The iconic fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent has died at age 71. It is in part because of his influence on modern popular style that pants are now considered fashionable for women:

Originally a maverick and a generator of controversy – in 1968, his suggestion that women wear pants as an everyday uniform was considered revolutionary – Mr. Saint Laurent developed into a more conservative designer, a believer in evolution rather than revolution. He often said that all a woman needed to be fashionable was a pair of pants, a sweater and a raincoat. “My small job as a couturier,” he once said, “is to make clothes that reflect our times. I’m convinced women want to wear pants.”
Another snip from the NYT obit:
“Every man needs aesthetic phantoms in order to exist,” Mr. Saint Laurent said at the announcement of his retirement. “I have known fear and the terrors of solitude. I have known those fair-weather friends we call tranquilizers and drugs. I have known the prison of depression and the confinement of hospital. But one day, I was able to come through all of that, dazzled yet sober.”


  1. Clothing (and interior) designers once were futurists who fomented social change. Now, they just plunder the bourgeois past to enforce the social norm. Rudi Gernreich (and Verner Panton) must be rolling over in their graves.

    In 1993, the Saint-Laurent fashion house was sold to the pharmaceuticals company Sanofi

  2. “Every man needs aesthetic phantoms in order to exist”

    What a genius and I never heard of him until now. I need to spend less time in the bars.

  3. Another fine example of designers taking credit for what was already happening: by 1968, women wore pants as a matter of course. YSL knew they wanted to wear pants because they were already wearing pants.

    The secret job of being a designer: telling rich people it’s cool to do what working people are doing.

  4. “I’m convinced women want to wear pants.”

    Such are the hard hitting issues of fashion…

  5. @hayduke, it’s easy to laugh at that now, but think about it! this was once unheard of. it was a symbolic, and at the time, revolutionary idea. it sounds frivolous now, because women can wear just about anything we want — in America or Europe, anyway. This was once not the case!

    To say this in his time was not entirely unlike someone wandering through Afghanistan today and saying, “hey guys, is the burqa really neccesary?” Traditional gender roles rethought, through design. I’m exaggerating, but not all that much.

  6. Girls weren’t allowed to wear pants to school until I was in High School. They didn’t even get culottes until I was in seventh grade.

  7. Hayduke:
    watch a few films made in the 60’s. Cop movies, dramas, anything set “now”. Just pay attention to what the women say and do. Unless your span has taken you from then to now, you really don’t have any idea of how much has changed. I do not think it much of a stretch to say that many women of say age 20 now, if transported to 1963, would be in prisons or madhouses within a month of arrival. Don’t you you even have the inkling that even rape at that time was unreported more often than not?

  8. It escapes me why this is important to anyone except his family. Women go to great expense and trouble to look stupid, and guys like this one tap in to the problem. Pants = revolutionary indeed. ‘Rosy The Riveter’ wore them every day, and nearly 70 years ago, to do something useful.

  9. Hamish’s comment is so silly and antihistorical that it makes me need to drop gracefully onto my chaise lounge and delicately hold the back of my hand to my lily-white forehead!

    Damn, where’d I put my smelling salts!

  10. Xeni, I was thirteen in 1968 and almost painfully heterosexual: I paid attention to what girls and women were wearing, and I assure you, they wore pants. Yes, it was considered casual, but it wasn’t considered shocking. All YSL did was observe what was happening all around him.

    Takuan’s typo of ’63 might seem more reasonable if fashionable women hadn’t been wearing pants in the ’30s and ’40s. Dietrich and Garbo, anyone?

  11. Which brings back the question: When will there be great skirts for men to wear, at last??

    No, not Scottish kilts worn to your favourite local punkish venue…or some silly pseudo cross-dressing party trick…I mean for real….

  12. Howie’s of Edinburgh do a great line in kilts but in various fabrics and accessories -utility belts and so forth..Braw.
    raises hand!(Do you mean underwear or trousers?)

  13. I think we are missing the point here. Yes, women were wearing pants in the ’60’s but what YSL did was empower women through the wearing of trousers suits, and not just as a novel idea to wear pants but to be equal with men and not only for the stars or the rich people but for every woman…..power-dressing? Thankyou YSL…

  14. YSL was an innovator but he’s not recognized as such by many people today. His name has been used as a brand on arbitrarily chosen products of indifferent quality for so many years that the character of his own ideas has been forgotten.

  15. Regarding The Pants Issue, a summary of The Dick Van Dyke Show has this comment on the show’s premier:

    A small controversy occurred because of Mary Tyler Moore wearing Capri pants on the show. Up until the show’s premiere, most housewives were seen in dresses, but Moore’s explanation was that most of the housewives she knew wore pants. Because of Moore, Capri pants became a huge fashion craze in the early 1960s.

    So perhaps pants were established as everyday home wear by the early ’60s, but YSL was among the first to create outfits for more formal occasions that incorporated them. Remember, he was a couturier primarily and popular culture was an entirely different realm.

  16. I do soooooo want to understand the lingo of those who appreciate this man. But, when TAKUAN hurls comments such as this

    ‘your unabashed unreconstructiveness makes my case’ (#14 above)

    at me, and I cannot find ‘unreconstructiveness’ even in my 20 volume OED, I feel confirmed in my original view that the phenomena has little to do with substance, and much to do with hype.

    Answering the charge that I am ‘antihistorical’ (#16) I refer you to this image for a start.


    Give me one of these women for twenty tarted up drones on Fifth Avenue any day.

  17. odd thing about pants.
    When Alexander the Great’s court was in babylon he began to assimilate many of the local customs. His men brideled at the notion that they would be made to wear pants as it was not considered a manly thing to wear womens cloths.

  18. Isn’t if funny that my girlfriend complains about not not having enough occasions to wear skirts these days? I used to work with her, and she would get constant strange looks and comments if she chose a skirt instead of jeans on “casual Friday”. How times change.

    You folks really aren’t going to squabble over women wearing pants anymore, are you? Choose your battles, gents and ladies, Choose your battles.

  19. Unreconstructiveness. That reminds me of antidisestablishmentarianism. I had to write that word on the blackboard a lot as a kid.

    Takun maybe the word you could use is to say he was being floccinaucinihilipilificationistic.

  20. Hah!

    As soon as I saw “antidisestablishmentarianism” in the side bar, I jumped straight in to reply with the obligatory “floccinaucinihilipilification”.

    Bases: covered.

  21. Rossindetroit @24, the entertainment industry and the fashion industry have always lied about what’s happening in the US–you would think, for example, that couples did not sleep in double beds until the late 1960s if you trusted TV, but the shocking truth is that couples tend to sleep together.

    What you’re encountering here are the values of the ruling class: they think a fashion begins when it’s finally approved for rich conservatives. Mary Tyler Moore wore capris because they were fashionable. She didn’t invent them or bring them to the US.

  22. If you’re interested in the history of women and trousers, here’s a nice article: 20th Century Sports Dress Fashion History. It focuses on the relationship between trousers and women’s sports. There are some good illos from the time. They note, “By 1936 women began to wear slacks for all form of casual dress particularly in America. But it took three decades for trousers to really gain mass interchangeability with the skirt in the late 1960s and early 1970s.”

    So YSL is being praised for noticing what had been happening for thirty years. Being praised for his designs should be enough. Elvis Presley was a fine performer–you don’t have to pretend he invented rock and roll also.

  23. @29

    Hehe. Train of thought at 29 LPW (letters per word). It’s very hard to maintain control at that speed.

  24. @30, Pants.
    Yes, it’s acknowledged that TV and movies’ depictions of clothing and behavior are not realistic or representative.
    Capri pants are a special case as they were largely unknown until that point but Mary Tyler Moore looked really hot in them. A trend for that specific style was born. There are numerous examples of TV in particular setting off trends in women’s clothing. I think Sex and the City is responsible for more than its share.

    Re: Dick Van Dyke Show:
    Up until the show’s premiere most housewives were seen in dresses, but Moore’s explanation was that most of the housewives she knew wore pants.

