Summary: Coulottes are loose fitting shorts
that look more like a skirt when worn. They are similar to a skort
(garment that is mix between short and skirt) but not exactly. A
skort has a skirt panel and shorts underneath. They were
originally a pant worn by men (knee-breeches). They are also used
by some people to describe women’s panties.
What are culottes? Are they pants,
skorts or something different?
According to Wikipedia April 2015, “Culottes are an
item of clothing, originally the knee-breeches commonly worn
by gentlemen of the European upper-classes from the late Middle Ages
or Renaissance through the early nineteenth century. This style of tight
trousers ending just below the knee was first popularized in France
during the reign of Henry III (1574–1589). Culottes were normally
closed and fastened about the leg, to the knee, by either buttons, a
strap and buckle, or by a draw-string. During the French Revolution of
1789–1799, working-class revolutionaries were known as the
"sans-culottes" – literally, "without culottes" – a name derived from
their rejection of aristocratic apparel. In the United States, only the
first five Presidents, from George Washington through James Monroe, wore
culottes according to the style of the late 18th century."
Although they started out for men, in the modern
world they are more important in womenswear than menswear.
The women's fashion industry on occasion will take
words that have historically been used to describe men's garments and
uses them to describe an entirely different garment, often
creating confusion among historians students and consumers in general .
For example, the term "culottes" in French is often used to describe
women's panties, an article of clothing that has little or no
relation to the historic culottes as described above. This is certainly
a bit confusing considering the original term was more so intended as
trousers (pants). The term "sans-culottes" has been used to
refer colloquially to mean "going commando" or not wearing panties.
Another latter-day use of the word culottes
describes a split or bifurcated skirt or any garment which "hangs like a
skirt, but is actually pants. During the Victorian Era (mid- to
late-nineteenth century) long split skirts were developed for horseback
riding so that women could sit astride a man's saddle rather than riding
side-saddle. The term "culottes" was co-opted from the original French
definition of the word to describe these split riding skirts.
Later, split skirts were developed to provide women more freedom to do
activities such as gardening, cleaning, bike riding, etc. and still look
like one is wearing a skirt.
What makes them cullottes and not shorts? Are
cullottes just wide shorts?
Coulottes are loose fitting shorts that look more like a skirt
when you wear them. They should not to be confused with a skort
which has a skirt panel and shorts underneath.
In place of the term culotte, the term skort
(a portmanteau for skirt and shorts) is more widely used in some areas.
However, as mentioned, a skort is different than a culotte.
While some garments sold as culottes resemble short trousers, to truly
skort it needs to look like a skirt. Thus, they differ from
trousers or shorts by being much fuller at the bottom (hem) than at the
waist. A skort is shorts that have a front covering to resemble a
skirt or short pant legs with a same length or longer skirt sewn over
Some culottes have a part sewn over only the front,
some are shorts with a skirt sewn over them. While these may not be
completely the same, they are often called by either name, so either
term can apply.
Culottes are often used in school uniforms for
girls. They can be used along with skirts, or they may be used as a
replacement for skirts. Culottes are worn as part of a
For Spring 2014, one of the Elle magazine articles
mentioned, “Culottes are officially the new must-have pants for spring."
You may find the following links of interest so you
can see what culottes look like:
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You may want to also learn more
about skorts in our fashion product influence