Pants – or trousers as they’re also referred to – have been around since ancient times but the first ever recorded reports of people wearing this comfortable and practical lower-body clothing type was in the 6th century BC.
Primarily worn by horse riders in Central and Eastern Asia and Persia, pants were at the time worn by both sexes and not an item of clothing exclusive to men, but in those days the average pair of pants looked a lot different to its modern counterpart!
Nowadays, there are different types of pants for both men and women, with some overlapping and others unique to each, and each pant type having its own unique style.
In this article I’ll cover all pant types, but do check out my specific guides for pant types designed for women and mens pants too.
History of Pant Types Through the Ages
As stated above, pants were initially invented for those who rode horses.
Interesting fact: The name ‘pants’ actually came from an Italian theater character Pantalone, known for wearing long trousers.
Pants were initially designed as military garments and were even worn by knights underneath their heavy steel-plated armor during the 14th century. However, it wasn’t until a century later that trousers became a popular and fashionable item of clothing that incorporated high-quality fabric and ornate designs. These pants were quite extravagant, with a shape that ballooned at the thigh and became more nipped in at the ankle.
There were also more practical pant types during this era that were slimmer, more comfortable, and ankle length, worn mainly by workers.
It wasn’t until the 20th century that we started seeing the modern types of pants that we know and love today. During this period, women began wearing trousers for leisure and fashion but it wasn’t until the 1970s that pants for women were widely accepted as suitable attire.
The modern pants design also received its final unique ‘detail’ in the 20th century – the addition of a zipper as its clothing fastener, which provided more scope for designs and made it considerably easier to put on compared to fastening many buttons.
The Different Types of Pants
Throughout the years, pants have undergone several redesigns in order to improve both the comfort level and to add some unique style to this lower-body garment. Below are the different types of pants that can be found today.
Note that in this article I am not including the different types of shorts! While still technically ‘pants’ I decided it would be better to focus this article on pants that fall below the knee, and will cover shorts in another article!
Bell bottoms – whether in denim form as jeans or in a more modern knitted fabric – feature a form-fitting design from the waist to the knee, at which point the pant leg widens into a bell down to the hem at the ankle. These types of pants became very popular in the 60s and 70s – in fact I have at least one photo of my dad wearing these when he was courting my mum back in the late 70s!
Fashion designer Sonja de Lennart introduced a classic cropped pants style worn by Audrey Hepburn, the Capri pants over eighty years ago in the late 1940s. She named it after her favorite vacation spot in Italy, the Capri Isle.
These pants are known for their sporty-casual look and form-fitting style with a hem that ends just above the ankles.
The cargo pant – occasionally referred to as khaki pants because of their original color – is now a casual pants style which was originally a type of military clothing focusing on delivering both comfort and practicality to the wearer. As the name suggests, cargo pants feature several pockets and compartments that can be used to store your cargo – well, a handful of items at best.
When made from a good quality cotton, cargo pants can be very comfortable and functional. Make them from a silk satin or silk jersey and you get a much more luxurious pair of pants.
Chinos are a comfortable, lightweight twill pant made from twill fabric with the traditional color being khaki, though you can now find chinos in all the colors of the rainbow. Chinos is Spanish for Chinese, where the fabric was initially imported from.
As well as being a casual type of pant, with a straight leg, chinos are also great for completing that business-casual look.
While they used to be considered a classic pant type for guys, corduroys have become more popular with women over recent years. They have maintained their charm thanks to their napped fabric, further complemented by rich color hues. Featuring thick cable-knit fabric, corduroys are great for keeping warm during the winter season.
Dress pants are trousers that are made from a wool, linen, or cotton blend fabric and are designed to be worn with a dress shirt and jacket for more formal occasions. Dress pants can also be worn as part of a suit.
Flared pants appeared on the fashion scene back in the early 1960s and feature a wide leg opening that ‘flares out’ at the bottom. Flared pants can be made from a variety of different materials, including denim, corduroy, and wool.
Gaucho pants were named after trousers worn by cowboys in the mid-1970s. They feature a wide-legged design with cuffs that sit around the calf area. Gauchos look great when paired with some snazzy-looking cowboy style boots.
Also known as ‘genie pants’, harem pants are baggy pants that have been around for centuries. They have a loose, baggy design and cuffs that sit at the ankle – and the waistband is usually elasticated.
While harem pants have traditionally been associated with belly dancers and countries in the Middle East, they have become increasingly popular in the Western world over recent years.
Also known as high waisted pants – or the less appealing sounding ‘mom jeans’ – high-rise pants sit high on the waist and are usually form-fitting down to the hips. While they do often have a wide leg silhouette, there are many pant styles available that also offer a high waist without losing out to design aesthetics.
High-rise pants can be made from any type of fabric, including corduroy and wool though denim is by far the most popular option.
Jeans are by far the most popular type of pant in the world and have been around for over 150 years. They were originally designed as durable work pants for miners and cowboys but have since become a fashion staple for both men and women.
They are usually made from denim – though in recent decades elastane or spandex has been added to achieve a closer fit with the added stretch factor – and are considered the ultimate casual wear as well as being a very durable garment type.
Denim jeans come in their classic blue color as well as a broad spectrum of colors. And of course we have to include the various methods for embellishing or distressing denim too!
There are many different types of jeans, including boyfriend jeans, mom jeans, skinny jeans, wide-leg jeans, cropped jeans, bootcut jeans, and more!
Jodhpurs – sometimes referred to as ‘stirrup pants’ were originally designed for horse riding. They are close-fitting in design sitting at the natural waistline and feature a ‘stirrup’ or loop of fabric that runs under the foot and is secured either side of the ankle. This provides a more fitted look around the calf and ankle area and can also help to keep the pants in place if you are doing active activities.
