Lois Rabinowitz: Now You Can Wear Slacks

by Guest on March 17th, 2011
in Know Your History and tagged , , , , , , ,

Today’s guest post is from women’s success coach Bonnie Marcus. Bonnie takes a candid look at how attitudes towards women’s attire have often had serious consequences. Shining the light on lesser known women is what Women’s History Month is all about in my opinion. Enjoy!

It’s hard to imagine the days when women were frowned upon for wearing slacks in public. In the 1960’s, however, this was the case. Women were expected to wear a hat, gloves, high heels, nylons and a girdle. It was commonly accepted behavior for women to dress up every day before they left the house.

In the summer of 1960, Lois Rabinowitz went to traffic court in New York City to pay a speeding ticket for her boss. Lois was a 28-year-old secretary for an oil company executive. She was a newlywed and her husband of just two weeks drove her to the courthouse that morning. Lois was neatly dressed in slacks and a blouse.

Upon seeing Lois in slacks, the Magistrate of the court was outraged and sent her home.

Author Gail Collins in her book, When Everything Changed, comments that since the Magistrate had no known record of tossing men out of court for their attire, it was pretty clear that this incident was really about women’s place in the world.

“It was a convoluted expression of the classic view of sexual differences: women did not wear the pants in the family—or anywhere else, for that matter. In return, they were allowed to stand on a pedestal.”

Lois did not refute the Magistrate. She complied and left her husband to pay the ticket. She apologized to the court and said she would go home and burn all her slacks.

So why am I writing about Lois for Women’s History Month? because Lois represents a time in our recent history when women had very little freedom of expression.

As we celebrate the history of women and acknowledge our history as our strength, let us appreciate the progress we have made as women. Certainly, we still have a way to go to reaching gender equality, but just a few decades ago, women were chastised for wearing pants and now we represent more than half of the workforce and more than half of all college graduates.

Today it is also likely that the Magistrate of the court would be a woman. Now that’s progress!


3 Responses to Lois Rabinowitz: Now You Can Wear Slacks

  1. Serena says:

    This was a really interesting story – I wish Rabinowitz had refused to take of her pants, though. Different time period, though.

  2. MadamaAmbi says:

    In the 1960s my junior high school had a dress code, not only mandating dresses for girls, but also setting how many inches above the knees was permissible. I was a chubby kid, so it took some chutzpah for me to wear an outfit my mother bought. She thought it very high fashion–very 60s, a shortish A-line dress, bold stripes and orange tights! The assistant principal stopped me in the hall, sent me home to change and made sure to tell me I had no business wearing such an outfit because I had “thunder thighs.”

    Ok, now high school: girls must wear dresses. Long story short: we were wearing jeans and ponchos. We organized and petitioned. We refused to wear dresses. We won.

    Fast forward to Hillary Clinton who took tons of flack for wearing pants as well as tights with dresses. As for progress, I wonder. When I see women news anchors, journalists and others in business wearing low cut, cleavage in-your-face boobitude necklines, coy as low as you can go (Rachel Maddow? Pulleeze. Diane Sawyer? Totally silly.), plus foot-torturing high heels with pointy toes, I think we’ve lost the war on being sexual objects and conforming to hetero hegemony.

    The difference is that women now protest that they’re dressing this way because “they want to be feminine and own their sexuality.” Hmmm. I think it’s the new normal and required in order to be hired and to be on TV. Of my peer group (I’m 57), I’m one of very few women not coloring my hair. Women I don’t know stop me to tell me that my gray hair is beautiful and when I ask why they color theirs, they tell me “Oh, my hair isn’t silver like yours. I have to.” Hmmm. So, what others think of our looks still reigns. I seem to quote Sally Kempton all the time, and here’s another opportunity: It’s hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head.

  3. Pandorabalks says:

    Did that just come out of your mouth or mine? I so remember the dresscode. That’s why i loved 7th grade with white gogo boots and fishnets, the nets were a bit uncomfortable on the toes but the gogo boots were cool and flat (and white) ha. Remember wearing girdles in HS and then petitioned and won for jeans it was wonderful. I actually remember petitioning and protesting for a witch club in 4th grade. We were allowed to have it, but they banned me from bringing my chemistry kit. Nothing has changed for the better. I feel like things have gone backwards and young girls are not going to notice until it’s too late. I hope I’m wrong.

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