Culottes rarely catch the attention of shoppers – you don’t often overhear girls praising how pretty they are. Most guys also mistake culottes for skirts, especially when they are seen from afar. Then again, they’re not entirely wrong. Culottes were initially made to look like skirts, and were referred to as “split skirts” in the past.
The word “culotte” came from the French word “culot”, which referred to the lower half of the body. They are knee-length trousers that women can buy regardless of their budget, taste, or occasion.
History of the culottes
Culottes were first worn by men
In the past, these pants were cut from fine silk and were meant to be super comfortable and fashionable. Its bottom used to be fastened around the leg by a strap or drawstring. During the French Revolution, men from the upper class often wore them about. Since they were popularised by rich men, the culottes gradually became a status symbol. They were so highly valued that they were even part of the European Military’s uniform.
However, things were different for people in the lower working class. Also known as the “san-culottes”, or people “without culottes”, these people wore trousers and pantaloons instead. The outfit disparity led to a divide between the social classes.
Women were arrested for wearing culottes
During the Victorian era, women began to be more active; they took on horse riding, tennis, and bicycling. However, it was highly uncomfortable for them to wear long skirts while doing sports. At the same time, women were also fighting for gender equality; like men, they wanted to experience the freedom and comfort of wearing pants.
With that desire came to action, and that’s when fashion designers begin to add their own spin to the pants. For them to be worn by women, they needed to hide the bifurcation – the split in pants that stops them from looking like a skirt. As a result, culottes were designed with ruffles, pleats, or panels, disguising the pants as skirts in public – and that was how the term “split skirts” came about.
While women had newfound freedom in wearing culottes, it was still unacceptable for them to be seen wearing pants in public.
Then in 1931, Elsa Schiaparelli, an Italian born designer, began to design culottes for women with no intention to hide the fact that they weren’t skirts. She didn’t care about what the public thought or how women should dress, and went on to design shorter, slimline culottes. Despite her works being frowned upon, she continued to make them.
One day, Schiaparelli even wore her culottes and walked the streets of London. When the British press caught on, they insulted her works. They said that they were “manly, with hints of lesbianism”.
For a short period of time, the French law forbade women to wear pants, with the exceptions of riding a horse or bicycle. And in Paris, women were arrested for wearing culottes in public.
This was also during the third wave of feminism when women were fighting for equality. This resulted in feminists adopting the culottes. Fortunately, it didn’t take long for society to become more receptive, and more women could be seen wearing culottes in public.
Culottes were regarded as unappealing in the past because they looked like blankets wrapped around someone’s waist. But now, designers have created fresh looks and new designs for culottes, making them an alternative to skirts.
How to choose the right pair of culottes
Culottes are very versatile, and there are so many designs to choose from online. There are sequin, corduroy, pleats, prints, denim, frayed, batik, paper bag waist, ruffled waist and more. Here’s a tip: choose culottes with folds or pleats that are soft and flowy. Heavily pleated culottes will make you look heavier than you are. Another tip is to choose a top that has a thinner fabric than your culottes.
Since culottes can be worn by women of all shapes and sizes, let’s take a look at how they can be styled.
For shorter girls, high-waisted culottes are your best bet. Remember to choose the right hemline and get one that stops at your calf. If the culottes are too long, they might look like pyjamas. But if they’re too short, then you’ll look even shorter.
If you want to create the illusion of being taller, getting striped culottes can help to elongate your legs. Alternatively, pair them with heels or boots.
If you’re on the taller end of the scale, with a slender build, then you can probably pull off ankle swinging culottes. A pair of flat, straight-cut culottes can make you look slimmer too. If you have long legs, you can experiment with patterned culottes or buy a pair of a different length.
You can try styling it with camisoles, off-shoulders, or crop tops.
Any pair of shoes can also do the job. When you need to look professional, culottes and heels are the best combinations. For casual outings, sneakers can give you a chill fit. And if you want to tone it down even more, you can slip on a pair of sandals!
