Trousers or pants first appear in recorded history among nomadic steppe-people in Western Europe. Archaeological evidence suggests that men and women alike wore pants in that cultural context. However, for much of modern history, the use of trousers has been restricted to men. In many regions, this norm was enforced not only by social custom but also by law. There are, however, many historical cases of women wearing trousers in defiance of these norms, for a variety of reasons, including comfort, freedom of movement, fashion, disguise (notably for runaway slaves), attempts to evade the gender pay gap, and attempts to establish an empowered public identity for women.
The 1930s is when we really see women in trousers get their stride. Actresses Marlene Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn were often photographed in trousers in the 1930s; Dietrich famously appearing in a black tuxedo and matching fedora at the 1932 premiere of The Sign of the Cross.
Eleanor Roosevelt became the first First Lady to appear in pants at a formal function, presiding over the Easter Egg Roll in 1933 wearing riding pants, a consequence of not having time to change after an early morning ride. However, she seemed to embrace the unconventional circumstance, posing for a photo in the pants on the South Portico of the White House.
Vogue featured its first spread of women wearing slacks in 1939.
Women didn’t wear pants too often in the 1930s, but for summer days at the beach or playing a sport pants were not only acceptable but highly fashionable! For day wear a pair of white or navy blue high waisted wide legs pants with a nautical or sailor look were trendy. On the beach, women wore soft, flowing, very wide leg Beach Pajamas or palazzo pants. They were soft pastel colors or big geometric prints such as stripes and checks. Many had attached overall straps or were a full jumpsuit.