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New Exhibit Shows Off Some Fancy Pants

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PHILOMATH, Ore. — A new museum exhibit is shedding some light on the relationship between fashion and the women’s rights movement in the United States.

The exhibit called “Fancy Pants” opened Friday at the Benton County Museum in Philomath.

Curators say the exhibit shows the history of fashion, gender roles, and social norms, by displaying pants from 1860’s through the 1980’s.

“Men have been wearing pants for 3,000 years,” said Curator Mark Tolonen. “Women in our culture have been wearing them for about 100.”

Tolonen says he hopes everyone who visits the museum is able to to come to their own conclusions about the history of pants. But behind every pair of pants is a story.

“These are a WWII era jumpsuit from the Rosie the Riveter era of women working in the factories,” Tolonen said as he pointed to a brightly striped jumpsuit. “They were wearing pants out of necessity.”

He says a shift in social norms started occuring.

“So the culotte is a split-leg – simulates a skirt but gives the freedom to ride a bike for example.”

The culotte is a type of pants for women – the ones in the museum are from the 1960s – demonstrating the social norm for women to still wear a skirt or dress.

“I think you’re appeasing perhaps your father or your grandfather if you go out in public wearing pants – well at least it looks a little bit like a skirt,” Tolonen said.

The museum also showcases pants from the 1960’s – 1980’s – showing a complete change and an acceptance of women wearing pants in the United States.

“I think it just emphasizes the male-dominated society and we’re finally seeing some progress in women’s rights,” Tolonen said.

The Fancy Pants exhibit runs through August 23rd at the Benton County Historical Society and Museum in Philomath. It is free but donations are welcome.

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