Everyone has a sub-category of romance that makes them sit up and take notice. Maybe it's a vampire, a secret baby, an arranged marriage, or a governess story. Me? I love a chick-in-pants romance.
A chick-in-pants romance is where a female dresses up and passes as a male—and not just any male either. A true chick-in-pants doesn’t just throw her hair in a hat and pull on pants. No! She works at being a man, and holds her own as one of them until her hero discovers her true identity and falls madly in love with her.
My love for the chick-in-pants stories started with Elizabeth Chater’s Milady Hot-at-Hand. This was the first time I came across a true chick-in-pants heroine: One who cut off her hair, practiced deepening her voice, and actually planned out how she could live as a boy while she tried to solve the mystery of her father and sister's deaths.
Like most chick-in-pants heroines, circumstance pushed her into wearing breeches, but her own bravery and sense of self allow her to pull it off while catching the attention of her hero.
The strength of character of the chick-in-pants heroine is one of the biggest draws for me. A chick-in-pants heroine has to be smart, strong, and determined. She knows who she is, what she wants, and is willing to do anything necessary to get it—even if that something isn’t something you, me, or the hero agrees with. Take, for example, my all time favorite chick-in-pants reread Kathleen Woodiwiss’s Ashes in the Wind. I pick this book up for a read every year because I’m facinated by the relationship between the hero and heroine. She dresses as a boy because she’s a loyal Confederate while our hero is a loyal Union soldier during the Civil War. Here we have a perfect example of a heroine fighting for what she believes in at any cost, and a man loving her against his better judgement.
As a romance fan, the best kind of chick-in-pants tales are ones where the hero finds himself inexplicably attracted to the heroine even though she's not what he expects. There's just something super sexy about a man falling in love with someone in spite of themselves. The hero in a chick-in-pants story is just as important as the heroine, and just as special. He has to fall a little in love with the heroine while she’s wearing the pants, and then fall in love with her completely because of her ability to wear them as herself. Which is why Evelyn Richardson’s Lady Alex’s Gamble tops my list for best chick-in-pants book. Richardson's chick-in-pants heroine has to dress up as a man so she can win back her family's fortune at the gaming tables. Alex/Alexandra is everything a chick-in-pants heroine should be: She’s smart as a whip, committed to her role, and passes as a man without anyone the wiser. Her hero is her perfect foil. He can’t understand why he’s drawn to this man. He doesn’t understand where his feelings are coming from. When he finally discovers Alex’s secret, he’s awed by her and loves her all the more for duping him.
Chick-in-pant stories span the ages; Shakespeare had Viola in Twelfth Night; the '80s had Julie Andrews in Victor Victoria and Joyce Hyser as Terry in Just One of the Guys, Barbara Streisand as Yentl, and even Disney got into the act with Mulan in the late '90s.
What all of these stories have in common is a woman who has to live as a man in a man's world, and consequently finds a man who falls in love with her soul and not her looks. At the end of the day, isn't that the most sexy thing of all?
More chick-in-pants books:
The Adventurers by Michelle Martin
What An Earl Wants by Shirley Karr
Miss Grimsley's Oxford Career by Carla Kelly
What are your favorites?
Chicken pants image courtesy of Unknown (if you're the owner, let us know—we'd dearly love to give you credit!)
Cybil Solyn reviews for rakehell.com.