Days Gone By - stories from the past

Do you remember the days when it was frowned on for women to wear trousers?

The Way We Were


Joyce Ray Wheeler

Edmonson County in rural Kentucky where I grew up was known as the poorest county in the state.  My father, a bachelor at this time, owned the first car in the county.  It was a Ford, and on the day of the purchase, someone showed him how to start and how to stop it, and he drove it proudly home.1940 women's trouser look

In those years women never wore trousers except when doing farm labor in gardens, corn fields, or tobacco fields.  While doing such work, they wore old pants belonging to a husband or a brother.  Tying a heavy cord around the waist to hold the pants up, they would pick up a hoe and head for the fields.

Junior class trip was to Mammoth Cave

One of the good things about our location was its proximity to Mammoth Cave.  I attended school in Brownsville, the county seat, graduating in 1943.  (Perhaps it will surprise the younger generation to hear that high school trips in the spring were “cool” even back then!)  The junior class trip was always to Mammoth Cave; the seniors went to the Smokies.

My class chose the cave tour which included a passage within the cave appropriately called FAT MAN’S MISERY – a narrow cork-screw spiral leading ever upward.  Each student—BOYS AND GIRLS – must follow close behind one another.  Chatter among the girls indicated dresses and skirts absolutely could not be worn!  I knew my dad would never allow me to wear pants.


A friend solved the problem

A friend solved my problem; she brought an extra pair of slacks to school.  I put them on there, wore them on the trip, and changed back to my skirt when we got back to school.  All of the girls assured me my dad would never know!

The disappointment in his eyes hurt

Cameras for students were very scarce back then, but somebody had one!  A group picture was made and there I was front and center in my slacks!  Dad saw the picture; he did not scold me, but the disappointment in his eyes hurt me deeply.

No more slacks for Joyce —until the 1960’s.  Pant suits had become the fashion of choice for business women and every one else.  A dear friend and I discussed the matter seriously.  Finally one fine spring morning the two of us drove to downtown Birmingham to Tillman Levinson’s Discount Store.  She bought pants and vest in tiny-checked brown and cream; I bought a navy blue jacket and pants.

I never wore my fashionable purchase in my dad’s presence.  Even today – many-pant-suits later – I remember dad!





See books by Donna R Causey

ALABAMA FOOTPRINTS Exploration: Lost & Forgotten Stories (Volume 1)


About Joyce Ray Wheeler

Joyce Ray Wheeler was born in Kentucky, but after marriage and two sons she and her husband, Dr. Ruric Wheeler she moved to Birmingham, Alabama in 1953. She was a former school teacher for a short while. She was active in the Faculty Wives Club at Samford University and a member of Shades Mountain Baptist Church where she taught Sunday School classes for women for many years. She enjoyed travel, her grandchildren and writing her memories. Joyce passed away November 2. 2012.Her obituary and memorial can be seen at:

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  1. Marynell Cole

    I couldn’t wear pants to school until 1971 and then it had to be a pantsuit…no jeans allowed!!!

    1. My Dad was very strict. During the 60s, my teen years, he said my sister and I couldn’t wear slacks while in a vehicle! He said, “What if there was an accident?!” I thought, if there was an accident, I’d rather be in slacks, than perhaps have my dress up to my neck, exposing me! Never got that logic!

  2. Patricia Camp Mullis

    Was sent home while visiting my grandparents in Marshall Co.,Al. I was from Florida and wore shorts to the skating rink. I was a disgrace. 1950’s

  3. Betty Shubert

    I worked for a dentist, we pleaded, begged, to wear pantsuits instead of starched white uniforms, white hose, white, polished shoes. I remember how excited we were, but some patients really were not happy about it.

  4. Tasha Murray

    Debora Hall Robbie Holder Alley Blackford

  5. Linda McClendon

    No pants in school during 60’s. Jeans were rebel clothes like Fonzie.

  6. Faye Sheffield

    The way people dress in public now is the real disgrace!! I was not allowed to wear pants untill I left home at 18 yrs. old. From one extreme to the other! Sad!

  7. Harry L. Parker

    And do you remember when pants were called trousers?

  8. Janice Archer Thomas

    When I first went to work in 1964 at Liberty National Life Insurance women were not allowed to wear pants and we had to wear high heels and also they didn’t hire black people. Both of those changed however before I left in 1970

    1. Karen Atchison Artale

      I worked there for 3 weeks in 1972. Women could only wear dresses (mini dresses were perfectly acceptable) or “pant suits.” (Remember the polyester blend long tops with pants made out of the exact same fabric?). I was 17 and just out of high school, and once I naively wore a long red and white striped babydoll-style top with solid red pants. I was called out by the male dictator boss, and subjected to embarrassment and humiliation as he made an “example” of me in front of my co-workers and sent me home to change. I never returned. I started work the next week at South Central Bell where women were treated with respect and it was already against the rules (if not yet the law) to discriminate against anyone based upon sex, race, religion, disabilities, or any other reason. I never looked back, and retired from there many years later. I never forgot how it felt, though, to be treated in such a way, and consider it a valuable life lesson in respecting others.

