“This town offers the particularity of being perhaps the only one in Spain where women wear pants,” described the magazine Blanco y Negro in 1896. The town referred to in the press of more than a hundred years ago? Tomelloso, in the heart of La Mancha. This is what is cited in the article ‘The picturesque female work clothing in the Tomelloso de entre centuries’, from the pen of the expert in Castilian-Manchego folklore Miguel Antonio Maldonado.
Maldonado explains that Tomelloso, yes, was not the only town where evidence of women wearing pants has been found long before they were an ‘accepted’ garment among the female public. It has also found samples in areas of Argamasilla de Alba or in what was then the original village of Ruidera. The women wore pants, yes, as part of their work wardrobe.
Maldonado’s article, published in the Folklore Magazine of the Joaquín Díaz Foundation, explains that the reason that the women of Tomelloso were probably the first in Spain to wear pants was simply because they had to accompany the men in hard work in the field. To do this, they needed comfortable clothing that was useful, although without dispensing with the skirt, which they used to wear tied above the pants, says Maldonado.
“With industrial progress and the evolution of transport and communications, popular costumes and clothing gradually ceased to reflect the customs of each place. However, contrary to what it might seem, it was that same progress that led Tomellosera women to change their work wardrobe in part, making it an element of their contemporary idiosyncrasy “, explains Maldonado in the article. Of course, the author also draws attention to how “the use of pants was not exported” to more areas of the La Mancha region. This, he explains, is due to the fact that Tomelloso suffers from a “historical” isolation from which it was not freed even after the arrival of the railway.
“The women wore corduroy pants with an appropriate width for them, which was not the typical pants below the skirt,” Maldonado emphasizes. It was, he explains, eminently agricultural jobs, as it could not be otherwise in the area, and in which they had to “bend down a lot.” “They picked up their skirts and worked with the pants as a work clothing, something that was recognized as exceptional in the press of the time,” he says.
Maldonado also emphasizes that there was a traveler who was in charge of portraying this way of dressing of Tomellose women. The most common thing was to see the garment among the Terrera women, who exercised a trade that used to correspond to the men, and which consists of building their own caves thanks to the characteristics of the land in the Tomelloso area. In the town, there is a sedimentation of the land, called ‘the scab’, which allows the caves to be built without the need for columns so that the cave does not collapse.
The women, the author also explains, were also dedicated to picking up the remains of the grapes, the ‘lees’, which were used in the chemical industry. “It was about jobs that were a bit residual and that needed that clothing, because they were unpleasant jobs,” he says. In England, Maldonado continues, it was also possible to observe women in the 19th century with trousers, and also with their skirts tied, doing work in the mines.