Wear: Trousers, or who wears the pants

Sadly I’m way behind with the updates on my monthly challenge, but it’s still going strong! In October my main focus in the 20/21 Challenge was on trousers. As much as I love a good dress, trousers and jeans are wardrobe staples I can’t live without. I wear them many days a week. In this update on the challenge theme I’ll touch upon the history of trousers and share a little about October’s projects.

Trousers today are worn all over the world by both men and women, but it hasn’t always been this way. In our society, women only wore dresses and skirts for hundreds of years. Trousers are believed to have originated in Central Asia thousands of years ago, probably developed for more convenient horseback riding. Until fairly recently, trousers were restricted to menswear. The phrase “who wears the pants in the family” refers to trousers being a symbol of the power and masculinity in the family, belonging to the one in charge.

During the seventies trousers finally became acceptable even as office workwear for women, too, and today it’s difficult to imagine a wardrobe without trousers regardless of which sex you belong to. However, the change didn’t come without struggle.

The ultimate symbol of equality

Until the 20th century, women only wore soft and loose “pantalettes” for modesty and warmth under their dresses. Wearing dresses at all times wasn’t always practical, particularly when doing sports, hard labor or anything requiring free movement. The women’s liberation movement (such as the suffragettes) demanded the freedom to wear trousers just like any man. The early versions were long, puffy and gathered at the ankles. They were worn under shorter dresses and are known as “bloomers”. Later the style was modified and toned down.

Fashion icons like Coco Chanel and Katharine Hepburn made long, wide palazzo pants famous in the 1930’s, but it wasn’t until World War II trousers finally were acceptable for everyday women. This had of course to do with the fact that women went into factory labour because the men were absent, and workwear attire became a necessity. Fast forward into mid 20th century, more and more women started wearing trousers and jeans regularly. Yay!

October was a very productive month, and I managed to finish a total of six pairs. One of them is a very quick sew with an elasticated waist, and one is an overall more than a trouser, but it has legs and a zipper in the back, so chose to I include it here.

One of my main goals in this part of the project was to focus on sewing classic trouser details such as adding welt pockets, zipper flys and a curved waistband. I am rather pleased with the finish on the Sara, Base and High waist trousers. Having a focus is really helpful, and I now feel confident enough to sew trousers without having detailed instructions for everything. Even welted pockets feel like an easy task now – still challenging to sew accurately enough, but not the construction itself so much anymore.

There are numerous resources online for sewing trousers, but my favorite is Closet Core Patterns. If you need a detailed explanation for how to sew a zipper fly, pockets or waistband, look no further. They have great fit advice, too, and even offer a free e-book on the subject!

More about the projects:

The Lounge pants
The High waist pants
The Base trousers
The Sara trousers
The Anja overalls

Sewing trousers is challenging and rewarding. Shirts, jackets and trousers are important wardrobe glue, and they are carriers of a long and rich history, too. The phrase “who wears the pants” no longer carry the significance it used to, and frankly, I hope most people today find it void of meaning.

20/21 Sewing themes:

  1. August: Shirts
  2. September: Outerwear
  3. October: Trousers
  4. November: Loungewear
  5. December: The black dress
  6. January: Knits
  7. February: Jeans
  8. March: Basics
  9. April: Blouses and skirts
  10. May: Summer dresses
  11. June: Sleeveless tops and shorts
  12. July: Swimwear


King and Allen bespoke tailoring: A Brief History of Trousers
Bellatory: A History of Trousers and Pants in Western Culture


  • nice selection of trousers here – I agree they are very worthwhile to sew although it seems like a lot of sewists are afraid of them because of fit issues


    • Thanks, that’s very nice to hear. Yes, a lot of sewists avoid trousers, but they don’t have to be that difficult. I find fit challenging still, but I am beginning to understand what I need to change when something is off. It takes a lot of practice, at least for me. On the other side, finding the perfect fit in RTW is difficult, too, and I dread the gloom of the fitting rooms even more than sewing my own pants 🙂


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