Culottes can be very flattering for curvy women too. A tip is to choose pants with lightweight fabric so that the culottes will flow over your curves and not constrict you. You wouldn’t want to get culottes made of ‘heavier’ fabrics such as denim, for they might make you look bulkier. Alternatively, you can pick culottes that look like a skirt.
If you’re out of ideas, you can pay attention to other details. For example, you can match printed blouses with your culottes. This can spice up your outfit.
What kind of bag is suitable to carry when wearing culottes?
The choice of your bag depends on the look you’re going for. As a general rule of thumb, tote bags, small backpacks, and shoulder bags will almost never go wrong when paired with culottes. For example, you can match a pair of cream culottes with a shoulder bag when you’re attending a meeting.
Are culottes the same as gauchos or palazzos?
No and no. There are different types of wide-legged pants, and gauchos and palazzos are just a few of them. Between the two, people often mix up gauchos with culottes the most.
When you place gauchos next to culottes, they look almost identical. The main difference is that gauchos look more like cropped pants – they are pants that end anywhere from below the knee to above the ankle. Gauchos also typically have a lined structure.
You’ll know a pair of palazzo pants when you see one. Its bottom flares are very distinct, and they flare out from the knees and all the way down. These trousers are especially popular during the summer because of its soft and breathable fabric.
Now that you know the differences between gauchos, palazzos, and culottes, here’s our list of 9 culottes that you can add in your shopping cart.
9 culottes to update your wardrobe with
Price: $4.73 – $5.61
Designs available: Full Black, black with white grids, black with white stripes, white with blacks stripes
Size: Free size
- High waisted
- Elastic waist
- Tie waist fastening
This pair of culottes is versatile because you can throw them on for any occasion. You can wear them to work, school, dinner, to any and every event you can think of.
It has an unlined silhouette and gives you structured body shape. The elastic waist is the best part of these culottes. Regardless of your size, the culottes stretch to fit you. On top of that, the hemline is somewhere below your calf – as Singaporeans call it, “not here not there”.
If striped culottes aren’t your cup of tea, you can also choose a plain, black one. Alternatively, you can buy similar ones from Bugis Street, although they sell them at approximately $15 per pair – but prices may vary.
Designs available: Green, yellow
Material: Cotton and rayon
Size: S, M, L, XL, XXL, 3XL, 4XL, 5XL
Other details: Elastic band
This pair of culottes from Zanzea can be worn for any casual occasion. There are 2 different designs to this culottes. If you’re feeling a little bold, you can get the one in green. It’ll give your outfit a retro touch.
These wide-legged culottes allow your legs to breathe, making it perfect for a beach outing or for cycling. With this pair of pants, you don’t have to worry about falling and scraping your knees. Thanks to its elastic waist, the pants can also stretch to cover your bloated tummy, beer belly or a 3-month pregnancy bump.
Printed culottes can give you an entirely different feel and look as well. This tribal design may suit people who are more laid back, but don’t want a dull-looking, single-coloured pair of pants. If this design isn’t up your alley, there are also culottes with floral designs and leaf prints.
Designs available: 5 floral designs to choose from
Material: Cotton and polyester
Size(s): S, M, L, XL
- Tie waist fastening
Made of chiffon, this pair of lightweight pants is very flowy and airy, and can be worn for casual outings or a date night out.
Apart from the distinct designs, these culottes come with a belt. Wearing a belt can elevate the look of the pants. If you don’t fancy the belt provided, you can switch it up with your own belt.
Designs available: Black with cranes
Size: S, M, L
This pair of culottes feels more elegant, and can be worn for casual meetings or festive occasions. You can style it with plain tops so as to not steal away the culottes’ limelight.
Since there are no belt loops or elastic around the waist, it’s good to find a size that fits you perfectly. If the culottes are too big and droop from your waist, it’ll look super ill-fitting. Since culottes are meant to enhance your body shape, it defeats the purpose of wearing them in the first place.
