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Gallup Vault: Breaking Gender Barriers With Slacks and Shorts

Gallup Vault: Breaking Gender Barriers With Slacks and Shorts

In December 1947, two decades after women gained the right to vote but well before the 1963 Equal Pay Act became law, a gender barrier fell in Camden, New York. In this small upstate town, a group of high school girls broke a long-standing cultural norm -- and district policy -- by wearing slacks to school, setting off both a political ruckus and a Gallup poll.

Americans' verdict? While nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults (65%) at that time thought it was fine for women to wear slacks at home, only 32% approved of women wearing slacks in public. Forty-four percent disapproved, while the rest didn't have strong opinions on the matter.

Americans' Approval of Women Wearing Slacks at Home and in Public
Do you approve or disapprove of women of any age wearing slacks in public, that is, for example, while shopping? What about (women of any age) wearing them (slacks, pants or dungarees) in the home (do you approve or disapprove)?
Slacks at home Slacks in public
% %
Approve 65 32
Disapprove 11 44
Indifferent/Not sure 24 26
Figures for slacks at home obtained from the Roper Center. Figures for slacks in public based on average of men's and women's results in Gallup report.
Gallup, Jan. 2-7, 1948

Women leaned more heavily than men against publicly slack-clad women: 30% of women approved, 49% disapproved and 21% offered no opinion. Among men, 34% approved, 39% disapproved and 27% had no opinion. But, as George Gallup noted in February 1948, "Both men and women, probably feeling that a woman's house is her castle, say that slacks are an appropriate garment around the home."

The Rest of the Story

The Camden school board ultimately sided with the girl whose family challenged the no-slacks policy, and about a decade later, Jacqueline Kennedy broke White House norms by appearing in slacks as first lady. By then, Americans' support for this fashion choice had risen to 68% -- but now shorts were causing a stir. A 1961 Gallup poll found that only 28% of Americans approved of women wearing shorts in public, while 66% disapproved.

That was the last time Gallup asked about women wearing shorts; six years later, the subject was miniskirts. In a 1967 poll, 62% of Americans who were familiar with miniskirts -- which, at 95%, was almost everyone -- offered negative assessments of the new fad. Seven in 10 (71%) also said they would object to their daughter wearing one.

Read the original 1948 Gallup release.

These data can be found in Gallup Analytics.

Read more from the Gallup Vault.

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