“Women and Trousers”
International Women’s Day 2018

Today is International Women’s Day. For us here at Redenim, this is important for a few obvious reasons:

First, we are a company devoted to helping women feel comfortable, confident, and sexy in their own bodies. We strive to take the process of shopping for jeans and remove all the parts that make us feel self conscious, uncomfortable, and miserable.

In addition, we are a female-founded tech company in a startup scene that is notoriously dominated by men. With strong female leadership, the Redenim mission is core not only to what we do, but who we are as a company.

We take great pride in both aspects of Redenim, but there is a greater importance in the context of historical female empowerment. I was shocked to learn that up until 1993, women serving in the US Senate were not allowed to wear pants.

Granted, this was an unwritten rule, but it was understood by everyone that women who served in the Senate simply did not wear pants — everyone except Carol Moseley-Braun, the first African American female elected to the Senate.

Sens. Patty Murray, Barbara Mikulski, Barbara Boxer, Carol Moseley-Braun, and Diane Feinstein in 1992. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public domain

Moseley-Braun who was newly elected to Senate in 1993 after serving in the Illinois legislature wore what she’d always worn throughout her political career to her first session: a business formal pants suit.

Unaware of the Senate “rules” her entrance to that session elicited audible gasps from men in attendance. It wasn’t until female staffers approached to thank her for her bravery did she realize what had actually occurred.

“We’ve heard from women staff that in the 1980s, if they came in to work—if they were called in on an emergency basis—they needed to keep a dress to put on quickly or they had to borrow one if they had to appear on the Senate floor,” Richard A. Baker, Senate historian

When I first read about this, I chuckled a bit to myself at at absurdity of it. But then it struck me that the underlying implication of such rules, unspoken or not, speak magnitudes about the perception of professional women. 

Senators dress in business formal attire, men included. But prior to 1993, the judgement against women serving in the Senate was that pants were inappropriate and distracting and women were incapable of doing their job if they wore bifurcated trousers instead of traditional skirts.

Women were being judged by what they wore, not by their effectiveness in their jobs.

Even though Carol Moseley-Braun challenged the longstanding tradition of policing female Senator’s outfits inadvertently, her defiance speaks volumes by the very nature of being accidental. She wore her pants suit out of practicality, not to make a statement. It did not even occur to her that doing so would be anything out of the ordinary let alone egregiously inappropriate.

While we have come a long way — even since 1993 — women in the workplace are still subject to judgement, discrimination, and bias based on everything from what they wear to who they are. It’s important then to recognize not only the strides that have been made, but the ones we still have yet to make.

We don’t expect Senators to be able to wear jeans anytime soon, but we do want to see a world where the effectiveness, hard work, and drive of women are not judged by the outfits they wear. Change is on the horizon and we are starting to see it rise bit by bit. And while the fateful day in 1993 when a female Senator accidentally broke the dress code may not seem significant, the pants suit revolution magnifies what it means to be a professional woman navigating the working world.

Happy International Women’s Day.

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