For a long time I had been puzzled by this photograph of my aunt wearing what seemed to be a military outfit. The photo is dated 1919; the man next to her eventually became her husband, and her mother is wearing a dress that was already old-fashioned.
I knew that English women had entered previously male occupations during World War I (1914-1918); England’s heavy mobilization and casualties meant that women were needed as factory workers, farmers, drivers of trucks and buses, etc. But the United States did not enter the war until April of 1917, so, although American women were ready to volunteer for previously male occupations, and fashion was heavily influenced by military styles, American women were never called upon to fill traditionally male roles in the same numbers as their British sisters.
Hiking & Camping Outfits for Young Women, 1925
When I came across these Butterick patterns for hiking and camping outfits, the mystery was solved:
Pattern # 4552 (on the right): Middy Blouse and Knickers. “The Middy blouse holds its own as a becoming and practical half of the knicker-and-blouse hiking costume. The middy blouse and separate knickers are suitable for general sports wear. Make tham of khaki, cotton poplin, or serge; or make the blouse of white jean or pongee with knickers of khaki, tweed, serge or corduroy…. The middy blouse and knickers are correct for girls and misses 6 to 18 years.”
Pattern # 4157 (on the left): “For the open roads and hidden trails young hikers wear a white jean middy and plaited or gathered bloomers of navy blue serge or khaki. Or make the entire garment of khaki, serge, or cotton poplin. This is good…for the gymnasium or for general sports wear. The blouse may be made with a yoke and the collar may be detachable…. The middy blouse and bloomers are for juniors and girls 6 to 16 years.”
Gender-neutral Clothing for Hiking, Camping, and Picnics: 1921
This set of photos were taken on a group trip to Santa Cruz, a beach resort in northern California; they are dated 1921.
What is remarkable about these photos that the men and the women are dressed so much alike. Such clothing, defying traditional gender roles – in public! – would have been unthinkable just a few years before.