The Woman Who Went To Jail For Wearing Slacks To Court

In 1938, kindergarten teacher Helen Hulick made history, while striking a blow for women’s fashion. The 28-year-old arrived to a Los Angeles court to testify against two burglary suspects, but the courtroom drama quickly shifted to what she was wearing. Hulick just happened to be wearing a pair of slacks, something that just wasn’t done in those days. Judge Arthur S. Guerin rescheduled Hulick’s testimony and ordered her to wear a dress next time. Hulick stood her ground, refusing to wear a dress and saying she would stand on her rights. She returned to court five days later — in slacks — infuriating the judge. In a scathing condemnation of slacks as courtroom attire for women, Judge Guerin prohibited Hulick from testifying. He ordered her to return the next day, dressed in “proper attire.” Hulick returned the next day, accompanied by her attorney, William Katz, who carried four heavy volumes of citations relative to his client’s right to appear in court in whatever attire she chose. It didn’t matter, as Judge Guerin held Hulick in contempt and sentenced her to five days in jail. Her attorney obtained a writ of habeas corpus and declared he would present the matter to the Appellate Court. Hundreds of letters of protest were sent to the courthouse and Guerin’s contempt citation was overturned. Hulick was free to wear slacks to court. A couple of months later, Hulick went back to court to testify, but having made her point, this time she wore a dress.