Trousers were outlawed in Rome in ad 397. The punishment for being caught with trousers (either up or down) was exile.
In the early 19th century, the standard garment for an English gentleman was a pair of breeches which covered the legs to just down below the knee; but male fashion innovators including Beau Brummell (1778-1840) led the charge with a new fad for trousers which went all the way down to the ankles. Trousers were duly resisted by the establishment: Trinity College Cambridge declared that any student wearing trousers would be deemed absent, and the clergy of Sheffield were issued with the edict that ‘under no circumstances whatsoever shall any preacher who wears trousers be allowed to occupy a pulpit.’
In 1814, even the national hero of the time, the Duke of Wellington, was excluded from London’s most fashionable social club, Almack’s Assembly Rooms, for wearing trousers, despite having just been made a Duke in recognition of his victory in the Peninsular War. The Duke made no fuss and left quietly.
In modern times, attempts have been made in the US to ban wearing in public trousers that are slung so low as to expose the wearer’s underwear. This trend originates from US jails where the combination of a prison diet and vigorous sports leads to a slimmer waist. As prisoners have to carry on wearing the trousers they were issued with at the beginning of their sentences, and as belts are often banned because they may be used either as weapons or aids to suicide, this led to inadvertent ‘sagging’ which rapidly spread beyond the prison walls and became a sought-after look among America’s disaffected youth.
In spring 1942, the British government responded to shortages of fabric by forbidding trousers with turn-ups and legs more than 19 inches (48cm) wide. Moreover, all jackets had to be single-breasted, with a maximum of three pockets, three buttons on the front and none on the cuffs. Tailors could be arrested and prosecuted for making trousers a bit too long ‘accidentally-on-purpose’ so that their customers’ wives could turn them up at home. Belts containing much-needed metal or leather were also illegal, as were elastic waistbands after Britain’s main source of rubber (Malaysia) had been invaded by the Japanese.
Until the Second World War, women wearing trousers were considered ‘fast’. But when women started doing physical labour that had previously been the preserve of men, sales of women’s trousers quintupled within a year. After the war, to the dismay of traditionalists, women carried on wearing trousers. In 1945, The Sunday Graphic complained that ‘far too many of us, for far too long, have been masquerading in public in men’s clothes. Women’s figures do not show up to advantage in trousers and jacket - they are not built to carry them.’
When US servicemen arrived in Britain in 1942, their official guide to life in the UK warned them not to think that the natives were ‘dowdy and badly dressed’ because ‘they do not like good clothes or know how to wear them’ - but because old clothes were ‘good form’. Because of wartime shortages, old and patched clothing had become a badge of patriotism.
Despite the restrictions in clothing, women were still encouraged to look smart. It was deemed ‘good for morale’. The response to the shortage of stockings was an imaginative one. At first mortified to go bare-legged and therefore appear ‘available’, women invented a new fashion for rubbing gravy browning or cold cocoa onto their legs and drawing fake seams on the backs of their legs.
After 1942, boys under the age of 12 were banned from wearing long trousers.
The Bible forbids women to wear trousers: ‘The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man.’
In the 1840s, trousers were known as 'sit-down-upons'.
As a general thing, when a woman wears the pants in a family, she has a good right to them.
In an average year in Britain, trousers cause
twice as many accidents as chainsaws.