How Mary Tyler Moore’s capri pants broke the sitcom mold

At a time when among our fiercest clothes disputes has to do with a generational love of slim denims, it might be tough to image capri trousers as revolutionary.
However 60 years back, when Mary Tyler Moore was presented to TELEVISION audiences as Laura Petrie on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” her choice for the cropped pants made a strong declaration in front of and behind the electronic camera.
Developed by funny legend Carl Reiner, “The Dick Van Dyke Show” ended up being a precious little screen staple after its launching in October 1961, covering 5 seasons that are still praised today. Van Dyke starred as Rob Petrie, a funny program author stabilizing life at the workplace with life in New Rochelle together with better half Laura (Moore) and kid Ritchie (Larry Mathews). The series is declared for skillfully pressing the comedy household into a more advanced stage — consisting of with Moore’s representation of Laura.
Dick Van Dyke (as Rob Petrie) and actress Mary Tyler Moore (as Laura Petrie) in '"The Dick Van Dyke Show" circa 1964. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

Penis Van Dyke (as Rob Petrie) and starlet Mary Tyler Moore (as Laura Petrie) in ‘”The Dick Van Dyke Show” circa 1964. (Picture by CBS through Getty Images) Credit: CBS/Getty Images

The comedy homemaker of 1961 “really had its classical parameters and dimensions,” Moore informed NPR’s Terry Gross in 1995. “They were established and they hardly ever varied … all these wives were kind of obedient and, you know, a representative of the vows to love, honor and obey.”

Even their outfits were the very same, producing a monochrome sea of demure gowns, aprons and heels. With the character of Laura Petrie, Moore stated, they wished to break the comedy better half mold.

“The way she was written, Laura actually had opinions of her own,” Moore informed NPR. “And while she was asserting herself, she also didn’t make Dick Van Dyke look like a dummy. It was a matter of two people. I mean, society’s expectations at that point still said, ‘Hey, wait a minute, lady, you only go so far here.’ But I think we broke new ground.

“Which was assisted,” Moore went on, “by my persistence on using trousers.”

How Mary Tyler Moore’s capri pants broke the sitcom mold

Yes, women and gentlemen, the renowned starlet and seven-time Emmy winner needed to combat to keep her capris. The resistance to “Laura-Petrie-in-pants” didn’t come from show creator Reiner; as the late entertainment giant says in CNN Original Series “History of the Comedy,” he “would not even consider informing Mary not to use trousers.”
“Mary was of the day,” Reiner, who passed away last year, recalls. “I remember I stated, ‘that’s what contemporary ladies are doing now.'”

So what was the big deal? Apparently there was concern about “cupping” — that is, how defined Moore’s pants were in the rear. (A still stunned Dick Van Dyke asks in “History of the Comedy,” “Can you think that? That things were ever that method?”)

Moore stood by her choice, arguing that television’s portrayal of the housewife was light years away from reality.

American actors Dick Van Dyke & Mary Tyler Moore appear in a scene from the 'It May Look Like a Walnut' episode of 'The Dick Van Dyke Show,' January 15, 1963. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)

American stars Penis Van Dyke & Mary Tyler Moore appear in a scene from the ‘It Might Appear Like a Walnut’ episode of ‘The Penis Van Dyke Program,’ January 15, 1963. (Picture by CBS Picture Archive/Getty Images) Credit: CBS/Getty Images

“I stated, I have actually seen all the other starlets, and they’re constantly running the vacuum in these little flowered frocks with high heels on, and I do not do that,” she recalled to NPR. “And I do not understand any of my buddies who do that. So why do not we attempt to make this genuine? And I’ll dress on the show the way I do in genuine life. … Within a couple of weeks, we were slipping (trousers) into a couple of other scenes in every episode, and they were certainly cupping under and everybody believed it was excellent.”

Moore’s commitment to telling progressive stories reflecting real women is what has endeared the powerhouse creator and her work to multiple generations, a fact that was honored when she died at age 80 in 2017. After “The Penis Van Dyke Program” ended in 1966, Moore went on to lead her own eponymous sitcom with “The Mary Tyler Moore Program,” which ranged from 1970 to 1977.

Ever the trendsetter, that time Moore didn’t play a homemaker: Rather, she revealed simply how well single ladies can make it after all, single and effectively climbing up the profession ladder — and yes, using the trousers.

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.