Louis XVI, dressed in culottes, drinks a toast to the sans-culottes

Culottes is a word that originated in French. Historically, "culottes" referred to the knee-breeches commonly worn by gentlemen of the European upper-classes from the late Middle Ages or Renaissance through the early nineteenth century. This style of tight pants ending just below the knee was first popularized in France during the reign of Henry III (1574–1589).[1] Culottes were normally closed and fastened about the leg, to the knee, by either buttons, a strap and buckle, or by a draw-string. During the French Revolution of 1789–1799, working-class revolutionaries were known as the "sans-culottes" – literally, "without culottes" – a name derived from their rejection of aristocratic apparel.[2]


In military uniforms

Military uniforms incorporated culottes as a standard uniform article, the lower leg being covered by either stockings, leggings, or knee-high boots. Culottes were a common part of military uniforms during the European wars of the eighteenth-century (the War of the Spanish Succession, the War of the Austrian Succession, the Seven Years' War, the Franco-British Colonial Wars, and the American Revolution).

Later definitions

The women's fashion industry commonly takes words that have historically been used to describe men's garments and uses them to describe an entirely different garment, often creating confusion among historians and history students and readers. For example, currently, the term "culottes" in French is now used to describe women's panties, an article of clothing that has little or no relation to the historic culottes.

A pair of modern culottes. From the crotch downwards, separate legs can be discerned

Women's culottes

Another latter-day use of the word culottes describes a split or divided skirt[3] or any garment which "hangs like a skirt, but is actually pants."[1] During the Victorian Era (mid- to late-nineteenth century) long split skirts were developed for horseback riding so that women could sit astride a man's saddle rather than riding side-saddle. The term "culottes" was co-opted from the original French definition of the word to describe these split riding skirts. Later, split skirts were developed to provide women more freedom to do activities such as gardening, cleaning, bike riding, etc. and still look like one is wearing a skirt.[4]


In place of the term "culottes," the term skort (a portmanteau for skirt and shorts) is more widely used in some areas. While some garments sold as culottes resemble short trousers, to truly be a skort it needs to look like a skirt. Thus, they differ from trousers or shorts by being much fuller at the bottom (hem) than at the waist. A skort is shorts that have a front covering to resemble a skirt[5] or short pant legs with a same length or longer skirt sewn over the top.[6]

Some culottes have a part sewn over only the front, some are shorts with a skirt sewn over them. While these may not be completely the same, they are often called by either name, so either term can apply.

School uniforms

Culottes are used in girls' school uniforms along with skirts as an option or culottes are brought in as a replacement to skirts. Culottes are worn as part a uniform mainly to primary, middle and Catholic schools. Culottes were also part of the uniform of Brownie Guides [7] up until recently, when the uniform was modernised and the traditional brown culottes were replaced.



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Look at other dictionaries:

  • culottes — n. pl. a type of women s trousers with wide legs cut loose and full so as to resemble a skirt. Syn: culotte. [WordNet 1.5] || …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Culottes — (fr., spr. Külott), kurze Beinkleider (s.d.), welche zur Zeit Ludwigs XIV. getragen wurden …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • culottes — (n.) a divided skirt, 1911, from Fr. culotte breeches (16c.), a dim. of cul bottom, backside, anus, from L. culus bottom, fundament. Earlier, in the singular cullote, it was used to mean knee breeches (1842). Por le cul bieu By God s arse was an… …   Etymology dictionary

  • culottes — /fr. kyˈlɔt/ [vc. fr., da cul «culo»] s. f. pl. mutandine (da donna) …   Sinonimi e Contrari. Terza edizione

  • culottes — ► PLURAL NOUN ▪ women s knee length trousers, cut with very full legs to resemble a skirt. ORIGIN French, knee breeches , from cul rump …   English terms dictionary

  • Culottes — Elijah Boardman in einer Culotte. Gemälde von Ralph Earl, 1789 Culotte (von frz. cul = Gesäß) ist die französische Bezeichnung für eine Kniebundhose. Im engeren Sinne ist damit die typische Männerhose des späten 17. und des 18. Jahrhunderts… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • culottes — noun /kjuːˈlɒts/ A type of loose shorts which look like a skirt; a divided skirt. Syn: culotte See Also: sans culottes …   Wiktionary

  • culottes — [[t]kjuːlɒ̱ts, AM kuː [/t]] N PLURAL: also a pair of N Culottes are knee length women s trousers that look like a skirt …   English dictionary

  • culottes — cu·lottes || kjuː lÉ’ts n. divided skirtn. (From French) divided skirt, culottes; rump of beef …   English contemporary dictionary

  • culottes — /kooh lots , kyooh /, women s trousers, usually knee length or calf length, cut full to resemble a skirt. Also, culotte. [1835 45; < F: lit., breeches, equiv. to cul rump + ottes, pl. of otte, fem. of ot n. suffix. See CULET] * * * …   Universalium