Jodhpurs have seen their moment ‘in fashion’ over the decades – particularly memorable back in the 1980s – but are now only really popular with those who ride horses.
Another extremely comfortable pant style which were traditionally worn when working out but have since moved on to become perfect as casual wear when partnered with casual button-down shirts and sneakers.
Joggers are usually not as loose or baggy in fit as their sweatpants sibling, and when they’re made from more luxurious fabrics they can be quite a statement garment for both women and men.
The male variation of the pedal pusher, the main difference between the two is that knickerbockers utilize a fastener at the hem. It is primarily worn by men when bike riding or golfing.
Leggings are pants that are made from a stretch fabric and fit snugly to the body. They can be worn on their own or as a layering piece under another item of clothing.
Leggings became popular in the 1980s and have remained a wardrobe staple for both men and women ever since.
There are many different types of leggings, including jegging (a jean-legging hybrid), leather leggings, patterned leggings, and more.
The low-rise pants or hip huggers are – as the name implies – a low cut variation of the previous entry. Low-rise pants debuted back in the 60s and have never left the fashion scene ever since. The design incorporates a low-hanging design typically on the hips rather than the waist (3-inches below the navel) with different variations for the leg openings.
As the name suggests, lounge pants are designed to be worn around the house, for ‘lounging’ around. They are usually made from a soft, comfortable fabric and have a loose, relaxed fit. Popular styles of lounge pants include:
- Harem pants
Traditionally overalls were worn by workers and are comfortable, loose-fitting pants with a bib-like extension on the chest and back that acts as a protective covering for the body. They are held up via shoulder straps and are typically made of denim which also helps retain heat – making it perfect for cold climates.
Palazzo pants are cut loose with wide legs that expand from the waist down as opposed to other wide leg pant styles which become wider from the hip or knee.
As such, the airy style of palazzo pants makes it a great choice during the summer season. You’ll find palazzo pants in different lengths, with some pants stopping at the ankle while others flaring all the way to the floor.
A shorter variation of the Capri pants, pedal pushers, or ‘clam diggers’ feature a similar close-fitting design but the hem sits slightly below the knee. As the name implies, pedal pushers are perfect for bike riding and other activities that require optimum lower body mobility.
Another highly fashionable pant type for women – they were seen recently in Season Eight of The Great British Sewing Bee – sailor pants feature a bell bottom design with a unique placement of buttons at the front. Not only are sailor pants considered stylish (they can be worn during casual and formal occasions), but it is also pretty comfortable too.
Sweatpants – or track pants -are a looser fit pants style than joggers are and designed to be worn during exercise or when working out. They are usually made from a cotton blend fabric which helps to wick away sweat and keep the body cool and dry. Sweatpants typically have a loose, comfortable fit and often come with an elasticated waistband and cuffs.
Tapered pants are both classy and chic and can be worn for many different occasions with the tapered leg starting around the knee and narrowing into a slim opening at the hem.
The overall ‘look’ of a tapered pant changes depending on the type of fabric you choose to make them with. This style of pants can be partnered with flip-flops, sneakers, heels, and even boots, depending on the look you’re going for.
The term ‘trousers’ is used interchangeably with pants in North America – whereas in the UK and other countries trousers are trousers, and pants are underwear! That said, trousers usually refers to a more formal pant style, designed to be worn as part of a suit – suit pants – or with a dress shirt and tie for more formal occasions (dress pant).
Something of a new addition to the category of men’s pants, tech pants are optimized for comfort and functionality in an outdoor setting. These pants are made from fabric that provides an ultraviolet ray protection rating of UPF 50. In addition, these pants are also waterproof, which makes them the perfect attire for outdoor activities.
Wide Leg Pants
These stylish women’s pants are versatile and can be worn on any occasion. Wide leg pants have a wide-leg silhouette and often feature a high-waisted design. They can be made from any type of fabric, but are usually made from a lightweight material such as cotton or linen for summer months and in wool for those colder winter months.
Yoga pants are designed to provide optimum comfort and flexibility for those who wear them. They are usually made from a stretchy fabric which includes Lycra or spandex so that they have a fitted design whilst still allowing you to move. Yoga pants can be worn for yoga or other exercise classes, but are also popular as casual wear.
Choosing A Pant Style
There are many different types of pants available for both men and women to choose from and the style of pant you choose will depend on several factors.
The occasion you plan to wear them for is most important. As an example, if you’re going to the beach then a pair of shorts or pedal pushers would be more appropriate than a pair of trousers or jeans – which will make your legs feel crazy hot.
At the same time, body shape can have an important role on the trouser style you go for.
Just be sure to choose the right pant style that makes you feel comfortable and confident, and you’ll be onto a winning style.
If you enjoyed this and want to learn more about other types of clothing I have a selection of guides you might enjoy – A-Z of different dress styles, different types of sweaters, shirt types for men and women and a look at the different skirt styles!
Eve Tokens (aka The Creative Curator) is a fashion designer, creative pattern cutter and sewing pattern designer.
Eve graduated with a 2:1 in Fashion Design from the University of The Creative Arts in the UK, has a BTEC diploma in Creative Pattern Cutting, a Foundation Degree in Art & Design from Wimbledon College of Art and gained extensive experience in the fashion industry by interning and freelancing for London based fashion brands – Hardy Amies, Roland Mouret, Peter Pilotto and others.
As well as running her own small sustainable fashion brand, Eve has more than 25 years experience sewing and making clothes for herself and family members.