Viva capri pants!
Jul 8, 2020 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
Carl Reiner is one of my all-time favorite comedic minds. When I learned of his passing I watched The Dick Van Dyke Show and the episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee featuring Reiner and Mel Brooks. (Now there’s a real-life fantastic friendship for the ages!) I adore The Dick Van Dyke Show – it’s one of my happy places. There are so many reasons to enjoy the show, but I recently learned of a rebellion led by its leading lady, Mary Tyler Moore. You will never guess the vehicle behind this mid-century controversy: Laura Petrie’s wardrobe. More specifically, the flattering cut of her capri pants.
Television studio executives were not ready for female characters to be defined by the women portraying them. But as Moore put it “women don’t wear full-skirted dresses to vacuum in.” Much like Chanel liberated women with her designs during the Jazz age, Laura’s capri pants ushered in a new era of television. Media scholars claim that, without these capri pants, Bewitched and The Brady Bunch would have looked much different. We’ve learned about palazzo pants, but what’s the history behind these stylish, cropped pants? Join as we learn more about the look that had icons like Audrey shout “viva capri pants!”
The year was 1945 and a young designer, Sonja de Lennart visited the island of Capri. The war was over, but even with all the amazing help women worldwide provided during these challenging years, ladies were expected to trade in their overalls for skirts and dresses. In some places women could even be arrested for wearing pants! (Puts a fresh perspective on Mary Tyler Moore’s bold move doesn’t it?) Meanwhile here was Sonja, traveling to fashionable Capri, waltzing up and down the beach in pants no less. Anyone who knew Sonja wouldn’t have been surprised to learn of her one-woman revolution. An athlete during her childhood and young adulthood, Sonja was familiar with how the body moved during feats of athleticism. She was a track star herself, so donning pants gave her the opportunity to sprint whenever the whim popped up. It was on one of these Capri strolls (or runs) that fate intervened. The waves crashed upon her and as she strode back, pant legs soaked, she decided to design a fashionable solution.
These travels inspired her debut collection, which she named Capri to reflect the joy she experienced during those beach-side promenades. You see, waiting for her back home was a family’s disapproval. Her father threatened to disinherit her if she pursued this fashion-centric dream. Instead she enrolled in fashion school in secret. Sonja’s determination paid off, quite literally, as her fashion empire grew and provided her family with a chance for post-war survival.
Some scholars attribute capri pants to Emilio Pucci, but photos from her Capri adventures declare her the original. Her design was heralded for the slim silhouette and vent, which combined comfort with elegance. It’s only fitting that years later Grace Kelly was photographed on Sonja’s favorite island wearing her creation. Edith Head, iconic Hollywood costume designer, was famous for fitting her leading ladies in outfits that complemented their personality and acting goals. Given the thoughtfulness that Sonja put into her design, it’s not surprising that Edith put Audrey in capri pants during Roman Holiday and Sabrina. In fact Audrey’s best friend Givenchy even approached Sonja directly to get her exclusive design for Audrey’s film roles (and personal life). The momentum behind the capri pant movement was unstoppable and international fashion shows were saturated with capri pant designs. Even today this now-classic look is found in stores worldwide. Next time you want to channel Jackie O. or Marilyn Monroe, slip into a pair of capri pants and let your chic shine through!