Close-up on a woman impeccably dressed. Her silk blouse is buttoned at the cuffs and just below the indentation at her throat. She wears a simple strand of pearls, expensive but not ostentatious. Her hair is done, so done it can be called no less than coiffed. She doesn’t wear a pencil skirt, a circle skirt, or a pleated wrap-around. Instead, she wears pants, menswear inspired, tailored to her curves, and before she turns to the camera so you can get a glimpse of her face, she takes her time slipping her hands into her pockets.
This is the way I think of Katharine Hepburn. Dynamic as an actress (watch The Philadelphia Story, Woman of the Year, and for a glimpse of her in her later years On Golden Pond), she was also a woman all her own. She won four Academy awards, and was nominated for 12, pioneered incredible roles for women, but what I really want to talk about are the pants she wore.
Although not a spinster in practice (she was married for about six years), she is an honorary spinster, an icon of single women everywhere. She once told Barbara Walters in an interview:
“I have not lived as a woman. I have lived as a man. I’ve just done what I damn well wanted to and I made enough money to support myself. And I ain’t afraid of being alone.”
Kate Hepburn loved pants because of their freedom. And she lived a life of freedom: unmarried with a long term lover, defiant and witty, whip smart and daring. She took with both hands what society rarely grants women: to live exactly as she wanted.
She was right. It is a life a man can live. That fictional 1950s icon: Don Draper certainly did. Of course, he was fictional, living by a script. And here’s where Katharine Hepburn could shine too. She had the script, every woman of that time did–different if you had money or it you were a person of color or another sexual orientation–but as much as she could, she threw that script away.
I have a pair of pants that make me feel very Kate when I wear them. They’re a bit high waisted and lovely with a billowy camp shirt and a pair of 1950s heels. Just slipping into them my voice probably gets a bit throaty and gravelly and I feel like quite the dame. On a day when I put on my high waisted pants and click clack out into the world in my 1950s heels, there isn’t anything I couldn’t do. Kate wouldn’t want me to think any other way.