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Pants and Trousers, Breeches and Pantaloons, Jodhpurs and Slacks, Oh My!
July 3, 2014 9:12 AM   Subscribe

With the recent discovery of the world's oldest known trousers in China, it may be time to look at the history of that two legged garment invented in response to a specific need: to make travel by horseback far more comfortable.

Let's look at Pants* Through the Ages!

Trousers through History is a high-level overview of the history of the pant.

A History of Trousers and Pants in Western Culture has fabulous pictures.

The History Hoydens investigate the transitions from breeches to pantaloons to trousers.

Pants, periodically:

Viking Clothing seems to have had a variety of pants styling
The Chinese adapted or abandoned pants at various class and gender levels as described in this history of Chinese culture clothing.
You can see medieval Korean Baji (pants) for men and women.
Japan's Hakama has a history dating back to the third century.
Two Nerdy History Girls on Buckskin Breeches (18th-19th Century)
Regency Fashion: Men's Breeches, Pantaloons, and Trousers.
Victoriana Magazine covers Victorian styles in detail
The Gentleman's Gazette takes on The Jodhpur and Summer Fashions of the 30s and 40s.
History of Blue Jeans
Men's Flair looks at the turn-up, or cuff.
The BBC investigated the history of the waistline

This History of Hosiery describes the sartorial cousins modern trousers replaced

*I recognize that my use of the American term may cause confusion, clarifications, or other reactions among some of our Commonwealth MeFites for whom "pants" has evolved to refer to what Americans call underwear. See also: Knickers.

And if you've been thinking about the many names for trousers, here's William Safire in the NYT writing about the pants.
posted by julen (15 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
I wear no pants.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:20 AM on July 3 [1 favorite]


I was going to say that this FPP was pants, but it really isn't.

Also, despite MetaFilter's large "no pants" contingent, everyone should read this.

I am pleased that those "oldest pants" are so styling with braid and all.

Lastly, calling The Whelk to Summer Fashions of the 30s and 40s!
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:22 AM on July 3


What I want to know is why were women prevented from wearing pants in the first place? Is it about restricting their movements, ie. preventing them from riding horses?
posted by domo at 9:47 AM on July 3


What I want to know is why were women prevented from wearing pants in the first place? Is it about restricting their movements, ie. preventing them from riding horses?

It might be overly cynical, but I've always had half a suspicion that requiring skirts/dresses was about symbolic sexual access, compared to the closed off nature of trousers.

The links are great and I'm loving the photos and illustrations, especially of the Viking clothing.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:53 AM on July 3 [1 favorite]


What I want to know is why were women prevented from wearing pants in the first place? Is it about restricting their movements, ie. preventing them from riding horses?

A darkly feminist reading is that it also interferes with male access for purposes of sex. Because women must at all times be available for sex.

Or because if women wear pants, men run the risk of being mistaken for women, or vice versa, and that won't do.
posted by suelac at 9:55 AM on July 3 [1 favorite]


GMTA, Dip Flash.
posted by suelac at 9:55 AM on July 3


that two legged garment invented in response to a specific need: to make travel by horseback far more comfortable.

Yeah, maybe. That explanation always struck me as a bit of a just-so story. The Romans (including their cavalry) eschewed pants up until they expanded into colder parts of the world. Then and only then did they adopt the barbarian braccae out of necessity.
posted by jedicus at 10:01 AM on July 3 [1 favorite]


Women and pants is a complex thing, worthy of it's own post. But early on, there's evidence of women wearing pants both to ride horses and in every day life, particularly in Asia. In Africa and the Middle East, there were periods when only women wore the pants. There are periods in antiquity and late antiquity when pants are seen to be more feminine than masculine or not masculine in the proper way.

