 1945. The Women’s Land Army. Land girls section. Source: Stuart Antrobus. Image used for non-commercial purposes. http://www.womenslandarmy.co.uk/ve-day-post-land-girls-celebrating-ve-day/

a photo of a woman in overalls leaning on a spade

“My beautiful great aunt Dorothy when she was a Land Girl during WW2.” Submitted by Janet Jones. Who wore the trousers? section

a photo of a woman wearing a naval uniform

Doris Williams in fancy dress, Merthyr Tydfil c.1919. Submitted by Verity Kalcev.

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.

For the latest Women in Trousers updates, follow the archive on Twitter, twitter.com/wearingtrousers and use the hashtag #archivecatwalk. Visit the archive at www.womenintrousers.org

2 comments on “Women wearing the trousers – the archive of women striding across history

  1. Michael Robert Mumford on

    Hello Richard Moss,

    Just looked at your article “Women wearing trousers”, us men truly know women have always worn the trousers. There’s a lot of talk about productivity is less than 2%. Give more power to all women and watch the productivity rise to 20%.

    I too do research and publishing:

    I have a photographic archive and notice you have a gap of women wearing trousers in the WWI.

    I have 3 photographs of WWI RAF/RFC women in uniform with their bomber aircraft in the background.

    One photograph is a signed women pilot 1918.

    Please let me know if anyone is interested, they are unpublished so far.

    I notice your project was the brainchild of Dr Becky Munford, Reader in English Literature at Cardiff University’s School of English, Communication and Philosophy. Please forward this email to her as she may be interested in my latest eBook “Architectural Master Pieces: art and design made visible”.

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    Mike Mumford.


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