Considered nowadays as an everyday staple for every wardrobe, the trouser has quite a long and varied history that has lent itself to the garment’s evolution over time. The word itself actually includes a wide variety of different garments, with their progression embracing different styles that have been created, adapted, and modernised along the way. Trousers come in a variety of different lengths, styles, and cuts for different purposes, and so, to avoid confusion, each different leg length, fit and style is given a separate name to help differentiate them. In this series, we will cover the different types of trousers and their uses – past and present – in addition to offering our tips and suggestions to find the trousers that best suit your personality and style, as the main focus for us here at the Anderson Club is the uniqueness and individuality of each person.
Starting at the ‘short shorts’ end of the scale (which cover usually up to 3.5 cm from the crotch in a tight fit), we find the oft controversial hot pant style. Originally designated only to sportswear, beachwear and leisurewear following the 1930s, they had new life breathed into them during the 1970s when Mariuccia Mandelli released a “very short” version of short trousers for her brand, Kriza. Hot pants then became popular with younger generations, with both miniskirts and hot pants emblematic of female emancipation and sexual liberation by means of fashion. Since then, different stylists and brands – from luxury to streetwear – have produced their own versions, Yves Saint Laurent and Valentino to name only a few.
Immediately following hot pants came the arrival of short trousers – ‘shorts’. Ordinarily, shorts have a tight fit and are longer than the hot pants, covering the leg up to the knees. Originally confined to be worn only by young boys, shorts were restricted for men, perceived as an ‘immature’ garment, and forbidden to women because they were expected to wear dresses and skirts. Only in the 1930s were shorts beginning to be worn by both men and women for sportswear and casual comfort, although it wasn’t until many decades after World War I that shorts started to be viewed as common wear for both sexes, especially in tropical locations and during summer months. Nowadays, shorts are mostly worn as casualwear; however, formal shorts do exist, especially in uniforms. In the last few years, we have seen formal shorts in a new, modern light, included as part of a two-piece or three-piece suit. Often in pop colours to brighten up a grey winter (but also in any shade of nudes for the neutral lovers), suit shorts have been the protagonists of the past Fashion Week seasons and we will not cease to see them any time soon.
The term ‘shorts’ did not always have the same meaning as today. Over the years, actually, many different short styles have emerged, leading to the blossoming of many new terms. Jamaica trousers are indeed a type of shorts, sitting halfway between the knee and the crotch. Unfortunately, the origin of Jamaica shorts is unknown, meaning that the reason behind their name is in doubt. As new lengths of shorts and new styles were created, new names were coined to help separate and identify them all. In the next section, we will discuss Bermuda shorts, which are a slightly longer, more popular version of Jamaica shorts.
Is it possible for us to mention suit shorts without including Bermuda shorts? Of course not! Bermuda shorts are usually wide leg and end around 2 or 3 cm above the knees. While they are mostly worn as casualwear by both men and women, their origin is from an attire as formal as the military. During World World I Britain set up their headquarter in Bermuda and, due to the warmer weather of the location, the long trouser uniform of the Royal Army was soon substituted with Bermuda trousers. The local people of Bermuda soon copied the new style of the British officers who were adapting it for civilian use. Since the 1920s, Bermuda shorts – worn along with a blazer, shirt, tie, and knee-length socks – have become popular standard business attire for men in Bermuda. Due to the archipelago’s status as a popular holiday destination, Bermuda shorts soon spread around the world as a chiefly male-orientated fashion choice. Women, on the other hand, have had to wait far longer for Bermuda shorts to be considered suitable attire for them – it was not, in fact, until the 1950s that women started wearing them.
Slightly longer than the Bermuda shorts are knee trousers. In the last year, we have seen knee trousers shine as part of a two- or three-piece suit, emphasising a real shift of formal styles in the West. Women suits have recently seen a strong change in style: what has been traditionally male attire par excellence has now become a symbol of female empowerment, without sacrificing femininity and personality. Catwalks have also featured women sporting suits with knee-length trousers in bold colours such as yellow and pink, and in every style.
PEDAL PUSHER TROUSERS
Ah, pedal-pushers – the name alone evokes a sense of nostalgia and youth! Designed initially as a form of sportswear for – you guessed it – cyclists, these form-fitting, knee-length trousers soon diversified into other areas of fashion. Originating as a fashion staple in the 1950s with a more classic, elegant feel, and sported by influential women such as Jackie Kennedy and Audrey Hepburn, this trouser style saw an enthusiastic resurgence in the 1990s, with the focus more heavily upon denim versions that matched the casual aesthetic of the decade. Nowadays, this trouser style is predominantly considered casual attire, reverting back somewhat to its initial sportswear origins. Who knows, perhaps we may see this playful trouser style on future runways after having received another makeover?
Toreador trousers are similar to the pedal pushers, in that they are tight fitting trousers. The key difference between them is that toreador trousers end halfway between the knee and the ankle. Their style – along with their name – is acquired from the Spanish tradition of bullfighting: the toreador, or torero, is in fact the person who takes part in a bullfight in the arena during the traditional Spanish corrida. The toreador wears half-calf length trousers, often with a notch or string at the bottom and beautiful embroidery on the side of the legs. This traditional Spanish style has been a huge inspiration during the last few decades for most designers; Ralph Lauren’s SS13 catwalk included some truly unforgettable toreador trouser designs.
Slightly longer than pedal-pushers, capri trousers usually sit between the bottom of the calf and above the ankle. First introduced by Sonja De Lennant in her 1948 collection and named after her favourite holiday destination, the Capri island, capri trousers symbolised the convergence of two female needs: emancipation, signified by the wearing of ‘male’ garments, and the reconciliation of comfort and practicality in feminine clothing. Between the late 50s and early 60s, capri trousers became a true icon of femininity and female emancipation: brought to fame by Mary Tyler Moore in the television series, The Dick Van Dyke Show, capri trousers smashed the taboos surrounding and dictating female attire in the 50s, openly encouraging women to embrace trousers outside of the home. Icon of the capri trousers is certainly Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, where she whizzed around Rome on a Vespa scooter.
Last but by no means least, we have the ankle trouser. Ankle trousers, as the name suggests, end at the ankles. Also referred to as full trousers or full-length trousers, these trousers were considered the only appropriate garment for the lower halves of adult males in the early 1900s. Young boys were instead “assigned” short trousers, while women were restricted to wearing skirts and dresses. Because of this, the full-length trousers developed into a symbol of power for male adults, who were guaranteed the very rights and freedoms women were fighting for. It is from this archaic concept that the phrase “to wear the trousers” originates, signalling that whoever ‘wears the trousers’ (whether literally or figuratively) is the dominant person in the relationship or in the group. Nowadays, ankle trousers are worn by both men and women, boys and girls, and are made of any kind of fabric, suitable for summer or winter seasons – although often abandoned for short trousers during the warmer months.
In its own way, each different length of trouser has its roots firmly entrenched in the fight for female emancipation and women’s rights. The history of each can proudly proclaim an essential role in this ongoing fight, where fashion has been expertly used as a tool to push for progression and new ways of thinking for centuries. Now we’ve identified the unique features of different trouser length styles, the next article in this series will include style tips and fits for each of these different trouser lengths.