But generally, particularly in western cultures, men adopt pants when they adopt horses as tools of war, and the soldier garb bleeds over into culture. Pants become a sign of power, of modernity (part of Peter the Great's modernization of Russia was a dress code that demanded pants for everyone except clergy and tilling peasants who were still enskirted), of style, of war, even of domination (the English made the Scottish give up their kilts and wear English-style pants after Culloden, I think) ... The fact that pants further delineates gender roles probably didn't hurt. And those gender roles solidified fast.
posted by julen at 10:05 AM on July 3 [5 favorites]


What I want to know is why were women prevented from wearing pants in the first place? Is it about restricting their movements, ie. preventing them from riding horses?

Restriction of movement (also see corsets, crinolines, panniers, etc.). Specifically for horse riding, a woman astride might damage her hymen or to the shock and dismay of civilized society, derive sexual pleasure from riding astride.

Of course, society couldn't allow a woman be able to move freely or have there be any question about the state of her maidenhood.
posted by lootie777 at 10:07 AM on July 3


Yeah, maybe. That explanation always struck me as a bit of a just-so story. The Romans (including their cavalry) eschewed pants up until they expanded into colder parts of the world. Then and only then did they adopt the barbarian braccae out of necessity.

But pants predate the Romans... and the Romans (and the Greeks) scorned the people wearing them as barbarians (who were attacking the so-called civilized world), so it would have taken extra impetus for them to adopt pants (i.e the cold and losing battles when the other side's horsemen seemed to have some kind of advantage). I agree you can't underestimate the alternate functional need to warm yourself in colder weather as an impetus to adopt pants. There's a little evidence that some paleolithic groups in northern climes created pants-like garments for that purpose (and it comes in reliefs and small carvings), but those garments don't seem to have spread like the pants developed in Asia.

But interpreting true history from archaeological remnants is always fraught with guesswork and assumption, so who knows?
posted by julen at 10:17 AM on July 3


I feel strongly that the Motorbooty Illustrated History of Pants should be updated to include current research.
posted by hydrophonic at 10:33 AM on July 3


What I want to know is why were women prevented from wearing pants in the first place?

I dunno, that's a pretty Euro-centric view. In China, for example, both men and women tended to wear pants (although women and high status men wore longer robes that hampered movement). In Classical Greece everyone wore a sort of tunic (although women's was longer). So it's not really pants per se as freedom of action. Freedom of movement is a sign of status (although, for men, lack of freedom of movement is also a sign of status -- the clothing of noble men is often ridiculously encumbering).
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:39 AM on July 3


Lastly, calling The Whelk to Summer Fashions of the 30s and 40s!

I'm here and my pants are up around my armpits.

(woe to the man with the broad shoulders but short torso, all pants are either hilariously billowy or tight enough to be obscene.)
posted by The Whelk at 1:42 PM on July 3 [2 favorites]


It's not so much riding that necessitates pants as it is stirrups. You can ride in a skirt or a swimsuit easily enough as thousands of teenage girls do all summer long as long as you're bareback or not using stirrups.

Stirrups, which are the things you put your feet in hang from the saddle by a leather strap. Which will remove all the skin from your legs if you're not wearing protective gear. Thick pants, chaps, leather boots, wrappings etc all evolved to prevent friction burns from stirrup leathers. Which are a total bitch and never heal once you get them. Western saddles get around this somewhat by having "fenders" but fenders are costly and modern.

As for why women wear skirts: for starters most women wore pants like garments under their skirts throughout history. Women have always ridden horses, it's all over historical documents. Womens horses were sold as such, women hunted and hawked and travelled on horseback about as much as men.

Why the skirts over top? Go someplace with a lot of bugs and try to pee outdoors. The first time I had to per outside on the tundra was a lightbulb moment about the evolution of skirts. I often hike with a super lightweight skirt over shorts now.

That and ventilation, if you wash your clothes once a month or so no-pants probably starts to seem downright practical.
posted by fshgrl at 4:36 PM on July 3 [5 favorites]


The Romans (including their cavalry) eschewed pants up until they expanded into colder parts of the world.

They didn't have stirrups. Which incidentally were one of the most important advances in warfare in their day. Stirrups and a treed saddle, later with the addition of a cantle, allowed cavalry and horseback archers to be much more effective and much more difficult to unhorse.
posted by fshgrl at 5:31 PM on July 3


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