One the other hand, this pair of culottes are guaranteed to receive plenty of praise from your relatives during Chinese New Year.
Designs available: Blue, green
Size: 1 size available
- Side pockets
This jumpsuit is a head-turner, and an apparel you can make use of to elevate your wardrobe choices. It’s playful, yet elegant at the same time – you can wear it to parties, clubs, and your ex-boyfriend’s wedding, just to evoke jealousy in the bride.
The jumpsuit is made of cotton, a material that’s soft and cooling to wear. This makes it comfortable to wear even on a hot day. More importantly, a jumpsuit like this can fit girls of any height.
Culottes have been integrated into this one-piece garment, and adds a hint of classiness to the entire look. If you want to look even classier in this jumpsuit, you can also throw on a leather jacket.
Designs available: Yellow, Pink, Blue, White, Black
Material: Unknown, but it looks really comfortable
Size: Free size
- High waisted
- 2 pockets
- Elastic waist
All girls love a matching set in their wardrobe. And this layered top with matching culottes is a plus for tall girls. Such bright colours also flatter ladies with tanned skin.
These matching sets come in 5 colours: yellow, pink, blue, white, and black. Monochrome colours can never go wrong too, especially if you’re intending to get this for work or for school. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can go ahead and buy the other available colours to mix and match.
The layered top brings the outfit to the next level. While the top looks casual and chic, the bottom looks sleek and sophisticated. As a bonus, it has pockets – something that dress-wearing girls never take for granted.
Designs available: Light blue, dark blue
Material: Tencel denim
Size: S, M, L, XL, XXL
- 2 pockets
- Elastic waist
If denim is your go-to outfit, then this is a must-have in your wardrobe. In fact, it’s a staple clothing for every girl. You can pair this basic, yet super chic pair of denim cropped pants with almost anything.
Going on a date? Pair it with a white cropped top. Having a lazy day? Slip-on an oversized black tee.
Culottes might go wrong if you don’t know how to match them with a complementing attire, but you’ll never go wrong with anything denim.
The hemline is just nice for culottes like these. Since denim is a heavier type of fabric, longer pants will look heavy and baggy, robbing the elegance from the outfit.
Designs available: Black, yellow, turquoise
Size: XS, S, M, L, XL, XL
- Side pockets
- Elastic waistband
If you’re the kind that prioritises on brand and quality when it comes to clothes, you might want to consider this pair of Zara culottes. Though it’s the priciest one on this list, you can think of it as an investment since the brand is known for its quality.
The pleats and polyester material give this pair of pants a flowing texture that really makes it look like a skirt. Plus, its hemline falls just above the ankle, giving off the impression that you’re wearing a midi skirt.
Feel free to style it like how you would with a midi skirt. Pair it with a lighter coloured top for the black culottes, and a darker top if you’re going for the yellow or turquoise pants. For a more flattering look, wear them with a pair of heels.
Designs available: Beige, brown, yellow, olive, navy
Material: Linen, cotton
Size: XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL
- Side pockets
- Front zip with button
Uniqlo is one of those staple brands of outfit that most people have in their wardrobe. Given its quality and affordability, it’s not surprising that everyone seems to have at least a top or a bottom from them.
If you’re looking for a less casual look, consider buying this pair of culottes from Uniqlo. The soft linen and cotton blend used gives it a crisp texture and a more sophisticated feel.
For a work event, simply pair this Uniqlo culottes with a white top and heels. When going out for the weekend, wear it with a striped top and flats.
Given its long history, culottes are also one of the most revolutionary apparels in the world of fashion. They’re very different from other pants – despite looking similar to other wide-legged trousers, such as a pair of gauchos, they give wearers a very different character.
While there may be other designs that we haven’t explored, don’t be afraid to try out different types of culottes!
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