Trouser Material

Figure 12.--These brothers in the 1890s wear identical knicker suits. Note that knickers were not worn with cuffs.

Trousers have been made in a variety of materials. The most traditional is flannel, but there are many other materials,


The term flannel originated in the Welsh gwlanen meaning woollen article, is a loosely woven and dully finished weave which shot to popularity with the comfortably-cut trousers of the 1920s. Soft and easy-going, yet elegantly tailored, grey flannels were originally intended for the summer, ideally suited to be worn with the blazer. By the late 1930s, most men were wearing flannel trousers throughout the year, including as part of suits. They also became the primary material used for boys' short trousers in England.

Bedford cord

One sporty material for trousers is Bedford cord. This is a twill woven with a lengthwise rib.

Calvary twill

Another sporty material is calvary twill which has a 63 degree diagonal rib. It produces a strong and resiliant cloth that is often worn when riding. Colors are commonly rust and moss. They can be "beaded," meaning the seams are raised--giving a casual appearance. Beaded trousers, however, should only be worn with blazers or sports jackets, never with a suit.


Velvet is one of the most familiar of what are known as pile fabrics. It is produced by adding to the usual warp and weft threads of plain weaving and additional row of warp yarns which are woven into the ground

Figure 3.--The classic Fauntleroy was made with velvet kneepants, but suits in many other fabrics were also availale. --
of the cloth, and passed over wires on the surface. In the case of a loop pile, the wires are simplly drawn out, but for velvet or other cut pile, a knife is first passed along a grove on the top of each wire to cut the pile before the wire is withdrawn.

Real velvet is made entirely of silk, but a kind is made with a silk face on a cotton basis. Velvet is believed to have been first made in China. Modern velvets are also made of synthetic fibers, such as rayon.

Velvet trousers were primarily made for boys. They were mostly kneepants for Little Lord Fauntlroy suits. Fancy velvet suits had appeared before the Fauntleroy craze which began in the mid-1880s. The Fauntleroy suit continued to be popular until World War I.


Velveteen is a plush form of cotton corduroy. It was not commonly used for trousers, but a style of velveteen shorts were popular in England during the 1970s and early 80s. They were briefly cut shorts with elastic eaistbands and no pockets or flies.


The most popular cotton trousers are known by the American term chinos, Spanish for Chinese. These cotton trousers were originally produced in Manchester, England and exported to China. The Chinese do not seem to have been to impressed with them and proceeded to sell them to Americans soldiers assigned to the Philippine Islands during the 1920s and 30s. Spanish was still widely spoken in the Phillipines, thus the Spanish term for Chinese. These comfortable, light weight trousers are widely worn in the summer. American boys cmmonly wore them to school in the 1950s and 60s before jeans were permitted. Preppy wear team a blue blazer with chinos and some boys wore their blazer with short pants chinos.


Cassimere was mostly used to produce trousers as part of suits.


Cheviot was originally a fine wollen fabric made from the wool of the cheviot sheep named after the Cheviot Hills in Scotland. Modern cheviot wollens are usually made from the fine, soft wool of Australian or British sheep which have been crossbreadwith cheviot or merino sheep. It is woven in some variation of the twill weave, often with herringbone or diamond patterns, is rough and heavy, and is similar to tweeds. Worsted cheviots may be almost any type od soft, strong worsted; they are generally woven in variations of the twill weave, and are similar to serges except that they have slightly more nap. Cheap cheviots often have a mixture of cotton. A heavy, twilled cotton fabric used for shitings, which often has a fancy pattern woven in with a dobby loom, is also called cheviot.

Cheviot was a popular material for boys suits in the 19th century. Cheviot trousers were usually made as part of a suit and commonly available as kneepant.


Searsucker was the clasic material of the 1920s for summer suits. It was popular in the years before easy to care for synthetic materials. American boys also wore searsucker short pants, both as informal dress summer shorts and as play shorts.

Figure 4.--This Vermont boy in the 1890s wears a Norfolk suit with kneepants and long stockings. Note the wide white collar and large bow, not commonly worn wit Norfolk suits.


Serge was a relatively inexpensive, but hard wearing material. As such it was commonly used for military unifors or boys' clothes such as blue winter sailor suits.


Corduroy has a royal lineage, the term in French, corde du roi, literally meaning the King's cloth. It was the livery of the king's hunting servants. It eventually became accepted as a low-cost substitute for velvet. It was in the 19th Century only considered suitable for the working class, but eventually grew in popularity for country wear. American boys in the 1920s and 30s commonly wore knickers which were quite acceptable school wear. British boys wore cord shorts, I think begiining in the 1920s through the 50s, but some schools adopted them for school umiforms. Cord shorts were also commonly worn in France, both for school wear (many Catholic colleges required blue cord shorts) and for Scouts. Cord shots even appeared in America in the 1980s, as short cut OPs.

Terlyne worsted

Syntheic fibers appeared after World War II (1939-45). By the 1950s Terelyne worsted blends had begun to replace flannel trousers in England. The change included boys' short trousers. Some conservative schools continued to insist on flannel, but mothers liked the easy care Terelyne. It held a crease without ironing and could be washed rather than dry cleaned.


Blue jeans, a central symbol of modern American culture, were in fact the creation of a 19th century German immigrant, Levi Strauss. He was born during 1829 in Buttenheim, Bavaria. Teenage Levi Strauss, his two sisters and his mother sailed for America in 1847, where they join half-brothers Jonas and Louis in New York. Levi joined the dry goods business of his older brothers. Levi in 1853 becomes an American citizen. He sailed to San Francisco to take advantage of the gold rush boom. Strauss and his brother set up their small dry goods store near the waterfront, where they could easily get shipments from the Strauss brothers back from the east. The store grows into a prosperous business by the 1870s. Levi Strauss discovered rugged pants for miners made out of sturdy brown canvas. Once this resource was exhausted, he turned to denim, which he dyed blue to become what is known now as blue jeans.

Christopher Wagner

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Last updated: January 25, 1999