What are they? Long shorts? Short pants? Or trousers disguised as a skirt?

The word “culotte” is French for “knee breeches.” The Sans Culottes were a group of activists during and just after the French Revolution, who were fighting for economic equality and popular democracy. They were identifiable by their long pants (often shown in striped fabric) as opposed to the knee breeches of the upper classes.

An upper class French gentleman on the left and a Sans Culotte on the right, late 18th century.

In somewhat less dramatic ways, culottes are still a point of contention. Vogue writer Maria Ward observed in 2017: “Culottes are not easy to pull off … the piece requires a keen understanding of proportions, and success largely depends on what you pair it with.”

In 2015 McCall Pattern Co. went further when they asserted:
“Culottes are the zombies of fashion. We say we hate them and won’t wear them, but every decade culottes rise from the dead, and it’s yet another culotte moment in fashion history.” Ouch!

If the past is any indication, culottes do seem to be here to stay—like them or not. A look back …

In the 1930s culottes appear to have been just the thing for a round of shuffleboard on the Lido deck.
1940s culottes were more streamlined and a bit shorter than they had been a decade earlier.
In the 90s designers tried (and failed) to adapt the culotte to the Grunge era. Um, no.
Kate Middleton has given the culotte her highly regarded royal blessing. The fashion press calls Kate “the Queen of Culottes.” Indubitably.
This updated culotte caught our eye this past spring. The pleats (especially in chiffon) make them that much more enchanting. We don’t care if they’re skirts or pants. We want to wear them!

As with any style, the most important component of your culotte-based ensemble will be your confidence. Walk down the street with plenty of attitude, and you’ll look fabulous.

Are you pro-culotte or con? Tell us why in the comments.