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02 October 2012

Katharine Hepburn: The Pirate of Men's Pants

"I wear my kind of clothes to save me the trouble of deciding which clothes to wear." Katharine Hepburn

Katharine Hepburn exhibited a unique fashion sense both on screen and off. A slender, angular figure, costume designers loved the way her outfits hung on her slim frame. Behind the scenes, Hepburn preferred the laid back outfits which accommodated her athletic lifestyle. When the studio once stole her slacks from her dressing room, Hepburn walked around the lot in her underwear until they were returned. As Hepburn's screen persona reflected her real life personality, she began to develop a unique brand of American tomboy glamour. IMDB describes her trademark of wearing "slacks instead of dresses, decades before it became fashionable for women to do so." Below are some pictures of the star wearing slacks through the years, from her earliest days in Hollywood and into old age.

          "All the rich and famous, in a great coral
          saw me tumble in the Grand Canal.
          It's true!
          My shoe
          Ensnared my gown
          And I went down
          And down in Venice means really under,
          which made me wet
          and made wonder:
          would this have happened if by some chance
          instead of a gown I'd worn men's pants?
          Then soon all the sisters and the cousins and the aunts were calling me "The Pirate of Men's Pants"!
                    -"The Money Rings Out Like Freedom" from Coco (1969)

 "Arrives at studio one day in luxury car and wearing patched dungarees. Later seen driving in battered truck and wearing expensive fur coat over dungarees." (Malcolm Phillips, "Hepburn's Hectic Headline History," January 1933)

"That slack suit paid for itself several times over - for Katharine Hepburn got special mention in hundreds of different publications. If she'd worn a dress her name would merely have been listed among the fifty-five other top stars..." (W.H. Mooring, "Moonshine About Katie," Picturegoer, July 1949)
Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in ADAM'S RIB (1949)
"She allowed herself to be photographed without makeup in all her freckles, and, even worse, dressed in hideously mannish garb - sloppy slacks, sweater, and men's trousers and suits." (Film Review, December 1957)

"I never cared how unattractive I looked when I fell [off a bike]. I was concerned with not breaking anything. That's what counted. And I was always wearing pants, so I could protect my bones instead of my modesty." (Hepburn, Chandler 272)

On director Dorothy Arzner (CHRISTOPHER STRONG (1933)): "She wore pants. So did I. We had a good time working together." (Hepburn, ME 143)
"All About Me" TV documentary (1993)
Spencer Tracy's first impressions: "How can I do a picture with a woman who has dirt under her fingernails and who is of ambiguous sexuality and always wears pants?" (Hepburn, ME 246)

"Today, Hepburn's trousers have become a beloved cultural icon, but in the early 1930s they were considered subversive... By 1934, Katharine Hepburn (in pants) was not a comforting image for much of the population - not even to many women." (Mann 7)

"I put on pants fifty years ago and declared a sort of middle road." (Hepburn to Barbara Walters, 1981)
"[Hepburn's] wardrobe consisted mainly of men's expensive sweaters and pants that were too large for her. She gave the appearance not so much of being dressed carelessly, poorly or sloppily, but of being costumed for a role she had cast herself in. And the device worked as it always had; she was noticed. The impression given was of a most attractive eccentric; for no matter how curious her attire, Kate chose flattering lines and colors and, by concealing her feminine form, caused the beholder's eye to concentrate on her striking face." (Edwards 61)

"There was a press conference at Claridge's for which I got myself all done up in a Balenciaga suit and Katharine Hepburn stole the show in her pants." (Lauren Bacall, Edwards 253)

"Her no-frills off-screen sense of style - roomy sweaters, comfortable pants - grew to seem a sign of sensible Yankee behavior rather than a signal of masculine inclinations. By the end of the century, Katharine Hepburn had become an icon of women's liberation." (Edwards 396)


  1. Great post! Thanks to Kate for helping usher in the pants age for all of us. I know I'm grateful!

    1. At least 98% of the credit for women being free to wear pants goes to the 18 million USA women who first wore pants in wartime factory work, 1942-1945. Attributing women's right to wear pants to Hepburn is like giving Edmund Hillary credit for the existence of the entire Himalayan mountains. While you're appreciating the right to wear pants, don't forget that "mental health professionals" fought that right as an "illness" every step of the way, including Chicago judge Jacob Braude ordering Evelyn Bross to see a psychiatrist for six months in 1943 for wearing pants ("clothing not belonging to her sex.") At that time men in the Greek army wore skirts into battle, can't anyone see that these are style, not sex differences?

    2. I don't think we're attributing women's RIGHT to ear pants to Hepburn. The argument here is that Hepburn made it fashionable, through her film persona, for your average woman on the street to consider slacks as a viable, and stylish, alternative to dresses, skirts, stockings, and restrictive undergarments.

  2. No one looked better than Katey in pants!!!!

  3. An original in every sense! Great post.


  4. I did not realize that Kate's pants were considered subversive. I have always admired her wardrobe choices; the clothes she wore always looked fabulous.

  5. When we see now what Woman's liberation and the Feminist Movement have done to the family and the relationships of men and women, then I say as a woman I don't want any part of it. Ladies, should look like ladies, not men! Then we have people who aren't sure if they are men or women or boys or girls! It has all lead to chaos, the destruction of the family, etc.


Can't wait to hear your thoughts!