Saturday 6 February 2016

The -ism Series (25): Slackism

"In the United Kingdom and Ireland the words "trousers", or "slacks", were historically used for women's trousers."

"I’ll come back in slacks and if he puts me in jail I hope it will help to free women forever of anti-slackism."
Helen Hulick

Above: Helen Julick in the slacks she wore to court.

In 1938, kindergarten teacher Helen Hulick made headlines when she testfied against two men accused of burglarising her home ... wearing trousers in court. Judge Arthur S. Guerin rescheduled her testimony and told her to wear a dress next time she appeared in court.

"You tell the judge I will stand on my rights. If he orders me to change into a dress I won't do it. I like slacks. They're comfortable."
Helen Hulick, 10 November, 1938

Five days later Hulick returned to court in slacks; The Los Angeles Times reported (15 November 1938):
In a scathing denunciation of slacks — which he prosaically termed pants — as courtroom attire for women, Guerin yesterday again forbade Helen Hulick, 28, kindergarten teacher, to testify as a witness while dressed in a green and orange leisure attire.
Guerin: "The last time you were in this court dressed as you are now and reclining on your neck on the back of your chair, you drew more attention from spectators, prisoners and court attaches than the legal business at hand. You were requested to return in garb acceptable to courtroom procedure.
Today you come back dressed in pants and openly defying the court and its duties to conduct judicial proceedings in an orderly manner. It's time a decision was reached on this matter and on the power the court has to maintain what it considers orderly conduct.
The court hereby orders and directs you to return tomorrow in accepted dress. If you insist on wearing slacks again you will be prevented from testifying because that would hinder the administration of justice. But be prepared to be punished according to law for contempt of court."

Hulick: "Listen, I've worn slacks since I was 15. I don't own a dress except a formal. If he wants me to appear in a formal gown that's okay with me.
I'll come back in slacks and if he puts me in jail I hope it will help to free women forever of anti-slackism." (via)

Hulick was given a five-day sentence and sent to prison.

Above: Helen Hulick (wearing a jail-issued dress) with her attorney William Katz and notary Jeanette Dennis

The Los Angeles Times continued:

"After being divested of her favorite garment by a jail matron and attired in a prison denim dress, Miss Hulick was released on her own recognizance after her attorney … obtained a writ of habeas corpus and declared he would carry the matter to the Appellate Court."

Hundreds of protest letters were sent to the courthouse, the Appellate Division overturned Guerin's contempt citation, and Hulick was free to wear slacks to court. When she came back to court a couple of months later, however, she wore a dress. She had made her point (via).

Above: Hulick dressed up for the followup court appearance on 17 January, 1939 (this photograph was published in the Los Angeles Times on 18 January, 1939)

photographs via and via and via


  1. Slacksday!! Cheers, Laura!

    1. Slacksday, what a marvellous day! Thanks, Karen!!

  2. Thanks for sharing! Didn't know the backstory behind.

    1. She seems to have coined the term. Many thanks for commenting, Kenneth.

  3. Replies
    1. Unbelievable just how many -isms there are... Many thanks, Tim!