As someone whose body type has always easily fit into 1950s clothes, my dream of late has naturally been to expand out of my comfort zone into the 1940s and 1930s styles that don’t flatter me quite so easily. One of the key wardrobe staples from these eras is, of course, the swing trouser.
Watching actresses like Katharine Hepburn (my idol) in their films and seeing their photographs has always instilled a deep desire to replicate this menswear inspired ’40s look. Katharine’s straight-forward yet debonair fashion sense – a fashion sense frequently punctuated by beautifully tailored trousers – felt like an unattainable ideal given my proportionally small waist, large hips, and short, stocky legs. The likes of Katharine and Lauren Bacall had tall, lithe, lean bodies that perfectly accentuated the structure and look of trousers, and I could only imagine what such a flared fit would do to my strong, thick legs, yet my love for ’40s overpowered this fear enough that the search for the perfect vintage swing pants always hovered in the back of my mind and at my fingertips during every online (and in person) search. Despite this, nothing ever appeared, and so it remained a pipeline dream. At least, until I turned my gaze to reproduction clothing.
Several brands offer some version of a swing pant. My roommate greatly favors Pinup Girl Clothing’s Doris pants, which fall with a wonderful weight and basically have enough fabric in each leg to make two skirts:
But these have never been offered in a size small enough for me, and the amount I would have to pay to get the smallest size tailored made them not worth the search. So, I set my heart elsewhere still, and found myself continuously coming back to Vivien of Holloway, my favorite vintage reproduction brand. With several of their blouses in my arsenal as well as a dress and a pair of capris, I knew they were a reliable brand. Having tried both their capris and 1950s jeans, I knew they made a size with a small enough waist and ample enough room in the leg and hip, but fear of their 1940s trousers hugging my legs in an unflattering way (and/or being cut with less leg room) remained ever-present. It’s amazing what fear of the unknown coupled with self-consciousness can do. Add the factor that I had to order directly from them in the UK to the pot, and my fingers were officially stilled.
I never thought I would take the plunge until Viv had a 50% off sale on a sarong set and skirt I had been wanting for work. With the excuse of not wanting to order from an international shop out the door, I took a deep breath, threw in a pair of trousers in my dream shade of emerald green, and never looked back.
When I received my selection of goodies (which arrived faster than shipments from many USA-based brands), I pulled out my Katharine trousers, nearly jumped for joy upon seeing the waist-to-hip ratio and the beauty of the pants, before setting them aside to try on later. In retrospect, the fact that my pants went untested for nearly 3 days (unprecedented for new clothes in my book), speaks to how self-conscious I was about my body. No matter how much self-confidence and self-love one develops, there will always be certain things that get to a person. My legs are certainly mine.
Yet somehow, I steeled myself. And I put them on one foot at a time. And I buttoned them up. As if I wasn’t just trying on a pair of pants, but facing some great obstacle from the fantasy novels I so adore reading.
When I finally looked in the mirror, I let out a breath of relief and confirmed that the trousers looked as good as they felt: perfect. The waist fit snuggly. The legs flared out softly and dropped after my hips without squeezing them. During the sitting test, I found that the rise didn’t cause them to ride up uncomfortably as high-waisted pants are wont to do when cut too short for me. They ran quite long on my 5’5, short-legged frame, but this was an expected problem, and I knew it would be an easy fix. The only real difficulty was that the crepe material used for this pair of trousers was very light – meaning panty lines were definitely a thing. I don’t have an aversion to skipping underwear, so it wasn’t a problem for me, but the more squeamish sort might want to invest in a pair with different material since Vivien of Holloway offers a good range of fabrics.
Finally, feeling like I really had just overcome a battle in a fantasy novel, I threw together an outfit, and out I went to show myself off!
Since I now had the perfect pair of swing trousers, I knew I had to at least try to find some more 1940s blouses in my size, so my roommate and I headed to How Sweet It Was, the biggest vintage shop in Tucson.
I left with the PERFECT 1940s blouse for work, and a 1940s houndstooth cropped jacket with green detailing that matched my trousers exactly. I was definitely a happy camper.
Since we didn’t really want to end the day, we then perused 4th Avenue a bit, what Tucsonans consider to be their “cultural hub,” so to speak. After deciding on a few new books to add to my pile of “to-be-read” items, we went home, and I felt deeply contented with the day’s proceedings.
Although these trousers still may not flatter me as much as some other options, the fact that I don’t mind speaks volumes for the pants. They’re comfortable, soft, casual, yet cool. The perfect option for work, lounging, or simply days when you can’t be bothered to shave your legs. I’m still undecided whether I actually want to get the pants hemmed since I prefer them a bit long, but I have few shoes with high enough heels to accommodate the length. Perhaps this is my excuse to add 1940s platform shoes to my ISO list, right? Now, to continue the hunt for 1940s shoulder-padded tops to match!
To purchase these trousers and view the myriad of colors and fabrics available, you can head here on Viv’s website. The pair I’m wearing are the crepe in emerald green in the size Waist 24 Hip 36. My measurements are 24″-39″, and I would definitely not suggest sizing down in the waist as there was no extra room and they fit true to size. The hips, however, fit with plenty of room to spare, so sizing down is perfectly fine. Now I just need a black pair for work! And…well…basically every other color, too.
Have you tried Vivien of Holloway’s Katharine trousers? What are your thoughts? I would love to hear opinions from gals with different body types!
Miss Lark Bahar