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February 16, 2021

In 1938, Helen Hulick, a Burglary Witness in an Los Angeles Trial, Was Jailed for Wearing Slacks in the Courtroom

Kindergarten teacher Helen Hulick made Los Angeles court history — and struck a blow for women’s fashion — in 1938.

On November 9, 1938, Helen Hulick had been called to the court on L.A as a witness of a burglary, occurred right inside her property. She came in front of the court by wearing slacks, piece of clothing that wasn’t very common to see on a female body at the time. Judge Arthur S. Guerin rescheduled her testimony and ordered her to wear a dress next time.

Helen Hulick appeared in court wearing slacks, which the presiding judge objected too and forbid her from testifying due to her clothes.

Helen Hulick went to jail for wearing slacks in a courtroom.

The young woman, 28, declared bluntly to the Los Angeles Times: “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”.

She returned to court five days later in slacks. This triggered the wrath of the judge, perhaps irritated by the bright colors of her look, green and orange, carried with proud of the flag of “nursery teacher”.

One more time the judge stopped the court and addressing to her, irritated, said: “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 (…) 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 (…) But be prepared to be punished according to law for contempt of court.”

Slack-shrouded Miss Hulick was accompanied by Attorney William Katz, who carried four heavy volumes of citations relative to his client’s right to appear in court in whatever dress she chose.

“Listen,” said the young woman, “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.”

The next day, Hulick showed up in slacks. Judge Guerin held her in contempt. She was given a five-day sentence and sent to jail, where she was forced to wear a dress, made out of denim, or the prisoners.

Helen Hulick, wearing a jail-issued dress, her attorney William Katz and notary Jeanette Dennis work on getting her released.

Teacher Helen Hulick, lawyer William Katz and notary Jeannette Dennis, as Hulick was swearing to the writ of habeas corpus on which she was released from jail. She was given a five-day sentence by judge Arthur Guerin for contempt of court by wearing slacks in court after 2 warnings.

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 sent letters of protest to the courthouse. Guerin’s contempt citation was overturned by the Appellate Division during a habeas corpus hearing. Hulick was free to wear slacks to court.

On January 17, 1939, Helen Hulick came back to court. Her point made, this time she wore a dress.

This time she wore a dress.




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