Have we had enough posts yet about Katharine Hepburn and her pants? I’ll let you decide, and to be precise for you Hepburn fans, they’re slacks, not pants. SLACKS. Hepburn was a fashion icon, and her embrace of slacks in a world of feminine Hollywood starlets upended the fashion status quo and encouraged women everywhere to wear whatever the heck they wanted.
If you’ve visited our exhibit, Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen, you’ve probably concluded that the world around you has embraced this iconic look. Pants—SLACKS!—are everywhere you turn in this exhibit.
But wait, there’s dissension in the ranks, and I don’t mind saying it: am I the only one a little freaked out by these ghostly ambulatory trousers? Is anyone else dreaming at night about row upon row of disembodied khaki-covered legs frolicking through lonely halls or lounging, confident and careless, upon dimly-lit street corners?
You just don’t get it. The slacks are iconoclasts, symbols of historic change. Their artful display is meant to jolt your awareness of Hepburn’s singular character.
I do get it. You’re right, the display is fun and daring—like Hepburn herself. It’s a conversation-starter that highlights Hepburn’s impact on women’s fashion.
Really, do you really get it?
No. I’m a thirty-something, male Gen-Xer who’s never worn anything but pants (and shorts with flip-flops!) and my film sensibilities were shaped by Chris Farley and Adam Sandler movies. Why should I get it? Why must pants float in the air like the flying toasters of After Dark 2.0 screensavers?
I do, however, suspect that the pants get me. They speak to me loud and clear whenever I pass them by. They harass my inner 19th-century dandy who is appalled and intimidated by such confidence. They remind me of John Wayne’s comment about his co-star during the filming of Rooster Cogburn: “Damn. There’s a woman!” They mockingly compare me to Colin Keith-Johnston (below) as Hepburn gives him the smackdown in The Warrior’s Husband; just add a scruffy beard and take away any resemblance to a handsome warrior. They know that Katharine Hepburn would chew me up and spit me out without pausing to check her lines.
Hey, I love pants. Pants on women. Pants on men. I share the pants in my family (figuratively speaking). And I can’t wait to lead the next group tour of Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen. Book a tour today. Pants—SLACKS!—are optional.
Ben Gammell is the Coordinator of Interpretive Projects at the Connecticut Historical Society