The History of Harem Pants

December 10, 2019

The History of Harem Pants

While harem pants today are a reflection of a casual lifestyle and laid-back living, they have evolved over a more complex history. 

Whether you’re a traveler, enjoy a more laid-back style of dressing, or just like to be comfortable, these pair of pants (or trousers if you prefer) have been worn by both men and women for centuries. The years have seen them take a fascinating path from being a traditional ‘dhoti’ worn by men in the east to a modern unisex favorite in the western world. 

With so many different prints and materials available, they have become very fashionable and can be purchased in many stores and places that promote a boho lifestyle, including places like Thailand where we source ours from. 

Even if you’ve seen them and worn them, how much do you really know about harem pants & their history?


What Are Harem Pants?

Harem pants are loose fitted, flowing pants, that end right around the ankles and can have a straight fit that is pinched at the end or a drop crotch style.They are also referred to as “fisherman pants” or "elephant pants" Initially, they were said to symbolize modesty, with loose hips and legs to conceal a woman's shape.

These pants originated from the East and Southeast Asia. In fact, especially in places like Europe, the Middle East was a source of cultural intrigue, so the types of clothing worn in this part of the world were a source of inspiration for many.

Over the years, they have gone in and out of fashion, and have been famously worn by both men and women. Some popular examples include the pants worn by the famous 1980's rapper MC Hammer, who wore them in his music video, ‘Can't Touch This’. This led to the term ‘Hammer Pants’ or ‘Parachute pants’, which were more tapered at the ankle.

Most recently, Justin Bieber has also popularised this style of dress, with stars like Gwen Stefani, Maria Sharapova, Rhianna, and many others further popularizing the trend.

Why Are Harem Pants Called Harem Pants?

Aside from harem ingraining itself in the name, these pants derive their true name from the Turkish language. They were known as ‘Salvar’ or ‘Shalwar’, which is the Turkish word for pants. Other eastern languages also use variations of Shalwar to depict the garment. 

While the exact history might not be clear as these pants have been worn for a very long time, there are some key points over the last two hundred years where their introduction into Western society can be seen, which explains their current and ongoing popularity. 

What Is The History Of Harem Pants?

The first recorded promotion of these kinds of pants was by Amelia Bloomer, who is famous for introducing ‘bloomers’. She is credited with bringing these pants to the Western world in the mid-1800s at a time when women were challenging social norms by dressing differently and wearing clothes that were previously reserved for men.

Therefore, these pants weren’t only worn as a more comfortable option to oppressive corsets, they were also a way to fight for women’s rights. At the time, they were part of the feminist movement with their higher hemlines and associations with masculinity.  

After that, it seems like this type of clothing faded from the scene before being brought back by French designer Pierre Poiret in 1909. He sought to bring a Middle Eastern and Asian influence to his clothing, with the design of pants, kaftans, and headdresses, collectively referred to as the ‘Style Sultane’ in French. Seen as very provocative, these designs were cutting edge and made from silk and satin materials, with embroidery and intricate beading. 

Over the last century, as hinted above, this article of clothing has made several comebacks, most notably in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.In addition to this, in the 1990s, Disney movies like Aladdin also showed characters, both male and female, wearing this style of clothing. 

Later on, in 2009, this style of clothing made a further comeback on the catwalk in the Spring collection of Ralph Lauren, proving that they just never really go out of fashion. 

Therefore, while these pants may have been used to denote or challenge gender roles in the past, today they are unisex, and a comfortable option for many, whether you choose to wear them while doing activities like yoga, or to simply lounge around.

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