Boys' Foreign-Language Clothing Glossary: French Culottes

Figure 1.--.

Short pants. The modern French meaning of culotte is short pants. Short pants are cut at or above the knee. Trousers cut below the knee we have generally referred to as knee pants if closed with buttons or left open. Trousers cut below the knee and gathered or closed with buckles we have referred to as knickers. Short pants have been referred to by different names in England. The English generally refer to short pants as "short trousers". They also used to refer to them as "knickers" although that term has for many years not been commonly used and more frequently is used to mean ladies underwear. HBC has noted that "culotte have been commonly used for any kind of shortened pants, including kneepants, knickers, and short pants. More specific terms for different types of shortened trousers developed in the 20th century.

Culotte: Breeches, the just over knee-length trousers that had been worn since the early 17th century. In the 18th century, they had buttoned slits on the side and were buckled at the hem. During the first half of the century, the stockings were pulled over them; later the hem of the culotte covered the top of the stockings. Culottes were worn by the nobility and gentry; common folk wore ankle-length trousers. Therefore, the term is best known by the derivative sans culottes, "those without culottes", i.e. the common folk who led the French Revolution.

Culotte: Rather like the English term "knickers," culotte has come to used ladies underwear.

Culotte: Knickers in the early 20th century might be called simply "culotte". Others terms have also be used such as "pantalon golf" and "culotte de ski".

Culotte à bretelles: Suspender short pants

Culotte à pont: "Culotte à pont" is the French term for short trousers that instead of a fly had a piece in front of the trousers that butonned to the waist. This arrangement was rather like early long sailor trousers or the long trousers worn with skeleton suits.

Culotte à poignets: Cuff at the knees, a band with one button

Culotte avec braguette:

Culotte bloomer: We have also noted the term "culotte bloomer" (bloomer short pants) for the suspender and button-on romper bottoms worn with shirts and blouses.

Culotte bouffante: This litterally means "puffed short pants". It was another term for rompers, but not used as commonly as "barboteuse". I have only noted the term used in France, but it may have been used in Belgium as well.

Culotte courte: Since the 1970s "culotte courte" has been used to describe short pants for boys. It is commonly used in advertisements and conversation. It has also come to be used to describe a nicely behaved younger boys, "les garçonsen culottes courtes". The French also use the English term "shorts". There appears to be a generational gap with people of differnt ages using the word differently. Older French people who were children before the 1970s still just say "culotte" meaning short pants. The new generation generally says "culotte courte" to describe proper short pants worn by boys. A French reader reports, "It seems that this word is coming back. In advertisments and television one often hears phrases such as 'Nos chères têtes blondes en culottes courtes' (Our dear blond-head with short pants). Perhaps a sort of nostalgia for the old times! Modern teenagers are fond of shorts for casual wear in the summer, but now have a fashion complex. They are often desoriantated with clothing advertisements. In our period the children didn't ask themselfs questions about their clothes. We all wore short pants, and often in winter. We thought long trouses were for poor people such as peasants and gypsys or for hard work outdoors. Boys prefer to dress alike so that they do not stand out as different from their friends. This was true in my day and is still the case with boys today. In many ways, children through time are the same. They are what society wants to make of them . The children are alike a blank page. They know nothing and are simply waiting to be taught."

Culotte de ski: Litterally ski shorts, but referring to knickers in the American sence. I'm not sure about the current usage, but in the 1940s it looks like this term was being used to describe knickers in general and not just ski pants.

Culotte Norfolk: Kneepants with decorative buttons are referred to as "culotte Norfolk". In late 19th and early 20th century fashion publications kneepants might be simply described as just "culotte". The buttons are called James' buttons. I'm not sure just who the James refers to. Kneepanys were no longer commonly worn in France after the late 1920s.

Culotte sans pont: This rather long short trousers were the most common of the early 20th century. Thet had no flies and were butonned to the waist. These trousers became shorter as the century progressed.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: September 17, 2001
Last updated: September 26, 2001