Katharine Hepburn's Slacks

Amelia Rowland

I'm currently swooning over this pair of Lanvin satin wide-leg trousers. Perhaps I'll own them one day, after they've re-surfaced in 20 years time on Etsy as pre-loved, vintage. Since 2014, wide leg trousers have literally been everywhere - from Valentino to New Look. Vogue championed the wide leg cause back in 2014, setting them as the nemesis of the skinny jean - and this rivalry still occurs today. Their sister trousers, the palazzo and the culotte are just as readily worn by discerning fashion types and us common folk, and are praised for giving an air of comfy elegance. Whilst we're still learning about these styles, and seeing them sprout up in various designs depending on brand, material and cut, wide leg trousers were some of the most exciting fashion pieces to come out of the late 1920's and 1930's. 

The Women's Royal Naval Service (wrens) gaining signalling experience on board a Royal Navy ship in Greenock, Scotland. Wearing an amazing pair of men's trousers.

The Women's Royal Naval Service (wrens) gaining signalling experience on board a Royal Navy ship in Greenock, Scotland. Wearing an amazing pair of men's trousers.

In World War II women who engaged in industrial or "hands on" forms of work wore trousers. These were often men's trousers that they had altered to fit, but as the war continued they sometimes needed to purchase several new pairs. After the war, trousers were considered 'leisure wear' rather than a fashion staple until they were pioneered by actresses including Marlene Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn. Dietrich re-energised women's fashion with her regular appearances in men's suits, ties and overcoats. Dietrich above all wanted to be glamorous - and rarely did her androgynous outfits become 'costume' (unless in an acting or photoshoot scenario).

Similarly, Katharine Hepburn was one of the most complex actresses of her time. Hepburn was notoriously stubborn, refusing to allow the studios to control her private or public images. Her fashion ethics carried across into her acting roles – that clothes should be functional, allowing movement when needed and also reflect the character of the person wearing it. Now, we see Katharine Hepburn's trouser wearing ways celebrated, and even featured in the 2012 exhibition at the New York Public Library 'Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen'. Her outfit choices were not about starting a kind of fashion revolution, but rather about individual comfort and her own independence, perhaps best summed up in her obituary in the New York Times in 2003. 

Katharine Hepburn's infamous slacks are identical to the styles and cuts of wide leg trousers that are currently overflowing our ASOS shopping carts. Even those antique rose Lanvin trousers I'm pining over look as if they were pinched from her closet. Here's hoping that wide leg trousers are here to stay. Now if you'll excuse me I've got a shrine to worship at, and 'African Queen' waiting for me in the DVD player.