Here’s Why Culottes Are The Most Feminist Item Of Clothing To Add To Your Wardrobe

Women throughout history have loved them – and so, this autumn, shall you


by Laura Silver |
Published on

How about bringing something revolutionary into your wardrobe for the new season? Not like, in a Pete-Doherty-red-military-coat kind of way, or some weird arm snood. We’re talking about something simpler: culottes.

Throw all yer Princess Diana, Sloane-off-duty ideas out of the window right now, because there’s a whole lot more to love about these voluminous shorts than you might initially think, which is no doubt why Alexander Wang and Proenza Schouler resurrected them for spring 2014, and they continue in their stride into autumn 2014 in collections by Derek Lam and Emporio Armani.

Alexander Wang and Proenza Schouler, SS14
Alexander Wang and Proenza Schouler, SS14
Derek Lam and Emporio Armani, AW14

But their present-day catwalk presence (there’s a mouthful) ignores the controversial past of culottes – arguably what should convince you to pull on a pair.

READ MORE: The Culottes That Will Convince You To Buy Into This Divisive Trend

Women’s culottes first found their way into wardrobes in the middle of the Victorian era – that’s after the Bronte sisters dragged their damp skirts over the Yorkshire moors, but a bit before the suffragettes really got going – as a full skirt, split trouser-like up the middle to allow its wearer to sit properly astride a horse rather than precariously perching side-saddle, while still looking like a lady. Evidence, as Lauren Laverne put it recently that ‘culottes are a feminist item’.


Urban women favouring a more mechanical form of transport then also wore culottes for cycling from the late 1800s. However, ‘they came under ridicule from the popular press, and only a tiny minority of women ever dared to venture into such revolutionary styles’, according to fashion historian Amber Butchart. They mightn’t have said ‘do one’ to style sexism just yet, but it was a start.


Come the 1920s, culottes came into their own as flapper style cast off other femininities, such as long hair and corsets, in the anything-goes spirit of this hedonistic time. Louche pyjama styles –all the better for lounging with a gin fizz – were popular, as seen on Hollywood actress Evelyn Brent nonchalantly gazing at her shoes in 1925, and Coco Chanel wasn’t shy of a wide, skirt-like trouser.


The shape that’s closest to the culottes we wear today, truly trouser-like in cut, was first seen on legendary designer Elsa Schaiparelli, who whipped up a media storm when she wore them during a buying trip to London in 1931, and when she put tennis player, Lili de Alvarez, in a pair at Wimbledon that same year. This is the woman who designed surrealist dresses, made shoes out of hats, and said, ‘In difficult times, fashion is always outrageous.’ So, if anyone could make culottes happen, she could.


As fashion entered its true fashion revolution in the ’60s and ’70s, culottes were right there with it. Twiggy wore them, Yves Saint Laurent included them in his boundary-smashing collections, Helmut Newton photographed them, and David Bowie cut angular shapes wearing them with glitter platforms in his gender-bending hey-day. In the era that the feminist movement got truly underway, Charlie’s Angels kicked ass in them while looking unforgettably glamorous.


So don’t let the turn for the floral, librarian worse they took in the ’80s and ’90s put you off them now. Instead look to street style stars like Yasmin Sewell and Susie Bubble who've been making bright, structured pairs look as relaxed as lounge-pants for seasons, or Victoria Beckham who wore a sharp black pair with a crisp white shirt at the close of her spring 2014 show last september and made them seem like the coolest alternative to black trousers going.


They’re everything you love about an easy-to-wear midi-skirt with the fashion kudos of a tuxedo and the feminist pedigree of Patti Smith. And you can wear them to the office. What’s not to love?

This season, Topshop has gone hell for leather, so if you’re feeling wild, theirs would look brilliant with a fitted white mohair jumper. ASOS is all over loose ’n’ low trousers right now, so they’re your man if you’re after a slouchy pair to wear with a Breton top, and of course COS can be relied upon for something chic and minimal to wear with a buttoned-up white shirt. Wear them with chunky heels unless you’re particularly tall to fully dodge frump vibes.

As fashion finds itself at the eye of another feminist storm, debates about women’s bodies raging around it, it’s no surprise that controversy-courting culottes are back to join the party. They’re strong, unrestrictive, sit firmly in the category of garment that guys wouldn’t consider sexy, AKA for ‘them’, while remaining completely feminine. That, we’d say, is the most empowering style of all.

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Follow Laura on Twitter @laurafleur

Pictures: Getty, Jason Lloyd-Evans, Rex

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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