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What are Pantaloons?

By Sonal Panse
Updated May 21, 2024
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Pantaloons are knee-length, calf-length or ankle-length loose pants that can be worn by either men or women. The word pantaloon comes from the Italian word pantalone, which in turn was derived from a character in a seventeenth century comedy play. The character in the play, Pantaleone, was shown wearing these pants, and was probably the first person to wear them in public.

During the French Revolution, the revolutionaries disdained the then-fashionable breeches in favor of pantaloons. Breeches were symbolic of the ousted royals and aristocrats. The pantaloon, on the other hand, seemed to have a more fraternal character.

In Georgian England, the principle trend setter of the ton, Beau Brummel, adopted ankle-length pantaloons for more fastidious than fashionable reasons. He liked to present a neat, clean appearance, and his pantaloon had foot straps to keep it straight and uncreased. This pantaloon fashion was, of course, the precursor of the modern day trousers.

Women took to wearing dress pantaloons in Napoleonic France. Knee-length and ankle-length versions were worn as undergarments under the light muslin Empire-waisted gowns. White or skin-colored girls pantaloons were also in vogue at this time.

Bloomers, also known as bloomer pantaloons, made their appearance in the mid-nineteenth century in the United States. Designed by the women's rights activist Elizabeth Smith Miller as practical garb for gardening, the pantaloon pattern resembled harem pants and were worn under a short skirt or dress. The attire was certainly more comfortable and sensible than what was being being worn by most Western women at the time: stiff corsets and long, full skirts that needed six or more petticoats underneath. Mrs. Miller's fashion was adopted first by her cousin Elizabeth Cady Stanton and then by Mrs. Stanton's friend, Amelia Bloomer.

The attire ended up being named after Mrs. Bloomer as she publicized it in her feminist magazine The Lily, and urged women to wear a pantaloon in place of the cumbersome petticoats. Since such bifurcated garments were considered the territory of men at the time, there was much controversy on the matter, and women who wore them had to face considerable ridicule and disparagement. The pantaloon fashion was championed mainly by activists interested in women's rights and women's dress reform, and did not catch on with the wider public. Mrs. Bloomer herself eventually forsook it in favor of the cage crinoline, but the pantaloon became acceptable as a bicycling attire for women in the last years of the nineteenth century.

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Discussion Comments
By Sara007 — On Jul 26, 2011

I have always thought that pantaloons looked a lot like harem pants, and to be honest I don't think I could tell them apart if I tried. I do own a pair of pantaloons, but they are left over from an old Halloween costume.

A few years ago I decided to dress up as a Victorian lady for a bit of fun and my dress came with pantaloons. I was hoping to get to try on some petticoats but it just wasn't in the cards. I guess I should have been grateful because I have heard that petticoats are pretty heavy, especially if you are going for an authentic look. I must say, the pantaloons were pretty comfortable, but I am glad we don't have to wear so many layers of clothing these days.

By manykitties2 — On Jul 25, 2011

For those of you that are curious about what modern pantaloons look like run a search through one of the fashion websites and you'll probably be pretty surprised at what pops up. I have actually seen some pretty big designers putting out their own versions of pantaloons. The pantaloons tend to be light and airy, and more streamlined than I had imagined pantaloons looking like.

For myself I can't imagine ever wearing pantaloons in public, though they do look like they would make pretty comfortable pajamas.

Has anyone ever found a pair of pantaloons suitable for everyday wear? If so, what was special about them that got them a spot in your regular wardrobe?

By orangey03 — On Jul 25, 2011

When I think of pantaloons, I think of the TV show “I Dream of Jeannie.” I always thought it was awesome that she got to run around on television in pants that looked like pajamas!

When I was 20, I went as Jeannie to a costume party. I ordered my outfit online, and when I received the invoice, the bottom part of the costume had been categorized as “pantaloons.” I always thought so!

These pantaloons looked like curtains and felt like wispy silk. They allowed air to go right through, so I was glad that the party took place indoors.

By Perdido — On Jul 24, 2011

I have an extremely comfortable pair of linen pants that could be defined as pantaloons. They extend to the ankles, and their loose, balloon-like form reminds me of pajamas. The elastic at the ankles is covered in a very soft material, so it is not itchy at all.

