Who Put the Cool in Culottes?

Making a welcome return to the nation’s wardrobes are those wear-anywhere wonders that go by the name of culottes. Are they skirts? Are they shorts? Yes, they\’re shorts. Now stop asking. The garment has had quite a journey over the years, and they haven’t so much been in and out of fashion as having disappeared from the streets decades ago and resurfaced in a blaze of are-they-aren’t-they-pants glory.

Culottes date back at least to the sixteenth century, when they would have been worn by men in combination with stockings for complete coverage. We’re not talking peasants here – they were definitely restricted to the upper echelons of society, high maintenance things that they are (the clothes, of course). Take a look at a portrait of an aristocrat, president or industrial master from more or less any time up to the eighteenth century and they’ll be wearing those splendid items, stopping just below the knee for the most flattering profile imaginable. Modern politicians take note.

Needless to say, women wanted a piece of the action. Imagine trying to ride a horse in the massive layered skirts of the day and you’ll start to get the picture. Culottes would allow them to straddle the horse and ride as nature intended, but still effectively wear a skirt – or at least look like they were wearing a skirt. Or look like Bernie Clifton before he discovered the ostrich. Take your pick.

Culottes became so deeply associated with the upper classes that during the French Revolution the revolutionaries called themselves sans-culottes (without culottes). If there was a revolution today they would probably call themselves sans-greenwellies or sans-evoques.

In recent years, culottes have resurfaced with a wider appeal. The name has more or less been commandeered, such is the difference between the original cut and the modern interpretation, although women’s culottes do largely keep the skirt-like appearance. Modern men’s culottes are really just trousers that stop below the knee, and tend to be worn sans socks and sans stockings, perhaps with sandals or trainers.

The fashion for culottes, however, has been lapped up wholeheartedly by women. They really do offer the best of both worlds, a feminine skirt-like appearance, worn in the same way as a skirt, but without the restrictions of mobility that come with it. They can be found in all manner of styles and materials, but tend to be a little loose fitting, and often feature a floral or patterned design for the summer months.

The style for culottes has been in resurgence for long enough for there to be a growing vintage clothing selection available. The high street stores all stock similar types and this can lead to a little predictability, but there have been some smart looks that are no longer available which are definitely worth a try.

Culottes are just one example of a traditional garment that has been completely re-purposed for modern living, to the point where a time-travelling aristocrat would hardly recognise them, albeit partly because their head would probably have been removed.

 

Author Bio: James Brooks can recognise a vintage classic like culottes and being fashion expert in vintage clothing he spots trends early and knows where to find sought-after items.

 

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