From man-pants to panties: History of a culotte

Hangs like a skirt


By Wei Yeen Loh

From man-pants to panties: History of a culotte

How can one not love culottes? From the airy, breezy fit to them to its versatility when paired with flats or heels, this pair of bottoms have been taking the fashion world by storm as of late. But did you know that it was first worn by upper-class gentlemen in the late 1500s? Culottes then were a tighter fit and fastened with buckles to the knee, a stark contrast compared to culottes of today. The term “sans-culottes” (which translates to “without knee breeches”) was used by the proletariat who were heavily resistant against the aristocrats’ oppression and refused to don the pants—the very article of clothing that was the symbol of wealth. (Although, the latter-day meaning of this term loosely translates to “no panties.”)

Later on, women of the Victoria era adopted this pair of bottoms—or long skirts that had splits—to wear for ease of movement during activities such as horseback riding. It wasn’t until prominent Italian fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli reinvented the culottes in 1931 that it became a radical fashion statement. When tennis player Lilí Álvarez wore one of Schiaparelli’s culottes to play at Wimbledon in the same year, it caused such a furor with reporters as women were banned from wearing pants at that time. 

When the storm had died down and decades passed, culottes made a comeback in the 1970s, deemed stylish when worn high-waisted with knee-high boots. This similarly wide-legged pair of trousers was called gauchos, which had a mid-calf cuff that was inspired by cowboys from the 70s. This trend fell out in the 80s and was later on revived in 2013, where Céline and Carven presented culottes in brilliant motifs for Resort 2013—the ultimate chic trouser to pull off for a vacation. Culottes nowadays have been reinterpreted in various materials, from lace and silk to denim and leather for all seasons. Despite its eventful history and deeply-entrenched roots, we sincerely hope that the culotte trend doesn’t ever phase out, not when it’s become such a beacon of empowerment for the feminists of yesterday.


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