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We often focus on historical womenswear here at Frock Flicks because, well, we’re three chicks who enjoy studying, making, and wearing historical womenswear! Also, there tends to be a whole lot more going on in women’s fashions over time. But men did wear clothes, and they can be historically accurate or inaccurate, and we notice that shit too. One egregious problem with historical menswear in movies and TV is the pants aka trousers aka the bifurcated garments worn on a male-presenting person’s lower half. Movies and TV shows are all over the map when it comes to historical pants! Sometimes they get it right, but so much more often they show totally wrong pants (and yes, we know that’s British slang for underwear, lol). If a flick is set before the mid-19th century, the men’s trousers have a 50/50 chance of being just plain inaccurate.
Before approximately the 1830s, men’s trousers were rather different than what’s worn today. They were often shorter, and they fastened with lacing or buttons in different places than modern trousers. For example:
Note that even by the time men are wearing long pants in the 19th century, the garment has a “fall-front” fastening — in the fashion plate on the right, that’s where the guy has his hand in the front “flap.”
Pants that closed with one single line of buttons vertically from crotch to belly button were sometimes made, but the fall-front style that buttoned across the waist horizontally was most common and fashionable in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Before that, trousers get into codpiece territory, and Sarah’s covering that topic for Snark Week, but suffice it to say the movies and TV shows also fuck it up.
Here’s a quick list of some things pre-Victorian historical men’s pants should NOT be:
- Something with a fly-front closure
- Long leather pants
- Any denim or jeans
- Just dance tights
- Just plain long pants
Some movies and TV shows seem to get this OK, but so many fail. I’ve read a couple interviews with costume designers who say that either male directors or male actors didn’t want the characters to wear tights and breeches because it doesn’t look “manly” enough, that is, they’d look gay, which is such amazing bullshit. Shame on whoever thinks wearing historically accurate clothing impinges on their masculinity! I guess their gender expression or sexual preference is so fragile it can be horribly damaged by wearing different pants. Boo fucking hoo.
And I’ll note that those comments were from designers working in the past 30 years. Back during in the Golden Age of Hollywood, there were were more men in tights and breeches (historically accurate or not), even though the mainstream culture was more rigid about about gender roles and sexual expression pre-1960s. Or maybe because of the more rigid culture, male actors could wear tights and it was not assumed to be in contrast with their “obvious” manhood. IDK, I’m just here for the snark, and I want to see folks of any gender presentation in historically accurate costumes for the period!
Let’s go chronologically though fashion and film, with some decent examples and all the fuck-ups!
Medieval Hosen, Breeches
Most of the high fashions before the 16th century didn’t include trousers like we know them now. There were breeches, there were hosen made of two separate tubes that fastened together, there were leg wrappings, there were all kinds of wacky things that’s just too difficult for modern filmmakers to comprehend. But back in the ’50s, at least one guy was cool enough to let it all hang out.
Unlike these more recent weaksauce attempts. No, medieval men did not wear anything like jeans or yoga pants.
16th-c. Breeches, Trunkhose, Pumpkin Pants
Ahhh, the famed puffy pants of the renaissance! They can be huge or relatively small, sometimes they have short tight trunkhose underneath, and they’re always worn with hose so we can admire a finely turned calf. At least some fellas got the memo!
Of course, not every older movie was perfect in the pants department…
Really, though, it’s the more recent flicks that have a distaste for the poufy 16th-c. pants.
For the next two centuries, the basics of men’s pants are the same: breeches worn with hose. The length, cut, and width of the breeches would vary depending on the fashion and social status of the wearer, but if you got the basic part down, you’d be farther along than most pirate movies (the “Golden Age of Piracy” often cited as being from 1650 to 1730s).
It’s not that difficult, and yet … here we go into a world of questionable stretchy pants on pirates and more!
Like the century before, what we’re looking for is breeches (to the knee) and hose. Not super puffy. Definitely not stretchy. Doesn’t seem like too much to ask for, does it?
Instead, we see…
Early 19th-c Breeches, Fall-Front Trousers
The same breeches and hose were still worn in the early years of the 19th century, and when long trousers were worn, they typically had that fall-front I already showed. Frock flicks can pick from either of these, but no, they just have to go rogue.
Compare with these…
What do you notice about men’s pants in frock flicks?