A Brief History of Trousers (2024)

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Trousers have been worn in the Western world since ancient times. They are now the most common form of lower-body clothing for men. Practical and comfortable, there’s no wonder that they’ve been adopted by both sexes as part of their everyday dress.

Trousers were first invented because robes are uncomfortable to wear on horseback. In fact, those who wore trousers in battle had the upper hand over those who wore robes. For this reason, civilisations all over the world adopted this form of dress to survive battle.

A Brief History of Trousers (1)
A Brief History of Trousers (2)

Trousers on Horseback

The first recorded reports of trousers were made by sixth century BC Greek geographers. They noted the appearance of Persian, Eastern and Central Asian horse riders. The comfort they provided from extended periods on horseback made trousers a practical choice.

Images of male and female horse riders wearing trousers can be found on ancient ceramics. You can see an example of this on the vase to the left, depicting an Amazon woman.

But the Ancient Greeks snubbed the garment, finding them ridiculous. They nicknamed them ‘thulakos,’ meaning ‘sacks’. The irony of how silly togas look was clearly lost on them!

Subsequently, the Romans (who held the Greeks in high esteem) rebuffed them as well. They considered them as garments worn by barbarians. But as the empire spread further around the world, trousers gained more popularity. They couldn’t deny the warmth and practicality that trousers offered them.

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The Changing Shape of Trousers

Initially, trousers were a military garment. They came in the form of snug shorts or loose fitting trousers that closed at the ankles.

In the late 14th century, they developed into tight trousers with attached foot coverings. This garment had the appearance of hose and was worn by knights underneath plate armour.

By 1500, proportions becoming more and more exaggerated. Trousers were voluminous, ballooning over the thighs and nipping in at the ankle. They were made from ornate cloth, featuring slashes to reveal the colourful lining underneath.

Eventually, these trousers were slimmed down into simple breeches that fastened at the knee. But, these were later dropped in favour of the ankle length trousers worn by the working class.

It was only during the 19th century that we started to see trousers like the ones we wear today. They were a looser fit with a button fly, worn in neutral colours.

It was Edward VII, the eldest son of Queen Victoria, who set the trend for trousers as we know them today. He was also the figure who took trousers creases into the mainstream.

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The History of Women in Trousers

Despite being worn by both sexes in ancient times, trousers were a “masculine” garment for hundreds of years. Instead, women wore long, voluminous skirts.But, in the nineteenth century, women started wearing a form of trousers again. These were worn only for horse riding, although they wore full skirts on top of them to keep them hidden.

By the 1880s, women in the West finally started wearing trousers for leisure activities. They were safer to wear when cycling, as the trousers were far less likely to get caught in the wheels. They also allowed greater freedom of movement. Additionally, they were considered healthier to wear than the cumbersome skirts they usually wore.

Yet, despite their increasing popularity, trousers weren’t considered acceptable women’s attire until the 1970s. In fact, in some places, it was illegal for women to wear trousers! These days, trousers are worn bywomenfor alloccasions without any masculine connotations.

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At King & Allen, we make trousers as a standalone item, or as part of a suit. Take a look at ourmen's business suits,men's wedding suits,women's business suitsandwomen's wedding suits, as well as our options for casual garments for bothmenandwomen.

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A Brief History of Trousers (2024)


A Brief History of Trousers? ›

The oldest known trousers, dating to the period between the thirteenth and the tenth centuries BC, were found at the Yanghai cemetery in Turpan, Xinjiang (Tocharia), in present-day western China. Made of wool, the trousers had straight legs and wide crotches and were likely made for horseback riding.

What is the history of trousers? ›

In attempting to define trousers, historians often explain that if any portion of a garment passed between the legs, it was an ancestor of this garment. Thus defined, trousers can be traced to ancient times and were especially common among equestrian peoples such as the Scythians and Mongols.

What does the Bible say about trousers? ›

Most early African Christians readily accepted the injunction in Deut 22:5 that women should not put on what pertains to men and vice versa as applying to all ages and cultures. Hence, the same text is usually quoted against women who wear trousers, not even to the church but as part of their casual dressing.

