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Ladies, Please Burn Your Black Work Pants

A manifesto
Ladies, Please Burn Your Black Work Pants
Photograph by Eva O'Leary and Harry Griffin for Bloomberg Businessweek

Ladies, take off your pants. Those black, poly-blend, straight-legged slacks you wear to work every day. You know the ones—they gap at the waist and pull at the crotch. They make a distinct scratching sound when you cross and uncross your legs in a meeting. Sometimes they have pleats. Sometimes they have back pockets. Sometimes they have stretch. But they’re never, ever flattering. They’re boring and sad, and they make you look boring and sad, too.

Women started wearing pants to office jobs in the early 1970s. Dress codes had finally relaxed, and Mad Men-era formality gave way to Mary Tyler Moore, who was making it on her own in cute, fitted bell-bottoms. The ’80s brought power suits and shoulder pads and the idea that to succeed in a man’s world, women had to dress like dudes. Workwear got roomier and more masculine. Even when body-conscious styles emerged in the ’90s, shapeless black office pants remained, like a particularly determined stain. They haven’t undergone a major makeover since. Take a woman from 1995 in black Express pants, put her in an office today, and no one would know the difference (minus the square-toed shoes and visible lip liner).