Here’s Why Mary Tyler Moore’s Capri Pants Were Such A Big Deal In The 1960s

Here’s Why Mary Tyler Moore’s Capri Pants Were Such A Big Deal In The 1960s

By Christopher Turner

The Mary Tyler Moore Show is often remembered as a trailblazing sitcom. And, yes, Moore singlehandedly transformed the television landscape for women through her portrayal of Mary Richards, a single, 30-something, career-oriented woman – in fact, when the 1970s TV series debuted, it was instantly hailed as the first modern woman’s sitcom. However, Moore was shaking up the television landscape long before her eponymous sitcom. She had started making bold statements in front of and behind the camera years earlier, when she was introduced to TV audiences as Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Created by comedy legend Carl Reiner, The Dick Van Dyke Show became a beloved small-screen staple after its debut on October 3, 1961. The show spanned five seasons and starred Dick Van Dyke as Rob Petrie, a comedy show writer balancing life at the office with life in New Rochelle alongside wife Laura (Moore) and son Ritchie (Larry Mathews). The series is heralded for cleverly pushing the traditional TV sitcom family into a more sophisticated phase – including with Moore’s portrayal of Laura.

Despite storylines that broke the ’60s family comedy mould, The Dick Van Dyke Show really stirred controversy because of Moore’s outfits…specifically, the capri pants that her character regularly wore. Procter & Gamble sponsored the first season of the show, and P&G executives were upset that Laura was repeatedly shown wearing capri pants rather than dresses, as did two other fictional staples of the era, June Cleaver (Leave It to Beaver) and Donna Reed (The Donna Reed Show). P&G execs were so pressed about the pants that they actually pulled their advertising from the CBS sitcom and nearly got the show cancelled after only one season.

Here’s Why Mary Tyler Moore’s Capri Pants Were Such A Big Deal In The 1960s

Moore wasn’t the first woman to wear pants on television, as is often claimed across the internet: both Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance wore them from time to time on I Love Lucy in the early 1950s. However, Moore was the first woman to wear pants often enough to frustrate conservative sponsors.

According to an interview Moore gave to NPR in 1995, the late actress said the sponsors were initially worried that her pants fit a little too snugly around her rear end. They used the term “cupping under” to describe it.

“There was a little too much definition,” Moore said. “So they allowed me to continue to wear them in one episode – one scene per episode, and only after we checked to make sure that there was as little ‘cupping under’ as possible.”

Undeterred by the pressure from TV executives to please advertisers, Moore stood by the idea that Laura should wear capri pants, arguing with executives that television’s general portrayal of housewives was light years away from reality.

“I said, ‘I’ve seen all the other actresses, and they’re always running the vacuum in these little flowered frocks with high heels on, and I don’t do that,’” she recalled to NPR. “And I don’t know any of my friends who do that. So why don’t we try to make this real? And I’ll dress on the show the way I do in real life.… Within a few weeks, we were sneaking [pants] into a few other scenes in every episode, and they were definitely cupping under, and everyone thought it was great.”

The actress eventually wore capri pants so often that it became her character’s signature look.

Moore didn’t think she was taking a feminist stand by wearing pants on The Dick Van Dyke Show – she simply thought she was displaying what other housewives of the era were already doing.

“I had Laura wear pants because I said, ‘Women don’t wear full-skirted dresses to vacuum in,’” Moore told TV Guide in 2004. “Women kind of breathed a sigh of relief, too, and said, ‘Hey, that’s right. That’s what we wear.’”

Despite their differences, P&G eventually agreed to sponsor half of the show in the second season. The remaining 15 minutes were sponsored by Kent Cigarettes, according to Reiner, a TV Hall of Fame member who died in 2020 at age 98.

Sure, a woman wearing capri pants may not seem like a big deal now. But to some extent, Mary Tyler Moore and Laura Petrie’s capri pants helped pave the way for countless female characters on television, who continued to break the mould. Because Moore pushed for The Dick Van Dyke Show to represent women in a non-cookie-cutter way, she helped not only the image of women, but actual women watching at home, move forward.

Tags: top story, topstory

Related Posts

Previous Post Next Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *