Trousers: Stylistic Features

There are many different stylistic features of modern trousers, many of which developed independently over time. These involve the cut, the waist, aseans, pockets, the length, ciffs and other important ekements of the trousers. Many of these features have changed over time, some returing to popularity as fashions and styles change.


There are a wide variety of trouser cuts. There are two classic cuts (straight and tapered). Fashions have varied primarily around these classic cuts as well as a wide range of fad cuts.
Straight leg: Early trousers were cut extremely close.
Natural taper: Fashiion trends have also brought into style a cut more reflective of the natural taper of the leg.
Fad cuts: Fad cuts have included bell bottoms (the original sailor trousers), drain pipes, peg tops, Oxford bags, and many others.

The bottom or hem of the trouser has traditionally been cut so that it covers three-quaters of the shoe's length.

Figure 1.--These sons of King Hussein at a British prep school during the 1970s wear flannel short trousers with both pleats and creases.


There are two kinds of trouser fronts, either plain or pleated. Pleated trousers are of realtively recent origins.


Plain trousers have no pleats. They fall straight down from the waist.


Pleats were introduced to accomodate wider trouser cuts. HBC does not yet have confirmation, but this may have been asrecent as the 1920s. At the time that extremely baggy peg-top trousers, several peats were needed to draw all the material into the waistband. Classic pleated trousers should have only two pleats, one of which runs down the trousers to become the front crease. The second crease should run midway between the first one and the pocket. The pleats are utilitarian and the added material allows the trousers to respnd to the hips when sitting. The pleats break up the width of the trouser front and permit the cloth to drape elegantly. Many designers consider pleated trousers to be the most elegant. Pleated trousers, however, requite a fuller cut in the thigh so the pleats do not pull open when standing. Thus pleated trousers have a somewhat baggier look. Trousers cut close to the size of the leg must employ a plain front. I am not sure when pleats began to appear on boys shortened pants, keepants, knickers, and short pants. I know that better made short pants had them by the 1950s. Just when they were introduced and how common they were I am not yet sure,


The style used for the waistband is determined by whether the trousers are to be worn with belts or suspenders (braces). This has only recently become an acceptabe option. The convention rule was always that formal wear demanded suspenders. Suspenders are, however, clearly unsuitable for casual or sports dress. So trousers which are not part of a suit, and are therefore casual, are usually fitted with belt loops. Trousers cut for suspenders should be 1 inch larger at the waist than belted trousers. This allows them to hang properly. The originalstyle of formal and suit trousers has buttons outside the waistband with the rear of the trousers raised in a V, to accommodate the suspenders. Modern tailors, however, put all buttons on the inside of the waistband, which permits the use of clip-on braces. Versatility suggests this latter style, tradition the former; modernity that we should wear belts. The suspender, however, made a fashion come back in the 1990s, but many men wore them with belted trousers.

Figure 2.--This boy in the 1850s wears a tunic-like shirt with long trousers. Trousers at the time were not worn with creases. Knee pants had not yet become an establish convention for boys after breeching. Note the stylish military-style cap on the table.


The trends in trouser creases have been identical in both men's and boys' trousers. Proper trousers should be worn with front creases. The only trousers which can be worn today without a crease are jeans, which should never have one. Yet trousers did not originally have a crease. Some sources suggest that it ws th British royals who provided us with creases. Creases in trousers are a relatively modern inovation. Images from the early and mid-19th cenbtury show trousers bing worn without creases. We are still developing information on creases in the late 19th and early 20th century. We definitely do not note creases in the 1880s, but we are less sure about the 1890s. Creases after World War I they became a symbol of the young generation, and when trousers widened in the 1920s they became the necessity they have remained to this date. The crease in trousers has come to be seen as a fashon necesity to show and maintain the line of the trousers. We have noted creases on all types of boys trousers, including kneepants, knickers, short pants, and long pants. There does not appear to have been any difference as to when creases were used on these different types of pants. HBC is not sure to what the use of creases was affected by the style of garments. We are currently assessing styles like Fauntleroy suits, sailor suits, tunic suits, Eton suits, Norfolk suits and others to see to what extent crease wete used and when they appeared. At this time, it does appear that creases were used in both conservative suits for older boys as well as sailor suits and other styles for younger boys.

