One Leg at a Time

One Leg at a Time 

By Patrick F. Cannon

Onward and upward, as the saying goes. When last I explored the history of apparel, I started at the bottom with the lowly shoe. Let us now move to a consideration of the pant; or, for the more fortunate, pants.

As you should know, these coverings of the legs and that part of the body they are attached to, is a fairly recent development in the long history of unnakedness. The Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Israelites, Greeks and Romans all failed in their efforts to do more than wear the same dress-like garments as their wives, daughters and concubines. From my deep study of the visual historical record on the walls, ceilings and floors of surviving structures, I have concluded that pants as we know them are a fairly recent arrival in the long panorama of history. Methuselah might have lived for 1,000 years, but he did so pantsless.

As we know, people in the Middle Ages mostly wandered about in sackcloth and ashes, but at long last something like pants began to appear during the Renaissance, largely after silk was discovered by Confucius and brought to Europe by Marco Polo. This fine fabric was flexible and was first used for stockings. Then Lorenzo de Medici (Il Magnifico to his friends) posited that if the ladies of the court kept weaving, their efforts might result in something that we would later call panty hose

All well and good, except when worn the male member and its accoutrements (one strives for delicacy) became perhaps more obvious than even Italians thought proper. But this was the Renaissance after all, and Leonardo da Vinci soon invented the cod piece. This shame saving device came in various sizes, of which “extra large” became the favorite. Like Starbucks coffee, “small” had no place in the cod bins of Florence.

By the late 17th Century, pants as we know them had almost arrived. Perhaps you are familiar with knickers, once favored by golfers and small boys. Something like them, although a bit tighter, began to appear. Stopping at the knee, they still required stockings to hide one’s hairy calf. Another century passed before Beau Brummell extended the pants leg down to the top of the shoe when he tired of washing his socks every night.

Fast forward to today, when pants are available in a truly amazing variety of styles and colors. Men may wear short shorts, Bermuda shorts, cargo pants, pedal pushers, and even jammie bottoms. One may have fat pants, regular pants and even tight pants that expose one’s brightly colored socks. I must add that only in a decadent age such as ours will men wear – as the height of fashion – clothes that don’t appear to fit.

Now, alas, even women have taken to wearing pants. This curiosity began in the 1930s when progressive women began wearing pants and even smoking cigarettes in public. Had we only known where all of this might lead!

With the exception of stubborn Scots and Saudi princes, attempts by men at the cutting edge of fashion to reestablish the skirt have thus far failed, save only for the occasional fellow who dons a wig and a stylish dress and pretends he’s Elizabeth  Taylor or Marilyn Monroe.  Harmless fun to be sure, but not Brummell-like in its lasting impact.


Copyright 2017, Patrick F. Cannon



3 thoughts on “One Leg at a Time

  1. The word pants has a curious origin. It comes from the French pantalon, which in turn derives from the costume worn by a character in the Venetian commedia dell’ arte, Pantalone. Not quite as curious though as the origin of jeans. The word is based on the French word for Genova (Genes) where the blue cloth was made. The name of the material itself, denim, comes from the French city Nimes (de Nimes) down the coast where the material was also produced.

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