  25. Rossindetroit, I had the total young boy’s crush on Mary Tyler Moore, but it wasn’t because she brought women in pants to my consciousness. I love Wikipedia, but its entry on capris needs expanding. There’s a picture of a model in the ’50s wearing capris here. They note, “Following the post-World War II baby boom, the 1950s ushered in the cult of youth and the creation of a market division specifically for teenage fashions. Girls wore Capri pants, stretch pants with stirrups, and Bermuda shorts.”

    It’s kind of fun to be researching something of little consequence.

    Sex In the City, like the rest of Hollywood’s work, popularizes what’s already popular. So there’s a spike among the clueless, a speeding-up of what’s already happening. The fashion industry is a magnifying mirror that puts emphasis on the parts of popular culture that it’s deemed safe.

  26. ahhhh, this is fun! Would any females who were between the ages of 12 and 25 in 1963 please comment on my “typo”?

    As to coinage, perhaps I’m a coiner.

  27. 1963 and 1968 are two different countries. Things REALLY changed in that five years, especially the pop and political cultures. As to couture, I’ll let my sister comment:

    I bought my first suit in 1967, but it wasn’t until five years later that they were commonly accepted and ubiquitous. Pants, however, were common, although casual or trendy (as in the case of MTM’S capris); and of course we wore cuffed blue jeans, seemingly almost from birth.

    Thanks, Gogie, you’re a history book.


  28. I’m afraid many people are missing the point here. YSL was not a great man because he “allowed” women to wear pants but because he designed breathtaking clothes for them.

    He was an artist, not an activist.

  29. Zirglob, we’re just responding to the NY Time’s and Xeni’s claim that he made “revolutionary” developments at a time when women wearing trousers was only an obsession of extremely conservative people.

    The NY Times just gets worse every year.

  30. And it bears saying again that pants were proletarian wear for women for decades before YSL adapted them to high fashion. Two totally different worlds today and far more of a difference 40 years ago.

  31. My question, o Ross, is this: Does Mrs. inDetroit know that you can recite the history of the Capri pant?

  32. @44;
    You’d be amazed what goes on around here. last night we were watching Hitchhikers’ Guide on DVD. Ford Prefect used the term QED and I got double extra points for knowing the Latin words, usage and definition.
    The pants stuff I remembered from working at Saks.

  33. With all due respect to Yves Saint Laurent, Coco Chanel introduced pants to couture decades earlier.
    Sorry to harp once again on the pants issue

  34. I do find a reference to Coco introducing bell bottom pants for women. No date is given.
    It wouldn’t surprise me to find any particular garment or style to have been invented many times over, as the fashion industry has the attention span of a goldfish.
    Which reminds me, aren’t we due for mini skirts to be coming back again soon? Just asking.

  35. I rather grateful for the people who’re determined to believe that women’s trousers were controversial in 1968; without it, I wouldn’t have stumbled on this amusing thing from 1891: Women in Trousers.

    Rossindetroit, look at some ’30s pics of Lauren Bacall or Katherine Hepburn. It wasn’t just bell-bottoms.

  36. I look at Hepburn and Bacall all the time. In fact I watched To Have and Have Not this week.
    Women wore pants in the past, but not the women YSL designed for.
    I’ve made the point before and I’ll make it here again that YSL was a couturier. He was a high fashion designer. He was designing exclusive expensive hand made fashions for very wealthy ladies like Lee Radziwill shown in the clip. In the clip is also an exchange which discusses whether RTW will ever take over from couture and concludes that it will not (it did, mostly).
    Couture was a completely different world, and the appearance of pants on TV does not prove that YSL didn’t introduce them at one time to couture, only that some people at some time wore them. Couture was different.

  37. Rossindetroit, gotcha. I thought you were defending Xeni’s “fashionable for women” and the Time’s ludicrous “his suggestion that women wear pants as an everyday uniform was considered revolutionary.” Yes, couture was different: being able to take what’s already happening and claim that it’s new is an essential part of privilege.

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