Before the era of casual-Friday jeans, before even the time of traditional trousers and chino slacks, men wore tight-fitting breeches fastened just below the knees. Early trousers resembled tights more than what we think of today as pants, and many featured straps that ran under the bottoms of the feet. Trouser styles loosened up somewhat after 1850, but the straight-legged look persisted well into the 20th century.

One of the first clothiers to break from the traditions of the 19th century was Levi Strauss, who made his first pair of denim pants for California miners in 1873. Strauss had begun his enterprise a few years earlier with canvas pants, but soon replaced that material with denim from mills in New Hampshire and then North Carolina.

Levi Strauss & Company is still one of the best-known clothing names in the world. Up until the middle of the 20th century, however, jeans were considered workwear only. Even into the 1950s, schools would not let boys wear denim pants—their informality was deemed corrosive to learning environments. Other brands such as Wrangler would follow Levi’s into the lucrative youth market, but Strauss’s company is still considered the American original.

Wool was the pant fabric of choice in the first part of the 20th century, and pants of this era typically sport center creases and cuffs. These general stylistic elements continued through the 1950s, though a number of aesthetic and material changes occurred. Pinstripes became very popular during the 1920s, and that style still has fans today.

In the 1930s, plaid and checkered patterns came into fashion, and, along with pinstripes, made pants look a bit less severe. One playful pant style was a part of a larger look associated with the zoot suit. These pants were baggy, often pinstriped, and came in bright colors.

Trousers in the 1950s continued to get baggier. Lounging pants featured checker or atomic prints, an iconic design of that decade. In Britain, however, the teddy-boy subculture was heading in the opposite direction, with tight, plain slacks. This look would later evolve into the mod style. Meanwhile, fabrics ranged from moleskin to corduroy to twill.

The early 1960s saw the rise of jeans as common wear for kids and young men. In some circles, leather pants conferred status. For many members of the counterculture in the second half of the decade, bellbottoms ruled. These flaring pants were made out of denim, leather, and other materials, and remained fashion staples throughout the 1970s...

The 1980s brought the return of high-waisted men’s slacks, as well as the increasing use of polyester. Jeans were cut straight in the legs, and denim was often acid-washed until it was nearly white. Another symbol of the ’80s was parachute pants, baggy trousers made of nylon and often outfitted with numerous flaps and zippered pockets. Because they were lightweight and easy to move in, they soon became associated with dance culture.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

The Black Tie Guide

The Black Tie Guide

Peter Marshall became an authority on formalwear out of necessity — he needed a tux to wear on the maiden transat… [read review or visit site]

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

The Fashion Columbia Study Collection (FCSC) is the digital home of the Columbia College Chicago’s fashion archiv… [read review or visit site]



Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage 40s Wwii Era Levis S501xx Big E Redline Rivet Leather Patch Denim Jean.Vtg Levis 501 Big E Xx 1950s Selvedge Dark Blue Denim Single Stitch 32x311950's Levi's 501xx Big E Hidden Rivet Single Stich 33" X 27" ActualVtg Mens Lee Riders Jeans Sanforized Black Tag 32 X 32 Deadstock UsaVintage Denim Levis Pants Red Lines 501 NosVintage Denim Jeans Big Smith Buckaroo Selvage Indigo Western Talon Zip 30 X 27Vintage 1960's Levi's Big E 501 Indigo Selvage Denim Jeans Cutoffs Sz 30 HigeRare! True Vintage 1960s Big E Selvedge Denim Levis 501 Cutoff Jeans ShortsVintage 60's 70's Levis Bush Jeans Pants Talon 42 Zipper Indigo Denim Inseem BadVintage 1930's 40s Engineer Work Denim Workwear Bib OverallsLee Jelt Sanforized Denim Overalls Vintage Nos! Vintage 40s Weldon 3-pc Rayon Polka Dot Pajamas Pjs Shirt Top Pants Robe MVtg 1920s French Salt & Pepper Patched Chore Trousers Work Pants.workwear.hoboVtg 1940s French Salt & Pepper Chore Trousers Work Pants.workwear.hobo.jeansRare True Vintage 70s Levis 501 Redline Selvedge Jeans - #6 Button Fly - 34 X 28Rare True Vintage 70s Levis 501 Redline Selvedge Jeans - #6 Button Fly - 34 X 27Vtg Levis 501 Redline Single Stitch Jeans Button Fly Tag 30x36 Perfect DistressVintage Ww2 Us Navy Army Blue Denim Barracks Bag With 1940 Date TagVintage Genuine Filson 100% Virgin Wool Mens Pants 34 X 34 SeattleVintage Lee Jeans Sanforized Selvedge Union Made In Usa Size 28Levi's Vintage 501 Xx Big E Jeans Usa 1944 Era Made Size 32x32Vintage Levis 501 Selvedge Edge, Single Digit Button, Single Stitch Pocket 34 32Cordings Cord Corduroy Hunting Country Vtg Lk 40s Lk Trousers Work Pants Vintage Classic Country T-shirt Johnny Paycheck Rare Wl 1970sVtg 70's.levi's 646 Bell Bottom Jeans.hippie Biker Patches Patched.mens 31Nwt Mens Woolrich Winter Hunting Wool Suspender Ready Malone Pants 44 X 32 GreenFive Pairs Of Vintage Bellbottom/flare Leg Jeans Lot Levi, Wrangler, Etc. 70'sLancer Race Leathers Pants 34 Jacket 46 Motorcycle Flat Track Ama Ahrma Buco Cal1970s Lee Bell Bottom Denim Jeans Nos Nwt Deadstock Never Worn True Vintage UsaVintage 501 Levis Selvedge Edge Singe Digit Button, Single Stitch Pocket 34 32Vintage 70s Dee Cee Denim Jeans, 31x29 Deadstock Work Wear, DungareesVintage/jean,denim, Flared,button Fly 60's,sz 31 Long (32-33),striped,hippie,nwtVintage Nos Men's Stephens Straight Leg Cuffed Pants Country Store 33x31Vtg 40s 50s Black Gabardine Suit 40r 33x29 Rockabilly Hollywood Drop Loop PantsNos! Vintage 50s Weldon Apple Green Satin Pajamas Pjs Shirt Top Pants M1960s Ironic • Ugly • Pimp Disco Hipster Pant Pair Mens 38x34 Nerd-chic Boho ��Vintage Hercules Vat Dyed 50's 60's Overalls Denim Vintage 1950s Navy Sailor Pants 13 Button Lace Back 36s Nos Lot Of 2 PairsSweet 1970s 1960s Levis Vintage Bell Bottom Jeans Orange Tag W30 L32 Vtg 60s Levis Big E Sta-prest Mod Punk Striped Pants Trousers 34 X 31Vtg 50s Amazing Fleck Dress Pants Hollywood Atomic Wool Slacks 36x34 Drop LoopOrvis Brown Cord Corduroy Hunting Country Vtg Lk 40s Lk Trousers Work Pants Vtg 80s Z Cavaricci Usa Black High Waisted Mens Shorts 34 Vtg Rare Levis Pants 70s Style Talon Zipper Lightweight Blue Hemmed 32x30 ActualMen's Vintage Haggar Slacks Leisure Golf Expand-o-matic Waist Yellow 38Vintage Nos Men's Sedgefield Koratron Cuffed Pants Country Store 34x32 Lee Bell Bottoms Knit Leesures Vtg Deadstock 33 X 32.5 Jean Usa Made Plaid BlueVintage Mens Pants Dozi Collection Izod Golf Pants 1970s Men's Plaid Golf Pants Vtg 70s Levi Pk Cord Sta Prest 517 Pants Jeans Green CorduroyVtg 50s Salt & Pepper Cotton Work Trousers Worker Chore Pants Vintage 70's Pants-wrangler Plaid-lee Travino Golf Flair 34x32 - New With TagsVintage 50s Khaki Military Pants, 28x33 DeadstockVintage Men's Army Green Wool Pants Trousers With SuspendersVintage Jeans Denim Type-1 Rare Low Bell Bottom Size 9Vintage 70s Chief Water Repellent Camouflage Hunting Pants 36 X 30-waist AdjustsVintage Levi Navy Blue Polyester Dress Pants W30 X L29