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What are Flood Pants?

By S. Gonzales
Updated May 21, 2024
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Flood pants are pants that are shorter in length than the average pant. Though similar to capri pants, they differ from them in that they appear to be too short to be worn. While their origin is practical, their use is often perceived as a fashion faux pas. These pants have been in popular culture for decades, so consumers and individuals might call these pants by many different names, such as three-quarter pants, pedal pushers, clam diggers, shants, shpants, jams, highwaters or culottes.

There are different ideas about what flood pants are. Some designers might use the various names for them interchangeably, but others might have clear ideas about what each term means. For example, culottes resemble capri pants more than they do the average flood pant. These different definitions often influence design choices.

The common thread in the flood pant concept is that the length of the pants typically ends around the shin. This gives the impression that they are too short, although the wearer might have picked out pants of that length intentionally. To expound upon the perception of these pants, they're also called "highwaters," because it's assumed that they're the length that they would be if wearers rolled or lifted up their pant legs to walk through ankle-deep water. Pants of average length can be rolled back down, but highwater pants are simply made to be that length.

The intentional short design of flood pants has a practical origin: cyclists adopted flood pants, or pedal pushers, as a precaution against accidentally getting their pants leg stuck in bicycle wheels, spokes, chain or crank devices. These pants also grew in favor with cyclists because they were less likely to become soiled by the dirt, oil and grime on bicycles. Wearing pants of usual length would often require the use of bicycle clips designed to constrict the bottom of the pants leg or hold it above the ankle in order to protect them from being soiled or getting caught in the bicycle's mechanisms. Wearing pedal pushers simply made operating a bicycle easier for cyclists.

It should be noted that flood pants are their own type of pant. Capri pants and culottes might be similar in style, but they differ from flood pants in cut and length. Whereas capri pants can be tapered to flatter the figure and culottes can be shorter than a flood pant, flood pants retain the appearance of a general pant without additional tailoring or shortening.

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Discussion Comments

By indigomoth — On Jul 08, 2011

@pleonasm - If you want to make you legs look longer, you should definitely stick to pants that come all the way down to your heel.

I have relatively long legs and I always let out the hem of my jeans so they won't look like flood pants. Not that they always look bad, but I really like emphasizing the length of my legs.

Heels of course do the same thing,

I have noticed, however that flood pants have made a come back lately as a hipster fashion.

People pair them with plaid shirts and thick rimmed glasses and go for a kind of stylish geek look, so the "badly-fitting" pants can add to that.

But that's not really my thing.

By pleonasm — On Jul 08, 2011

It's difficult to pull off these kinds of crop pants unless you have long legs. They make the line of the leg look shorter than it actually is, because your eye follows the solid color down.

With capris pants it is more obvious that there is more leg down there, so they are more forgiving than flood pants.

And you should try to wear a pair that comes up high enough that it's obviously not just a poorly fitting pair of ordinary pants.

I had a pair like that and every time I thought I would be able to pull them off, and pretty much every time I failed.

The only thing I could wear them with and not look ridiculous was flip flops, which kind of limited their range!

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