Figure 3.--After the turn of the century, creases began to appear on boys' trousers. Knickers were often worn without creases, but increasingly suit trousers were worn with creases. Gradually creases became common even for knicker suits. Note the boy's Eton collar.


For some time after the introduction of trousers men would commonly rollup the bottoms to keep them out of mud and water. The advantage of knee breeches worn in the 18th Century was that the hem was high enough off the ground that they were not likely to be soilded. The stockings worn with knee breeches were much easier to launder. In the early 1890s, the sporting country look with cuffs (turn-ups) was first tailored on to city trousers, but the response was far from positive. There was an uproar in the House of Parliament when in 1893 a certain Viscount Lewisham appeared wearing cuffs on his trousers. However by the early years of the 20th Century cuffs had become an accepted variation on regular trouser bottoms.

Cuffed and uncuffed trousers should be cut differently.
Cuffs: Turned-up bottoms should be cut parallel to the ground, and are ideally worn on trousers with pleated tops; their added weight produces a more elegant hang.
Plain bottoms: Plain bottoms should be cut at a slant, so that they are lower at the heel. The very best are then hemmed inside the bottom with bias binding, which protects against wear, and provides a fraction more weight to improve the hang.

Cuffs are normally worn on long pants. Kneepants did not have cuffs nor did knickers, although some knickers had a band with closing buckles. Short pants were also not wore with cuffs, although some Continental styled shorts in the 1950s and 80s were made with cuffs. The 1950s shorts with cuffs were very short the ones appearing in the 1980s were worn with a longer cut. Some lederhosen were also worn with cuffs.


Seams work should not be visible on formal suit trousers. Seams on the outer leg, however, are acceptable on casual trousers.


Pockets of different types have appeared at different places on trousers. Fashion designer Hardy Amies wrote, "God gave us no towns; nor did He give us pockets. We can therefore place them where they are most convinient to us. The first pockets appearing in the early 19th Century were cross pockets, cut parallet with the waist. This style was conviniet when riding. As not all men wearing trousers did so on horses, eventually pockets were placed at the thighs, coupled with hip pockets at the rear. Neither of these pockets would have been easy to access while on horseback. Tighter cut trousers became fashionable in the 1860s. These trousers were generaly made with cross pockets, "frog mouthed" for ease of access. Cross pockets can not, however, be made with pleated fronts. The only remaining cross pockets on modern trousers are generally the "ticket" pocket cut into the waist. Well tailored trousers have the material taken far enough into the pockes so that the pocket lining does not show when sitting down. Pockets that gape open when standing, the trousers are cut too tightly across the rear.


Early trousers had button flies. Early trousers like some knee breeches had the buttons on the outside as part of the decoratin. Sailor pantaloons were often designed like with all the buttons out front. This style was still worn by sailors of some navies through World War II. Eventually the convention of concealing the buttons became standard. Even so, button flies were used on trousers, especially expensive trousers, through the 1940s. The zipper was invented in 1893 and used on shoes and jackets. There was considerable reluctance, however, to this "newfangled", somewhat intimidating device and replacing button flies. There was not only the risk of zippers coming open, but also of closing painfully. Earl Mountbatten was one of the first to adopt zipper flies in 1934, but they did not become commonly worn until after World War II (1939-45). Most modern trousers have nylon zippers which are secure and rarely stick. Metal zippers can be loosened by running a pencil up and down the joined teeth. The graphite acts as a lubricant.


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Createdf: January 25, 1999
Last updated: 11:56 PM 1/26/2007