Monday, October 18, 2010

Plus Fours, revisited

After my last post about plus fours, someone suggested to me that women would not have worn knickers in the 1930s, and that their appearance in Cold Comfort Farm was due to Hollywood taking liberties, which we know they often do. So I decided to do some more research to see if I could find any evidence of actual '30s women wearing knickers, and did I ever! Most of the useful information and photos in this post come from this Sportswear Workshop written by the very knowledgeable FuzzyLizzie on the Vintage Fashion Guild forum. She also has many more pictures like these, among other interesting subjects, on her website.
It appears that women have been wearing short pants for activities such as hiking, camping, riding, sports, etc, since the late 1800s-early 1900s when they appeared as long bloomers:

It looks like they really caught on in the '20s, as I was able to find quite a few examples of women wearing them:

Some illustrations and patterns (if only I had this first one!):

And even some real-life examples:

I found fewer examples from the 1930s. It appears that as the 1930s progressed, and as shorts and slacks became more acceptable and popular, knickers for women were largely abandoned. Here is an ad from the early '30s showing both options, and another illustrating riding breeches:

I wonder if another factor could be the preference for more feminine fashions in the 1930s, compared to the more boyish styles of the 1920s. In any case, it appears that wearing knickers in the '30s was certainly acceptable, perhaps just not quite as fashionable. Since Cold Comfort Farm is set in the early '30s, and as that happens to be my favorite part of the decade as well, I will certainly feel no qualms wearing my plus fours camping, hiking, and even (miniature) golfing!


  1. I can't wait to share my riding breeches photo shoot on the blog. In the mean-time, GREAT post. For what it's worth (which may not be much ;)), I actually did my doctoral dissertation all on women mountain-climbers from the 19th to early 20th centuries (and have done lots of work on the history of women's clothing, as related to "rational dress" and other sartorial subjects). women wearing knickers, breeches, and trousers for outdoorsy activities like hiking and such was becoming quite common in the 1920s and 30s. In fact, I discovered in a number of Alpine Journal climbing articles related to women's clothing, within the context of mountaineering and hiking, women NOT wearing trousers (or breeches as they were called) were often seen as a dangerous liability to other climbers. By the later 1920s and 30s, as your images show, it seems lady golfers wore knickers or plus fours fairly commonly, I think,without meeting the same level of controversy that Amelia Bloomer did back in the 1850s or so. In the very early 1930s lounge and beach pyjamas were all the rage amongst the upper classes, but again this was a leisure context. OFF the trail, in the city (and away from the golf course or country estate), as everyday street wear, trousers were a much less common thing. As the gal in Cold Comfort Farm was shown wearing her knickers in a more casual context, I don't think it was historically inaccurate costuming either!

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  3. That's really interesting! I didn't really go into the reasons behind the clothes; mostly because the Sportswear workshop is really informative and I didn't want to be repetitive, but partly because I was really just trying to vindicate myself :). I can't wait to see those riding breeches!

  4. I was trying to respond to the naysayers who questioned the accuracy of knickers in Cold Comfort Farm, but probably went about it in an excessively long-winded manner. ;)

  5. Oh, no! Your post was not at all long-winded, and it was really more interesting than the post itself! I'm so lazy that I just post pictures in lieu of writing anything.:) Plus I'm always afraid that if I link to a well-written post and then attempt to really write something myself on the same subject, it will be too obvious how little I really know! That's why I love your blog (in addition to your wonderful photos); it's so informative!

  6. Oops...I also just realized that my comment made it sound like I thought YOU were being repetitive by posting your original comment; on the contrary, I'm glad to hear from someone who is clearly so knowledgeable on the subject! I was really just trying to justify my own laziness. :)

  7. I know I'm really, really late, but thank you so much for the kind words about the VFG workshop and my website!

    The knickers of the teens and 20s were slowly given up for shorts and slacks. I have at least one postcard from 1932-33 that has 2 women wearing knickers.

  8. Yuck. Really, what were they THINKING??
    Parachute pants?
    Not a good look.

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