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 Wwii Era Us Army Military Blue Jean Denim Pants Shirt Uniform 1942 RetroVtg 60's Levis 505 Jean Single Stitch #5 Made In Usa Sz 32 X 32Rare Vtg Levis 1940's 503bxx Big E Hidden Rivet Jeans 27 X 27 Red Line SelvedgeVtg. Levis Small E No Redline Talon 42 Zip. Orange Tab Cargo Pocket Denim Jean.Vintage 70's Levis 501 Redline #6 Selvedge Denim Jeans - 34 X 32Vintage Langlitz Heavy Leather Motorcycle Racing Pants Adjustable Waist 34"- 30"Vintage 1930's - 40's J.c. Penney Co. Suspender Rockabilly Farm Work Pants 32x31Nos Vintage Men's Clothing Oshkosh Denim Bib Overalls ~ Size 48 X 32 ~Rare Polo Sport Ralph Lauren Script Snap Button Pants XlVintage 1950's Duck Head Suspender Rockabilly Farm Work Denim Jean Pants 44x33Authentic 1970s Big Smith Hip Hugger Bell Bottom Blue Jeans Similar To Red SnapDestroyed Vintage 1930's - 40's Button Fly Suspender Farm Work Pants 30x32Rare Vintage 1954 Levi's 501z Zipper Front Dark Blue Jeans Red Selvedge 34x32Vintage 1940's Big Mac Overalls Farm Work Denim Made Into Jeans 36x22Vtg 1950s Lee Riders 101z Sanfordized Union Made 28 X 31Vintage 40s-50s Headlight Union Made Blue Diamond Back Overalls Bibs Gripper Zip Original Boy London Bondage Pants Punk Discharge Exploited Zip Trousers 1980sVintage Duck Hunting Drybak Field Pants New Nos Size 36 Cotton NrVintage Saftbak Canvas Hunting Pants Men's 42 X 32 Made In Usa New Old StockBig Smith Retro Coverall PantsVintage 50s Rockabilly Wool Plaid Pants Slacks 31 X 33Men's 50's Sanforized Hickory Striped Denim Work Bib Overalls 34x30 New Old Stk Vtg Levi's...unique...brown Denim...big E...jeansVintage 60's Levi's Big E Engineer Stripe Jeans Pants Talon 29x31Vintage Mens Pants ~ Black And White Checkerboard ~ludlow Brand ~ 32" Waist Rare Vintage 1930’s Wool Tuxedo Pants Xl 40w 30l Nra Tagged 1935 Talon Vintage Post Wwii Sears J C Higgins Outdoor Duck Game Hunting Shooting JacketVintage 80s Sweat Pants, Size Large Deadstock Heather GrayVintage Red Zip Front Ski Pants West Germany 30" Waist 28" Inseam 34" ZippersTrue Vintage Plaid Pants Dress Retro Hipster Dandy Dress Golf Boho Lame 34Vintage 1970's Bell Bottoms *new* 40"x35" Raw Denim Blue Jeans= *nos Deadstock Vintage Raiders Nfl Sweat Pants, 80s 90s Size Small Trench BrandVtg Mens Polo Jeans Co. Ralph Lauren R.l.67 Frayed Style Khakis Pants 35 X 32