  9. Crystal Maddox Martin

    Boy.. How I am so glad times have changed! I wear a dress every now and then..Not Often 4 sure!

  10. Joyce N Billy Lambert

    For school, it was a dress or skirt. For work, the same with the exception hose MUST be worn.

  11. Libby Cheek

    I remember wearing dresses to school everyday.

  12. Cindy Branum Blinn

    When we went anywhere in the 60’s, we wore dresses. In high school in the 70’s, it was jeans all the time. Now I’m finding I’m just more comfortable in skirts than anything else, just add wool knee socks in the winter!

  13. Karen Atchison Artale

    Not only were women required to wear dresses at work, but I also remember being turned down for a job at Acipco in 1972 because I was engaged to be married and we planned to have children. (Yes, those were completely legitimate interview questions at the time!). The male who interviewed me specifically told me that this is why he wouldn’t hire me. I’m so glad our daughters and theirs will never be subjected to these ridiculous prejudices.

  14. Fran Miller

    I didn’t own ,my first pair of jeans until I wass 24! Ladies just did not wear “dungarees!”

  15. Jo Waller

    I remember in school in the 50’s when it was really cold, we could wear pants but only under our dress.

  16. Christianna Epps Wheeler

    We did not get to wear pants in our school until the beginning of 1972 my senior year then the top had to be as long as a dress. It was those old polyester pant suits that was popular and you may as well wear a dress.

  17. Linda Webb Cleveland

    yes, and we still couldn’t wear them to school in 1970 and almosy froze my butt off on the bus every morning too.

  18. Myra N Edwards

    My mother never wore them.

  19. Gail Watts Jenkins

    And I had to chop, hoe and pick cotton in a dress. We had to work hard on the farm and always in a dress (and homemade bonnet); my brothers in overalls or dungarees. For some strange reason those were my good old days. Wouldn’t do it again, tho!

  20. Lisa Williamon Waschko

    I remember when, in high school, we were first allowed to wear pantsuits. The rule was that the top must be long enough to reach your fingertips. Amazing.

  21. Kathy Brown-thompson

    We weren’t allowed to wear pants, all the way through the 12th grade !! Or to Church, or Doctor !!

  22. Kenny Brewer

    I think women wear most of the pants nowadays!

  23. Blake Davis

    Now we have a frigging Hillary. Slippery slope. Now you know why it was frowned upon.

  24. Douglas Wakefield

    Tina Marie Ingram Wakefield

  25. Cathy Lynn McBride

    I remember late 60’s my mom making me wear pants under my dress walking to school in the cold. I’d have to take them off and put in my bag.

  26. Rusty Crane

    No i don’t remember those days but I do remember the days it was frowned upon for them to wear a dress.

  27. Karen Nix

    In elementary school in the 60’s we could wear pants under our dresses in the winter only.

  28. Blake Davis

    For reasons which are now obvious.

  29. Susan Travis Argo

    That’s where women looked like women and not like men. Life was much simpler. Women were feminine not feminist.

  30. Ginger Jackson

    In 1970 because of the mini skirt the miss. School passed a law girls could were paints in 1971 to school.

  31. Trousers were male gendered clothing for thousands of years. Robes on men had distinctions, but being able to gird up the loins (hiking it up the legs to modify it to act more like trousers) was the biggest distinction made – something the women would have been prohibited from doing in public.

    Trousers on women in the distant past did occur, but they were in uncivilized places, such as the ancient Celts, and it was women taking on warrior roles (not to mention being very promiscuous). Prior to that, it could be seen in privately held dominatrix ceremonies, like those among Canaanites. As for Celtic women, the practice was pushed out due to Christianization where they returned to their traditional bog dresses.

    What gave rise to trouser acceptance in the U.S., besides the pushing for unbelieving feminists, what that so many pastors approached attire from a lust prevention mode instead of emulating Biblical themes associated to our body. The lust prevention mode is what women are hearing today in church, if anything on the topic. During the 60s and 70s, there were two groups: one saying that trousers would cover up more than miniskirts and those who fought to maintain dresses; but both groups based their argument on lust prevention (a poor foundation to argue from).

    Worldview repercussion regarding gender roles or theology were never, if ever seldom, addressed.

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