These spring green pantaloons do need ironing after each time I wash them, and that is their only drawback. Because of this, I only wear them on special occasions. I found a pair of cotton pantaloons to wear while relaxing. They need no ironing, and their wonderfully loose frame makes me sleepy with its comfort.

By kylee07drg — On Jul 23, 2011

This may sound strange, but I ordered some black pantaloons as part of a lingerie set! They are very pretty and lacy, and the strange shape doesn’t make them awkward. I can wear them in my sleep without any comfort issues.

The waist has a belt that loops through holes in the material into a white felt bow. The legs are mostly satin and very smooth on my skin. About four inches from the bottom of the knee, the material is gathered and transforms into black lace. At the seam where this happens, a strip of white lace encircles the leg.

By OeKc05 — On Jul 23, 2011

Several websites offer pantaloons for sale, and they are actually quite cute! I saw a fuchsia pair on there that comes down to the knees. At the knees, the material is gathered into a loose area that looks like it would have a drawstring but doesn’t. They looked perfect for wearing around the house, so I ordered them.

These pantaloons are so comfortable that I wish I had the courage to wear them out in public! They kind of do look like underwear, though, so I doubt I make that venture. For rainy days inside and doing housework, pantaloons are perfect.

By malmal — On Jul 22, 2011

@VivAnne - Hey, bloomers actually are still in fashion for some people! My sister dresses in the Japanese style called "Lolita" (no relation to that book about underage girls, for the record) where the goal is to dress like a Victorian style porcelain doll, and she wears bloomers all the time.

Apparently satin pantaloons and lacy bloomers are both pretty popular and considered adorable in Lolita style. Petticoats, too -- my sister sometimes wears three or four under her dress to give it that cupcake-shaped or bell-shaped knee-length skirt look that seems to go with all of the Lolitas I've seen.

If you want to buy some nice feminine pantaloons or bloomers, you should definitely look up stores that sell Japanese Lolita style clothing -- they're bound to have plenty to choose from. My sister says that there are different kinds of Lolita fashion; the doll-like one is called "Sweet Lolita" or "Gothic Lolita", so try those keywords.

Good luck!

By aishia — On Jul 22, 2011

@VivAnne - Actually, that makes a lot of sense -- thanks for your reply!

I guess we can see fashion repeating itself in hair and make up as well as clothing, so I shouldn't be too surprised. I just always thought of harem pants and pantaloons as a Middle Eastern thing, so hearing about them being worn in France and Victorian England threw me for a loop.

Victorian pantaloons must have been a lot more covering than some of the harem pants designs I've seen, to satisfy that Victorian idea that a woman's body should be covered up. I once read that having your knees or sometimes even ankles visible was considered indecent back then -- can you imagine?

Harem pants I tend to imagine the opposite direction -- provocative. Is that just Western fantasies about exotic women that has shaped the image of harem pants as risque or what?

I mean, I've seen harem pants designs that are super low on the hips, that have slits up the sides of the legs so they show the leg shape all the way up to the hip, and other stuff like that. I'd be willing to bet in the actual Middle East people would be appalled if a woman wore those in public!

By VivAnne — On Jul 21, 2011

@aishia - You're right, harem pants were invented much earlier than pantaloons. Ancient Turkey is generally credited with the creation of harem pants, although since ancient Turkey and ancient India and even ancient China all intermingled a lot back then, you can bet that fashion traveled a lot between them.

There are only so many styles that clothing can be made in, so just like history, fashion eventually repeats itself. Pantaloons are an example of this -- the long pants with rounded, baggy bottoms to the legs were "invented" over again.

So, while technically the harem pants style was invented long, long ago, pantaloons as they are known today including the name were invented and first worn in public during that Italian play's run. Hopefully that makes sense!

On a side note, I had no idea pantaloons and bloomers were actually related. I guess the resemblance should be a no-brainer, but it just didn't occur to me. I think bloomers are cute, and I wish they were still in fashion today.

By aishia — On Jul 20, 2011

Are harem pants the pantaloons of India? The design seems much the same -- long pants with that distinctive baggy, rounded bottom to the legs. I've always thought of harem pants as very feminine and pretty.

I'm curious if they invented pantaloons before or after harem pants, though -- if they were invented in India or the Middle East before they were invented for that Italian play's character, Pantaleone, this style of pants technically isn't an Italian invention, right?

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