Oh those damn dreaded culottes. Back in style with a vicious mid-calf hitting vengeance. It’s definitely an intellectual pant. The kind that causes you to furrow your brow, and think long and hard about whether it works, whether it works for you, and for how long. And when I told my photographer that these are generally considered “man-repellers,” he smiled and said: “Yeah, they are very…..um….*makes gesture with hands*….big.”
If they feel a little conservative to you, it’s because they were intended to be. Culottes were born from the “need” to keep women’s femininity in tact when women began to do entirely “un-feminine” activities, like ride a horse like man or a bicycle (the scandal, I tell you). The wide-legs of a culotte pant (especially in the early 20th century) were easily mistaken as the thick fabrics of a skirt, so the pant offered a sartorial loop-hole that protected the logics of sexism and still saved you from saddle rash in unfortunate places.
But culottes didn’t stop with the early war years. Even though full-length trousers were an acceptable part of woman’s wardrobe by the late 1930’s, a quick peruse through some vintage patterns turn up culottes as late as the 1970’s. The blue pair I’m wearing are featured here, for example, in a vintage 1950’s “Slenderette” pattern (and damn if that isn’t a genius way to style them). Without a doubt, culottes became ubiquitous part of the 20th century wardrobe, long after the social reality that demanded them faded. And with culottes appearing in almost every major Resort 2016 collection that debuted this past week, they are in no danger of disappearing.
But instead of telling you a story about how easy and wearable they are (they are), I’m going to take a leap of faith and say that wearing culottes this summer (on the verge of an election year with the first woman to ever run for president) is a political gesture.
It’s hard to be believe now but the first time culottes appeared as clearly visible pants (worn by Italian designer Elsa Schiaparelli in 1931) resulted in the designer being accused of “lesbian activities” (among other things). It’s extraordinary to think that such a minor thing could cause such anger and vitriol, but there’s hardly a piece of women’s clothing–whether fabric, cut or style–that doesn’t have some violence hung on it. We often remember the women who starved themselves for the vote or those who walked under threat of police brutality in the civil rights marches, but I often think too of the women who did nothing more exceptional than wear a piece of clothing.
Think about it. Just a piece of clothing.
If we can laugh about it now, it’s only because we’ve come so far but I know (and you know) that it’s still not far enough. From the Slut marches to the firing of the American Apparel CEO, there are daily battles fought over what women wear, and how, and why. Still so many voices, loud and unrelenting, that tell us what we should do and what we shouldn’t (and what happens if we cross those borders). So culottes, more than anything, make me think of the rule-breakers, the dissenters, the women who made and make trouble.
Are these pants big? Yes. Huge. Wear with them pride this summer, friends, because it tells our histories. And if someone asks where you got them, tell them about Elsa Schiaparelli. And about Angela Davis. And Simone de Beauvoir. Tell them about the right to equal pay. And the fight for reproductive rights. And how fashion is more than just what we wear. It’s a trace of worlds past and still yet possible futures. Tell them bad girls wear culottes.
With difficult pants, I always advocate strong clean shapes. The bright color is unexpected and fun but the stiff fabric and high waist keeps the silhouette sharp. I paired with this summer’s must-have accessory, a fantastic fringe bag, but kept the rest of the details basic (leather top, geometric necklace). If you want a little bit of a more feminine look, take a cue from the pattern package. That red sash, white turtleneck tank and chic bun is brilliant.
Details: ASOS Culotte Pant (here and other fun ones here, here, and here), thrifted pleather tank, gold triangle necklace from Charlotte Russ, fringe bag (Carlos by Carlos Santana for Macy’s here), Aldo shoes (old but similar here, here and here).
Location: Downtown Minneapolis
Photo Credits: Thorn Chen