Meet The Woman Who Went To Jail For Wearing Pants

Photo: Courtesy of Atterley Road.
What words spring to mind when you think of pants? Cool? Comfortable? Cartwheel-enabling? Yes, pants are all these things and more. But, are they criminal?
The L.A. Times reports that once, not so long ago, it was indeed considered criminal for women to wear pants — and introduces us to the pioneering woman who challenged all that.
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In 1938, Los Angeles kindergarten teacher Helen Hulick witnessed a burglary, and was called into court to testify against the suspects. But, when she arrived, the conversation quickly turned from the crime at hand to what she was wearing: a pair of slacks (we'll give you a sec to pick your jaw off the floor).
The judge presiding over the case forbade Hulick from testifying in pants and rescheduled her court date, demanding that she wear a dress next time. In an interview following that incident, Hulick told the L.A. Times: "You tell the judge I will stand on my rights[...] I like slacks. They're comfortable."
Sure enough, Hulick returned to court on her rescheduled date in pants. The judge, predictably, was not pleased with Hulick's flagrant non-dress-wearing. He stated that, since Hulick's choice of clothing "drew more attention from spectators, prisoners and court attaches" than the burglary case itself, she had "openly def[ied] the court and its duties to conduct judicial proceedings in an orderly manner." The judge again ordered her to return to court the next day, wearing a dress.
In an interview, Hulick countered that she had worn slacks since she was 15, and said she planned to return to court a third time in pants. And, she added, "if he puts me in jail I hope it will help to free women forever of anti-slackism."
Hulick did indeed return to court in pants the following day, and the judge did indeed hold her in contempt, handing down a five-day jail sentence. In jail, Hulick was made to change into the denim dress that was standard-issue for female inmates. But, Hulick's lawyer appealed the contempt citation, which the Appellate Court overturned. Hundreds of people also sent letters in support of Hulick.
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Click over to L.A. Times for details on the case and a photo of Hulick in the pants heard 'round the world (a very fetching, Katherine Hepburn-esque pair, at that). And, if you're wearing them today, take a moment to thank Helen Hulick, pioneer of pants. Thanks in part to her, generations of women are now free from the worry of cold legs, stiff winds, and at least one form of sexist double standard. Huzzah! (L.A. Times)
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