The History of Harem Pants

In the mind of the average westerner, the latest fashion trend known as harem pants might seem more like a throwback to those few years covering the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Although we might reminisce with a smile the phrase “Hammer time!”, the history of harem pants runs much deeper than a simple vintage look from a not too distant period in fashion.

The current fashion trend known as harem pants can be traced back nearly 2,000 years to the traditional garments known as salvars worn in western and southwestern Asia. The pants are known there by many names depending on the region, and they are can be worn by both men and women. Some variations on the name for the style of pants are salwar, shalvar, or shalvaar.

In Persian, the word literally means pants, as it is the Persians who first developed pants as a form of garment. Unlike in the past when garments were intended to promote modesty, modern versions of the salvars worn by women feature slits on the sides up to the waistline with the waist area slung low over the hips – although this style is mostly reserved for parties and other social functions. Also in some modern cultures of western Asia, harem pants are known as Kurdish pants, and it is not uncommon for families to have these pants on hand as comfortable house clothing into which their guests may change when lounging.

In western culture, these baggy pants were introduced as a women’s article of clothing in the mid-1800’s, although at the time they soon came to be known as “bloomers” and “Turkish trousers”. These women’s pants were known as bloomers because of early women’s rights advocate Amelia Bloomer’s penchant for wearing the trousers and for the fact the style of trouser originates in western Asia. They were marketed as a form of women’s dress that would allow for an active lifestyle without compromising a woman’s decency, but they failed to catch on and were rejected by western society at large until their reintroduction again in the early 1900’s.

In 1909, harem pants were brought back into the fashion collective consciousness by French designer Paul Poiret, with the pants being worn below a tunic draped over the upper body. Unfortunately this trend failed as well, and harem pants were again relegated to being worn for women’s sports. Women and girls who participated in active sports and in physical education type settings wore pants resembling the modern harem pant, i.e. baggy short pants drawn together at the knees, up through the 1980’s. Women wore knee length undergarments known as bloomers or knickers throughout this same time period.

In more recent times and like the garments from which they take their inspiration, harem pants are a fashion trend that is not confined to just women or men. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, harem pants were again brought into the main stream by the quirky stylings of then hip-hop superstar MC Hammer. The style was worn by both men and women, and confined more to a younger consumer group.

As of 2009, harem pants are making a comeback. But unlike their late twentieth century forerunner, today’s harem pants are proving to be a fashion statement to be made by the sleek, sophisticated, and chic. Modern harem pants are a sort of cross between a short skirt and skinny jeans, and you get the benefits of both without any of the shortcomings. The legs are typically fitted at the knees with a loose, baggy crotch area made to look as if it were designed for a skirt. It might sound off the wall, but it makes for a great unconventional look with abundant possibilities for completing your look.

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