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 1960's Levis 501 Dark Denim Jeans Selvedge Single Stitch Big E RedlineVtg Made In Usa 1966-1968 Levis 501 Jeans Redline Selvedge Denim Big E #8 ButtonVintage 1960's Levis 501 S Type Dark Denim Jeans #2 Selvedge Single Stitch Big EVtg 70s Levi Denim Bush Jeans Very Dark Measure 32x29.5 No Big E Indigo RareVintage Denim Jeans Carpenter Indigo Button Fly Union Made Button Rivets 31 X 32Vintage Levis 501 Big E, #16, Selvedge Salvage Denim Jeans - Attic Find - No ResVintage 70s Levis Redline Jeans Size 31 X 30 No Big E Single Stitch Nice FadeVintage 60's Levis 501 Big E Denim Jeans, Size 28 X 27Vintage New / Old Stock - Sanforized Blue Bell Denim Jeans With Tags - Sz 36-321950s Deadstock Nos Midcentury Atomic Blue Rayon Mohair Trousers W/ Belt 32 X 35Original Vintage Levis 501xx Jeans Oil Cloth 85 Years Guarantee Ticket, RareVintage Levi's 501 Button Fly Denim Blue Jeans Pants Usa 36 34Vintage 70s Mens Bell Bottoms Branded Lion 34 DiscoLevi's 201 Levis Vintage Clothing Repro Jeans W33 L36 Rare Original Vintage Levis 501xx Jeans Oil Cloth For Over 80 Years Guarantee TicketVintage Men's Levi's 501 Redline Selvage Button Fly Denim Jeans 36 X 33 Vintage 70's Filson Wool Whipcord Pants Vintage Ranger Camping Hunting 32x30Genuine Levi's Bellbottom Jeans 29" X 30"Vintage Payday Denim Overalls - Vgc+ Great Faded / Washed Out Blue Cotton BibsNew Vintage Circa 1970's Army Military Cold Weather Olive Green Pant / FatiguesVintage Denim Jeans Carpenter Jeans Indigo Union Made Serval 34 X 31 Snap FrontVintage Levi's 501 Button Fly Denim Blue Jeans Pants Usa 33 32Tommy Hilfiger Athletics Nylon Pants Silver 1999 Zip Down Space Vintage LargeAwesome 1940's Cocoa Brown Gabardine TrousersVtg 40-50's Wool Golf Pants~sz 36 WaistVtg 70s Levi 501 Redline Denim Jean Selvedge Hige Fade Tag 36x33 Meas 34x30.5Vtg 60's / 70's Nos Seafarer Navy Denim Bell Bottom Jeans / Pants 32x30Vintage Obermeyer Men Knickers Ski Pants Tan Corduroy Made In Germany W 34"Vintage 1940's "louart" California Wool Mens Patch Pocket Suit 40r Pants 29x31Men Size 60 X 30 Liberty Carpenter Bib Denim Overalls White Trim Dark BlueOshkosh Denim Jeans 46 X 32 ~ Sanforized ~ 1960s Vintage ~ Funky !!!Vintage Denim Jeans Carpenter Sanforized Indigo Prentice Zipper 38 X 30 Snap Vintage Creighton Cotton Dead Stock Work Pant Size 32x30-34Vintage 1970's Ben Davis Union Made Plenty Tough Pants Work Army Green 38x28Vintage 60s 70s Penneys Big Mac Hickory Stripe Square Bak Denim Overalls 30-31"Jnco Endangered Species-90s Vintage Rave/skater Pants Daks Simpson Vtg London 50s Mint Pleated Trousers Pants Slacks-w29-32" Insm29.5"True Vtg Men's 60's Haggar Brown Double Knit Golf Flare Legs Pants 38x31 NwtVintage 60's 1966 Big E Levi's Green Sta-prest Pants 36x30 Talon 42 ZipperVintage Mens Flashy Blue Green Yellow & White Plaid Golf Pants 36-30" X 32" Blue Sheplers Vintage Western Suit, 42 Reg., Pants 36 WaistVintage 70’s Distressed 30x28 Wrangler Denim Jeans 915pw Western Made In Usa