History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

23 November 2010

Breeches, Pantaloons, and Trousers

Pam asked about this in the last post, so here we go . . .

When (historically) do men stop wearing breeches

This is a complicated question, as class and age are heavily involved. Assuming that we’re talking about young-ish, hero-aged men (under 40 let’s say), the answer is that they’ve largely adopted pantaloons c. 1795-1800 (with buckskin breeches still being worn for riding by some and silk breeches still being a part of very formal court costume). Older gentlemen, men of the lower classes, conservative types, and country bumpkins will all still be in breeches.

In the image to the right (dated 1826), the young man is clearly wearing breeches. He appears to be in informal attire, as though for an outting to the park or paying morning calls. It's all about who he is, what he's doing, where he is, and what kind of man he is.

What exactly is/are a pantaloon/pair of pantaloons

From the OED:

1801 Port Folio (Philadelphia) 25 July 238/1 High collars, embroidered pantaloons, and square-toed shoes, were universal among men of ton. 1806 J. BERESFORD Miseries Human Life I. x. 260 Loudly bursting three or four buttons of your tight waistcoat, and the strings of your pantaloons behind. 1834 J. R. PLANCHÉ Hist. Brit. Costume 316 Pantaloons and Hessians boots were introduced about the same period [i.e. around 1789]. 1857 Chambers's Information for People (new ed.) I. 798/1 Pantaloons, which fitted close to the leg, remained in very common use by those persons who had adopted them till about the year 1814, when the wearing of trousers, already introduced into the army, became fashionable.

Pantaloons are longer (ending mid-calf to ankle) and more tightly fitted than breeches. Here are some examples.

To the left: pantaloons c. 1808

To the right: pantaloons c. 1816

When (historically) can I have done with all this and just say "trousers"?

Short answer? The OED says usage became common c. 1820 (first used by sailors as an outerwear garment (worn OVER breeches, as late as 1786), then used by soldiers (Wellington orders them in 1814 as part of uniform kit for the men). I’d guess that the military usage bled over into the vernacular after all the soldiers came home from the Napoleonic Wars. In the realm of fashion, the Prince of Wales is said to have popularized them c. 1816.

Whatever you do, do NOT use "pants", which is an Americanism from the 1830s.


Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Please. I would NEVER use pants. ;-)

But serious thanks for all the great info.

9:34 AM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

The "pants" wasn't for you, LOL! I've seen it in contest entries and thought I might as well address it in the post.

10:28 AM  
Blogger Sara A. Mueller said...

To say nothing of 'pansied slops'.

Thanks very much for the timelines!

7:38 PM  

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