Alumnus’s new book explores women's fight for the right to wear trousers

Posted by crm28 at Jul 11, 2017 08:55 AM |
Dr Don Chapman pens book detailing the rise of trousers in women’s fashion.

Dr Don Chapman, who was awarded a D.Phil by the University in 2006 for his history of the Oxford Playhouse, is to publish a book detailing the rise of the trouser as a form of women’s clothing.

A journalist by trade, in 1971 (during the hot pant craze) Dr Chapman was given a collection of papers relating to the Western Rational Dress Club by a reader. Founded in Cheltenham in 1897, the Western Rational Dress Club aimed to promote dress reform so that “women may enjoy greater movement and less fatigue, especially when engaged in sporting activities, such as cycling, tennis and golf”. Dr Chapman wrote three stories for the Oxford Mail on the subject but felt that the Western Rational Dress Club’s movement deserved its own book which he would write during his retirement.

‘Wearing the Trousers: Fashion, Freedom and the Rise of the Modern Woman’ explores how in 1851, an American woman’s decision to jettison her petticoats and adopt Turkish trousers generated a new craze that swept across the world and inspired many groups like the Western Rational Dress Club. Swiftly christened ‘bloomers’ by the press, the movement motivated free-thinking women everywhere to abandon their constricting corsets and combustible crinolines and take control of their dress, provoking what Dr Chapman describes as  "an often farcical, male-chauvinist and anti-feminist backlash".

In his book, the first in-depth study of what became known as the rational dress movement, Dr Chapman reveals how Bloomerism became a stick to beat the women’s rights movement with.

In 1851 Caroline Dexter, an obscure, well-educated Nottingham woman with surprisingly good connections, toured the length and breadth of Britain promoting the new dress. In 1880 the better known Lady Harberton took up the baton, finally becoming so exasperated with the establishment that she scrapped her subscriptions to every other body and funded the suffragette cause.

With side-long glances at the rag trade, female prostitution and trafficking, Dr Chapman shows how away from the spotlight, women’s trousers gradually became accepted wear around the world for a whole range of activities from agriculture to sport, inspiring novelists from Charles Reade to H. G. Wells, playwrights from Pinero to George Bernard Shaw.

  • Wearing the Trousers: Fashion, Freedom and the Rise of the Modern Woman’ by Dr Don Chapman, published by Amberley Publishing, will be available from 15 October.

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