Why Men Wear Pants

Chances are you’re wearing pants right now. But ask yourself: Have I earned the right to wear these pants? As a functional necessity, the modern man needs his pants—but his forefathers had their asses kicked, banished, banned, dismissed, laughed at, damned, and shunned so that you could wear them. This is the brief, yet brave, history of those men and their undying desire to cover their legs, one at a time.

I put my pants on just like the rest of you: one leg at a time. Except once my pants are on, I make gold records. – Christopher Walken (as Bruce Dickenson, SNL)

Men didn’t always wear the now standard-issue trouser; quite the opposite. Men once donned cute little skirts fashioned from rough cloth or animal skins. But around 1000 B.C. barbarian nomads in Central Asia found that the common wraps of the day were just not conducive to riding on horseback and beating enemies’ asses.

Like all industrious men, they did something dignified and radical to solve their dilemma. Wrapping their legs individually in cloth, they enabled themselves a greater range of movement atop a horse. Greater range of movement translated to better balance. Better balance meant more strength. And more strength meant more ass-kicking. Now all they needed was a little style. A little embroidery and a few patterns later and boom: the world’s first trouser.

Like all new products, these new inventions needed something to help them catch on. They needed a marketing plan. As is often the case with man, war provided the ultimate commercial. The rugged, fashion-forward nomads clashed with their more fashionably conservative and “civilized” neighbors on the battlefield, and from the wrong end of a sword, their enemies found out that these newfangled trousers were far more effective when it came to the art of war than their traditional garments were. This put them at an obvious disadvantage and that could not stand.

Trousers quickly became the standard among your average warmonger. As more and more nomads came into contact with more and more enemies, those enemies quickly adopted the nomad’s attire. Unlike today’s clothing choices, this trend was adopted not out of concern for looking cool or the desperation to fit in, but out of the need to survive battle. From Central Asia this military innovation spread to Persia and India and China, and eventually into Europe.

Trousers still had a long road to tread on the way to true respect, however. It wasn’t until 55 B.C.—nearly a thousand years after their birth—that the trouser would catch on in the great Roman Empire. It took one Julius Caesar reaching Britain during the Romans’ conflict with the barbarians of the north for the Romans to catch trouser fever. It is said Caesar was greatly taken with the look and battle effectiveness of the garb—which helped ensure its place in Western Civilization.

History tells us Romans at large hated the very idea of trousers from the start, saying that they were simply unfit for noblemen and only fit for slaves.

As a fashion trend grows, a backlash inevitably forms. The trouser has had its fair share of critics. The average Roman (who had no experience in war, just the finer things in life like art, philosophy, and, we suppose, eating grapes) didn’t agree with their Caesar. History tells us Romans at large hated the very idea of trousers from the start, saying that they were simply unfit for noblemen and only fit for slaves. Roman nobles even went so far as to put in place an imperial edict stating any freeman wearing trousers would face banishment or loss of property.

The heavy-handed edict would have little effect on the Little Trouser That Could. The trouser finally won the public opinion war, and like all good ideas whose time has come, nothing could keep the trouser down. Pardon the pun. But, as history shows, trousers still had a few more battles to fight.

While winning over public opinion in Rome, the trouser fell out of favor in Northern Europe. There, another fashion trend was capturing the fancy of noblemen. The famous, strikingly handsome, and lethal combination of breeches and silk stockings was becoming all the rage. Even as late as 1814, the Duke of Wellington was denied entrance to his favorite club for wearing pants. Trinity College had an order that any student appearing in Hall or Chapel wearing trousers would be counted absent. The clergy trumped them all by having “a special clause” stating any preacher caught wearing trousers at the pulpit would not go to heaven. Insert your own joke here.

Thankfully, the inevitable thrust of modernity elevated the trouser to its current sartorial status—and wearing trousers would become a matter of life or death yet again. Going back to its roots in conflict, trousers would save the lives of some very important people. During the French Revolution, they became a symbol of equality as former aristocrats resorted to putting on the blue linen pants of workmen to try and escape the guillotine. Wealthy Englishmen, meanwhile, adopted the wearing of pants for health reasons. Gout was prevalent at the time and they were convinced the barbarian attire was the cure for the pain in their swollen legs. A little bad science and a lot of class conflict was all the trouser needed.

As we’ve seen, it’s been a long, hard-fought war for man and the way he covers his legs, but the victory has been total. The modern man literally doesn’t have any alternative to the battle-hardened trouser. Sure, you can wear a kilt—on drunken holidays or at traditional Scottish funerals. But if you wear one you’d damned well better be 100% Scottish.

So whether you’re doing battle in a conference room, a courtroom, or any other arena of business and work, remember all the men and the sacrifices they made so that you can look as good as you do right now in those trousers you’re wearing.

  • March 04, 2016