Monday, November 13, 2017

Petticoat Trousers and Trousers

Number crunching time.

Today I'm examining trousers and petticoat trousers, and their presence in primary source art depicting common sailors from 1740-1790. For the purposes of this examination, I am working off of a pair of definitions. 

Detail from Shipping at Spithead, Francis Holman, date unknown (1770's?),
John Bennett Fine Paintings via Online Art Gallery

Trousers are long legged garments, presumably worn without a garment beneath. The legs of this garment end anywhere from the middle of the calf to the bottom of the ankle, and the end may fit close or loose to the body. 

Detail from Watson and the Shark, John Singleton Copley,
1778, National Gallery of Art

Petticoat trousers are wide legged garments that end just below the knee, though sometimes as low as mid-calf, and may or may not be worn over breeches (breeches that are usually, but not universally, blue).

There is certainly some overlap between these garments, and it is not at all clear to be that these terms were defined as such in the period. It may be that petticoat trousers were sometimes referred to simply as trousers in the period. Therefore, I have imposed a certain level of subjectivity to this examination that cannot be helped.

For this piece, I have examined 420 images that can be tightly dated. Not all of these images depict sailors where the garment they wear from the waist down can be seen. Among all images, 230 depict sailors in trousers. 158 depict sailors in petticoat breeches. 
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Of the 420 images examined, 231 of them depict sailors in trousers.

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Taken together, we can see a trend.

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Proportionally, trousers tend to be present more often than petticoat trousers, though there is a near parity until about 1770, when petticoat trousers start to become less common than trousers, with numerous exceptions in every decade.

It is worth noting that these garments often exist beside each other in a single image, and so are not exclusive of each other at any significant time in my period of study.


  1. it must have taken quite a bit of research to generate these graphs. Curious what caused this interest. I had read about a garment worn by sailors during the 18th and early 19th centuries called petticoat trousers or petticoat. Which reminded me of the current fashion trend of below the knee shorts. I guess as long as people have legs we will figure some way to cover them.

  2. looking for a pattern for slops or petticoat pants