Sailor pants are one of many clothing styles derived from military use that have been periodically popular. With their high, fitted waists, button detailing and belled legs, sailor pants seem designed to make a fashion statement. But why do they look like that in the first place? And when did they first become popular as a civilian fashion statement?
There’s a lot of misinformation out there about sailor pants. Their buttons don’t, for example, represent the original thirteen colonies. The flap front of sailor pants is simply a relic of the standard tailoring of men’s pants in the late 1700s and early 1800s, which is when naval uniforms largely became standardized (prior to this, ships, captains and divisions could largely commission their own clothing within certain parameters).
The sailor as an image of military success, freedom and adventure, has made “sailor style“ an ongoing and worldwide phenomena, one that’s been examined in museums in both Britain and Australia.
While sailor style and pants in particular (although don’t overlook the navy and white striped top) are in fashion today, this is hardly the first time. Sailor pants were also a hot commodity in the 1970s, thanks to their belled legs and also featured prominently as a part of women’s attire for play in the late 1940s and 1950s as part of a reaction to the end of WWII. Earlier in the century, while trousers were often shocking for women, nautical fashions did appear in the clothes of both women and children, especially during the time bracketing the world wars.
Despite sailor style being fashionable for women and children, it’s never really caught on with civilian men.
Today’s sailor pants for women usually step away from traditional wool and appear in denim, corduroy and other non-standard, comfortable and durable fabrics.