The Brief History of the Trouser
“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)
Yes, all men wear pants, now. But ask yourself: Have you earned the right to wear those 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 the modern man could fasten his pants with pride. This is the brief, yet brave, history of those men and their undying desire to cover their legs, one at a time.
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. Thanks to a horse and some good old fashioned rough housing, around 1000 B.C. barbarian nomads in Central Asia found that the common wraps of the day were just not conducive to riding horseback and beating enemy asses. Like all industrious men, they did something dignified and radical to solve their dilemma. Wrapping their legs individually in cloth, they enabled 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 latter…BOOM, the world’s first trouser.
Like all new products, these inventions of the primitive warrior needed something to help them catch on. They needed to make a statement; 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. From the wrong end of a sword, their enemies found out that these newfangled trousers were far more effective inside 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 the average war monger. As more and more warriors came into contact with more and more enemies, those enemies quickly adopted the nomad’s attire. And like all things before the modern dragon embroidered dress shirt and sparkly converse shoes, this trend was adopted not out of fashion concerns or the desperation to fit in, but out of the need to survive battle. From central Asia this military innovation spread, transforming into a fashion forward trend and the use of trousers was eventually adopted by the Persians, the Indians, and the Chinese. That would lead them right into northern Europe.
Trousers had a long road to true respect. It wasn’t until 55 B.C., nearly a thousand years after their introduction, 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 so taken with the look and battle effectiveness he couldn’t help but take note of the trouser. This is what ultimately brought the trouser to the greatest civilization of the time.
As a fashion trend grows, the second act is always the naysayers. 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, only to be worn by 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 won the public-opinion war. Like all good ideas whose time has come, nothing would keep the little trouser down (pardon the pun). But as history shows, trousers still had a few 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 heaven. (Insert your own joke here)
Thankfully, in the end, the inevitable thrust of modernity elevated the trouser to its current sartorial status. Wearing trousers would become a matter of life or death yet again. Going back to its roots, a.k.a. war, 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 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 military conflict was all the trouser needed.
As we’ve seen, it was a long and hard road for man and widespread acceptance of covering his legs. Due to those hard fought battles, the modern man literally doesn’t have an alternative to the battle hardened trouser. Sure you can wear a kilt – on drunken holidays or at traditional Scottish funerals. And if you wear one you DAMN WELL better be 100% Scottish. The next time you’re putting your war attire on for the battle that takes place every day in conference rooms, courtrooms, and every other arena of modern business, remember all the fashion forward men and the sacrifices they made so that you can look as good as you do in those trousers that you happen to be wearing right now.