May 25, 2016

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why everyone’s just so obsessed with culottes – they’re basically work-appropriate pyjamas that happen to look pretty cute as well. And while there may exist a handful of backward, chauvinist males who scoff at the un-femininity of the casual culotte, it’s good to know that these wide-legged, cropped pants have gotten the universal thumbs-up from practically everyone else (people whose opinions you should actually concern yourself with) – and have come a long way from back in the 1500s.

But what exactly is it about culottes that make them such a seemingly feminist trend? The obvious fact that trousers are originally a man’s item of clothing aside, culottes actually have a pretty eventful past dating back to the French Revolution – when they were first worn exclusively by men of upper class. Then, the pants were more like breeches – fitted and tapering off just below the knee – and were so often sported by the French elite that they became a regular symbol of class oppression. It reached a point where the ordinary, trouser-wearing revolutionary soldiers of the 1700s were nicknamed the ‘Sans Culottes’. Dramatic.

Fast-forward to the Victorian era, and women started entering the scene (at last!) As more women began to take part in sports and physical activities – think horseback riding and bicycling – a new clothing item emerged; the culottes were essentially pants, but concealed by ruffles and panels in a long skirt that allowed ladies to move around comfortably while keeping up appearances of looking, well, ladylike. Of course, the very idea that women have to hide, or dress a certain way, just to stay comfortable is downright blasphemous today; but back then, it was merely necessary.

Only in 1931 did culottes truly burst onto the fashion scene as the unapologetic, “masculine” pants that they are – thanks to designer and fashion visionary Elsa Schiaparelli. The Italian fashion designer (who happened to be Coco Chanel’s greatest rival of all time) caused quite the uproar when she went on a shopping trip in London, wearing a “true undivided skirt, undisguised by panels or a wraparound skirt”. It was an insanely badass move, given that she dealt with some pretty vicious backlash from the British press from that day on; but the feminist statement was taken to the next level when Lili de Alvarez, a professional tennis player, wore one of Schiaparelli’s contentious designs at Wimbledon, later in the year. There was outrage, scorn, and a whole lot of hate – but all taken with a pinch (or a jar) of salt for the greater good; because look where we are today.


Culottes, trousers, and everything conventionally unfeminine have come so far in the fashion world, and in everyday life; and we couldn’t be more thankful. They aren’t just a comfortable bottom to slap on when we’re feeling extra lounge-y – they’re a proud and inspiring reminder of the progress women have achieved for themselves over the decades. We concede; culottes are an awkward silhouette to work with, which might be intimidating for girls everywhere concerned about looking conventionally attractive. But here’s the deal – what you choose to wear should never define who you are as a person, regardless of any flak you might receive. And any guy who tells you they don’t like your pants because they look “manly”, is just another disrespectful, uninformed opinion to ignore. So the next time you’re feeling slightly apprehensive about donning a pair to the office, just remember – slouchy pants don’t make you any less of a woman; caving to male supremacy does.


Illustration by Joanne Cheah.