Why are trousers called trousers? ›

"garment for men, covering the lower body and each leg separately," 1610s, earlier trouzes (1580s), extended from trouse (1570s), with plural ending typical of things in pairs, from Gaelic or Middle Irish triubhas "close-fitting shorts," of uncertain origin.

Who was the first woman to wear trousers? ›

The first woman in history to wear trousers was Elizabeth Smith Miller, known as Libby, in 1851. The female outfit with trousers became famous thanks to the American activist Amelia Bloomers who published it in her magazine "The Lily" in 1855.

Who first invented trousers? ›

The first appearance of trousers in recorded history is among nomadic steppe-people in Western Europe. Steppe people were a group of nomads of various different ethnic groups that lived in the Eurasian grasslands. Archaeological evidence suggests that men and women alike wore trousers in that cultural context.

What is the fashion history of trousers? ›

Initially, trousers were a military garment. They came in the form of snug shorts or loose fitting trousers that closed at the ankles. In the late 14th century, they developed into tight trousers with attached foot coverings. This garment had the appearance of hose and was worn by knights underneath plate armour.

Why did Romans not wear trousers? ›

The trousers were seen as a symbol of foreign influence, a stark reminder of the empire's vulnerabilities and the encroaching 'barbarian' cultures. By banning them, Honorius aimed to reinforce a distinct Roman identity and draw a clear line between the empire and its external adversaries.

Who were trousers originally made for? ›

Made of wool, the trousers had straight legs and wide crotches and were likely made for horseback riding. In most of Europe, trousers have been worn since ancient times and throughout the Medieval period, becoming the most common form of lower-body clothing for adult males in the modern world.

Where in the Bible does it say a woman should not wear trousers? ›

Deuteronomy 22:5 states: "A woman is not to wear male clothing, and a man is not to put on a woman's garment, for everyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD your God.” In KJV Exodus 24: 43, “trousers” are a command from God to be made from the waist to the thighs for the priest to cover nakedness.

Why don't Americans say trousers? ›

Why do Americans say pants instead of trousers? Because pants is short for “pantaloons”. For us, or at least in my part of the US, “trousers” means “dress pants”. Not just any old pants.

What is the old name for trousers? ›

When trousers of a similar style became popular during the Restoration in England, they became known as pantaloons, Pantaloon being an Anglicization of Pantalone. Fashions changed over the years, but pantaloons continued to be the word used to refer to various types of trousers.

Is there a difference between pants and trousers? ›

Differences Between Trouser and Pant

A Trouser is usually a piece of clothing worn as a lower garment to cover the lower part of the body namely the waist, hips, and legs. A pant is also a piece of small clothing that is worn as an undergarment to cover the masculine organs of a person.

What did Jesus wear every day? ›

He wore a tunic (chitōn), which for men normally finished slightly below the knees, not at the ankles. Among men, only the very rich wore long tunics.

What is world's oldest pants? ›

The 3,000-year-old wool trousers belonged to a man buried between 1000 and 1200 BCE in Western China. To make them, ancient weavers combined four different techniques to create a garment specially engineered for fighting on horseback, with flexibility in some places and sturdiness in others.”

When did men stop wearing dresses? ›

The Great Male Renunciation (French: Grande Renonciation masculine) is the historical phenomenon at the end of the 18th century in which wealthy Western men stopped using bright colours, elaborate shapes and variety in their dress, which were left to women's clothing.

Why do Americans say pants not trousers? ›

Trousers apparently comes from Gaelic, and originally referred to tight short pants. Pants is a shortening of pantaloons, attested from around 1840. The uses of the words seem to have come about when everyone stopped calling them breeches (which you might still here in Appalachia, for example).

What is the original meaning of the word trousers? ›

Originally: a garment resembling either breeches with stockings attached or close-fitting trousers… In singular. truss1592–1631. plural. Close-fitting breeches or drawers, covering the buttocks and tops of the thighs: = trouse, n.²

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