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    TIME to TALK TROUSERS - part 1

    A staple in nearly every woman’s wardrobe, the trouser is a garment with a wide variety of styles, cuts, and types. In our previous article, we covered the different trouser lengths available over the years; in this three-parter, we will discuss trouser types with reference to the history of each, hopefully providing you with some vintage styling inspiration along the way! 

    Moving alphabetically through the various unique styles of trouser, part one of this three-part series focuses on: voluminous 70s favourites, Bell Bottoms and Flares; the evolved, 90s version of Bell Bottoms, Bootcut trousers; kooky culottes, which have gone in and out of fashion over the years; and the military-derived fashion of cargo trousers (commonly referred to as cargo pants by our more Western neighbours).  

    'Olga Anderson'. Article 'Time to Talk Trousers, part 1'. Source of the images: Pinterest


    Bell-bottom and flare trousers – also called elephant trousers – evoke for many the eccentrically colourful fashion of the 1960s and 1970s, along with disco music and bouffant hair. However, the history of bell-bottoms is rooted all the way back in the 19th century, when US Navy sailors adopted wider trousers ending in bell-shaped cuffs. Although the modern version of bell-bottom trousers increases in width from the knee downward to form a bell-like shape, older versions were often just straight, wide-legged trousers. The reason behind the peculiarly nautical style is uncertain and no documentation validates the many theories that have been put forth during the years. Also uncertain is how the style managed to evolve into a bold fashion statement amongst the younger generations during the 1960s.

    During these years of ultimate self-expression, the bohemian – or hippie – counterculture adopted bell-bottoms as its attire, challenging the status quo through fashion, amongst other means. It is only during the early 1970s that the bell-bottom trouser found its way into the wardrobes of the masses, with the key to the style’s success being traced back to Sonny and Cher’s television show in the US. The style became so popular, and the leg so wide, that the term ‘elephant bell’ was coined to describe the most exaggerated bell-bottom legged trousers. The term ‘flare trousers’ is instead reserved for those bell-bottoms sporting a less exaggerated flare. By the end of the 70s and start of the early 80s, bell-bottoms had been replaced by tighter-fitting trousers – the chosen style of punk rockers to complement the punk music blossoming at the time. The history of bell-bottoms, however, does not end in the 1970s: during the 1990s, bell-bottom trousers were revived with a more toned-down style and christened as boot-cut trousers.


    Boot-cut trousers originated in the mid-1990s as a modern evolution of 60s bell-bottoms. The main difference between the two styles is the flare, which is less prominent in boot-cuts styles. This is due to the lack of fitted material around the knee in boot-cuts, instead maintaining a similar width from knee to ankle in order to accommodate the wear of boots. The boot-cut style dominated the fashion world for a decade between the 1990s and the 2000s, after which tighter trousers – the skinny jean, in particular – affirmed their dominance. Nevertheless, boot-cut and flare trousers have never entirely dipped out of favour, with the style representing a new piece in the jigsaw of trouser style for us to choose from.  

    'Olga Anderson'. Article 'Time to Talk Trousers, part 1'. Source of the images: Pinterest
    'Olga Anderson'. Article 'Time to Talk Trousers, part 1'. Source of the images: Pinterest


    Recently, the culotte has made an astonishing comeback in the world of fashion. A trouser style that carries a long, rich history on its shoulders, culottes don’t simply represent a style choice, but a choice that induces pride over what the garment represents. To understand the evolution of the culotte over time, it is perhaps necessary to examine the present definition of culottes: a cropped, wide-legged trouser for women that sit on the waist and usually end just below the knee or above the ankle. Originating in 16th century France under Henry III, however, culottes – known as breeches in England – were considered to be the garment of the male aristocracy. This version consisted of tight-fitting silk that ended just below the knee, where they were fastened with a buckle or button.

    By the late 1700s, culottes were predominantly worn by members of the aristocracy, thus becoming a symbol of upper-class oppression. In contrast, the revolutionaries that had banded together in 1789 for the French Revolution were dubbed the ‘sans culottes’ – literally meaning ‘without culottes’ – referring to their predilection for full-length trousers, thereby proudly asserting their class and status. This is an example of the weight that fashion can have on the expression of the individual, or, in this case, of an entire social class.Historically seen as an item evocative of scandal, it’s interesting to follow the evolution of the culottes from a symbol of classism and oppression, into a contentious feminist symbol representing female freedom. During the Victorian era, women were beginning to see a wider range of freedoms afforded to them yet found that their clothing was not appropriate for many of these activities, which included horse riding and cycling. Borrowing the name, ‘culottes’, from the French, they referred to bifurcated skirts that were designed to closely resemble the skirt, but that would allow women to straddle a horse instead of having to ride side-saddle. Designed for practicality over fashion, culottes became synonymous with female emancipation. As the Suffragette movement expanded and gained traction, the design of these culottes moved increasingly away from skirts. Elsa Schiaparelli took this idea further in 1931, when she wore a pair of culottes during her trip to London. Contrary to previous incarnations, this pair were quite obviously not intended to look like a skirt; they were an open challenge to the male domination of society. The press addressed her as ‘manly’, believing that she failed to fit the standard of femininity dictated to women by society. Nowadays, culottes represent the wide and varied history of fashion, which can be exclusive and oppressive, or revolutionary and visionary. Head to our blog to read a more detailed history of the fabulous culotte and its connection with female empowerment!


    Popular during the 1990s due to the prevalence of hip-hop, breakdancing, and rap music, cargo trousers were given the couture treatment on Ralph Lauren’s runway in 1998, where thicker fabric was replaced by more luxurious silks. Cargo trousers are also referred to as combat trousers, seeing as they originated as an aspect of military clothing. In fact, cargo trousers were invented by the British Armed Forces in the 1930s, as a result of needing to carry multiple items, and the style was widely copied during War World II by all parties. What distinguishes cargo trousers is their loose fit, extremely flexible yet resistant fabric, and typical cargo pockets: large square-shaped pockets on the side of the trouser legs, secured with a button or Velcro, and pleated to allow for expansion to accommodate the storage of different items.

    'Olga Anderson'. Article 'Time to Talk Trousers, part 1'. Source of the images: Pinterest

    Even though the cargo trouser was born out of utility, they turned into must-have fashion garments during the 1990s, where they evolved into variations of the original, and elements of the trousers – particularly the expanding pockets – have been utillised on different garments in the name of both practicality and fashion.

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