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When were trousers invented? – A History of Trousers, In Short(s)

Updated: Aug 21, 2023

So who wore the first ever pair of trousers?

Well, historians can’t say for sure, because trousers have been around for literally thousands of years. So finding the first person to ever wear a pair of slacks would be like trying to find a needle in a haystack! Or perhaps like trying to find a needle in a huge pile of pants. Just don’t try to put on the pants without first finding the needle, or you may find yourself with a needle stuck in your bum!

Here's a reconstruction of what Otzi's trousers might have looked like 5000 years ago

So, trousers are a really old invention then?

They certainly are. One of the oldest pairs of kecks ever found belonged to a prehistoric bloke who lived over 5000 years ago. Historians call him Otzi the Iceman (you can find out more about Otzi here). Otzi was found wearing a pair of leather leggings. He even had a type of belt to hold up his cords just like people do today!

Whoa! That’s one old pair of pants! So have people always worn trousers then?

Trousers haven’t always been a popular item of clothing. In fact, for much of history, most people wore dresses. Yes, even the men! In fact, one of the most popular forms of dress for men was a super-long shirt that had a belt tied around the waist, called a tunic. Tunic dresses and skirts were worn by men all around the world throughout history, including the Romans, Greeks, Celts, Egyptians and more!

What? Why didn’t they wear trousers?

In some areas of the world, it was just too hot to wear anything more than a simple tunic. The Romans hated trousers and thought that anyone wearing a pair of pantaloons must be a barbarian (but then the Romans thought pretty much anyone who wasn’t a Roman was a barbarian so there’s no surprise here!).

Riding a horse or a bike is much easier when wearing pants. Here's French racing cyclist Marie Tual wearing bloomers on her bike in the 1890s

Why did people start wearing trousers then?

Mostly because it was difficult to ride a horse in a skirt. Many ancient civilisations adopted trousers as a practical garment to wear when riding a horse in battle. It even became a popular belief that wearing pants when riding in combat made you more likely to win!

And those silly Romans?

Well, as they expanded their empire out into colder regions of the world, they soon began to change their opinions about the whole pants thing. Wearing a pair of slacks keeps you warm and stops you from getting a cold draft around your bottom!

Here's Amelia Bloomer wearing her bloomers!

When did women start wearing trousers?

Women in the Middle East and South Asia have been wearing trouser-like garments for around a thousand years. But things developed a lot slower for women in Europe and America.

In the 1850s, Amelia Bloomer, an American women’s rights activist, made it popular for women to wear a type of baggy trousers under their skirts. These were nicknamed “bloomers”, after Amelia. But the idea of women wearing bloomers was met with shock and outrage. So the trend didn’t last very long and women went back to wearing pantaloons mostly in private when doing housework or physical activities.

It wasn’t until the 1900s that attitudes regarding women in trousers started to change in the West.

The 1900’s? That’s only like 100 years ago!

Yes, in fact on May 28th 1923, it became legal for women to wear trousers anywhere in America. That’s 100 years ago this year (unless you’re reading this in 2024, in which case it was 100 years ago last year. And if you’re reading this in 2049, welcome Time Traveller!).

A group of Women Airforce Service Pilots wearing trousers during the Second World War

So what changed?

The changes in the roles of women during the First World War and the Second World War also meant a change in attitude towards women’s clothing. In the 1960s and 1970s, there was a push for women’s rights. Soon, wearing a pair of cords wasn’t just saved for physical activities or practical uses, women wore trousers because they were fashionable.

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