Dakota Datebook

Protesting Slacks

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

 

The dark, cold winter causes epidemics of spring fever among college students, and in the 1940s this drove a fraternity into protest at North Dakota State University, then known as the North Dakota Agricultural College.

Members of the Gamma Tau chapter of the Sigma Chi fraternity, normally well-dressed and clean-cut, showed up to class on this date in 1942 wearing their pajama tops instead of dress shirts as a protest of modern fashion. The goal of the fraternity brothers was to discourage women from wearing slacks to class.

Movie stars Norma Shearer and Katharine Hepburn had made slacks fashionable since the 1930s, but the fraternity wasn’t protesting any formality of women’s attire. The fraternity objected to covering up the shapely legs that would otherwise be visible beneath the hem of a woman’s skirt. The official slogan of the protest was the sly double entendre “Down with Slacks, Up with Skirts!” ¬†One fraternity brother remarked that skirts make it easy to recognize, at a distance, who should be whistled at.

The entire Sigma Chi fraternity officially recognized the day of protest and threatened any member caught not wearing his pajama shirt with a trip to the barber for a crew-cut as punishment. The whole protest, despite its casual sexism and fashion faux pas, was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, and the college newspaper, The Spectrum, called it a publicity stunt.

The Spectrum also reported that the protest nearly backfired for NDAC senior and Sigma Chi president Paul “Bucky” Gallagher. Aside from his days as a student and duties as president, Gallagher was a salesperson for Siegel Clothing Company in downtown Fargo. When his boss, Matt Siegel himself, found out Gallagher was the vocal leader of a protest that might discourage women from buying slacks, Gallagher was nearly fired for biting the hand that fed him.

Gallagher reportedly saved his job by appealing to Siegel’s business sense, claiming that purchases of pajama shirts likely increased during the protest, offsetting any losses in pant sales. Buck Gallagher’s job was safe, but the protest faded away, accomplishing its goal of breaking up the winter monotony.

 

Dakota Datebook written by Derek Dahlsad

 

Sources:

“College Boys Protest Slacks for Women,” Bismarck Tribune 3/6/1942

“Protest Day Declared”, The (NDSU) Spectrum, 3/6/1942

“Pajama Shirts Worn In Protest To Girls’ Slacks,” The Fargo Forum, 3/5/1942

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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