Saturday, 14 June 2014

A Short History of Culottes

Culottes seem to be making a reappearance in the fashion world this year. I keep noticing them in street style blogs and in magazines (although not yet in the real world) and have convinced myself I need a pair of my own. Although in the past I've had a love-hate relationship with the trouser-skirt hybrid in the past, thanks to those heavy brown culottes I was forced to wear at Brownies when I was 7, the new breed of culotte is stylish, modern and above all - actually comfortable!

So, with culottes on the brain I thought I'd delve into fashion history to find out a little bit more about these trouser-skirt concoctions.

Originally belonging to menswear, culottes described the close fitting knee-breeches worn by the aristocracy in the 18th century. The sketches above show two examples from the 1750s and 60s. At the time of the French Revolution, the revolutionaries were known as the ‘sans-culottes’ (literally meaning ‘no culottes’) as they rejected traditional dress alongside their rejection of monarchy and all it stood for.

Fast forward a few decades and we begin to see something resembles the modern-day culotte as we now know it. In 1931 tennis player Lili de Alvarez chose to wear one fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli's designs (above), causing quite a stir at Wimbledon! Culottes were comfortable and stylish, providing a new freedom for sportswomen who previously made do with long, restrictive skirts. It turns out culottes really were revolutionary!

Above is one of my favourite culotte-looks from the 1930s. A beautiful long skirt-style with a tailored shirt and beret to match. Of course, culottes were also considered the go-to outfit for a lady-like bike ride. Many vintage patterns show women sporting the modesty-preserving garments on bicycles and even motorbikes.

In the fifties and sixties and culotte hemlines begin to rise with the trouser legs becoming looser and wider, moving towards the more comfortable shapes of today. Although they still retained that sportswear vibe. I love the large pleats of these fifties patterns below.

With the 1970s the culottes moved ahead into more practical styling. Big pockets added a safari-style feel and they were often worn with a crisp white shirt to balance out the look. This Butterick dress pattern shows culottes worn in a Cowboy Western style - short, belted and ready for adventure.

1980s style culottes were unsurprisingly bigger and bolder than ever before. Here (below) is a heritage style take in a heavy tweed fabric. From here onwards, apart from a brief spell in the early noughties, culottes seem to have fallen of the fashion radar. Until now that is, where there are some lovely flowing silk versions in Whistles and Topshop. An acquired taste, culottes are most definitely the Marmite of the fashion world. But I think I've been converted.

And that's it for out whistle-stop tour of culotte history. Now begins the search for the perfect pair! I hope you enjoyed a more historical blog post - I love fashion history and am hoping to do more of these type of articles soon. I'll leave you with some 60s culotte-spiration. Have a lovely weekend! Xx


  1. Great tour of culotte history - I had very little idea of their provenance.
    I have yet to find a pair I like. I did buy some second hand ones last year, but they seem a little too on the slightly 80s fusty side to really make me reach for them out of the drawer. So I guess they will head back to a charity shop and I'll carry on looking for something resembling those great 50s and 60s ones you've rooted out.