Capris or Pedal Pushers? Pants Vocabulary from 1971

Image from 1971 Vogue booklet Everything About Sewing Pants and Jumpsuits. Courtesy of Lynn Mally.

Lynn Mally at American Age Fashion wrote about her “find” last week: a 1971 booklet from Vogue patterns, Everything About Sewing Pants and Jumpsuits. Since I had been wondering whether my memories of vocabulary from this era were correct (or possibly just regional) I was delighted by her blog on this very topic.

I asked if I could enlarge some of the images so the labels would be easier to read. Here are the results:

Stovepipe pants and “elephant pants.” 1971.

Lynn and I agree that we wouldn’t call them “elephant pants;” I opt for “palazzo pants” and Lynn offered “just wide legged pants today.”

Straight legs and “gangster” pants. 1971.  I never called them “gangsters.” “Classic” or “forties’ trousers,” maybe.

We agree that the “gangsters” are now “Hepburn style,” with a pleat in front. Lynn quoted advice that “Even the short, curvaceous woman could look good in pants, especially if she chose straight-legged styles to add height.” I am a tall “curvaceous” woman who always searches for straight legs — by which I mean that the circumference at the ankle is not obviously smaller than the circumference at the thigh. (Costumers’ fact: 16″ is the narrowest trouser cuff a man can take off without removing his dress shoes. Does the actor make a fast change? Choose trousers for him with at least a 16″ circumference at the ankle.)

Jeans are the classic Levis worn by working cowboys and generations of young people. They are similar to stovepipe trousers. These “Hipsters” seem also to have flared legs (wider than “Boot” legs.)

I called low-waisted jeans and trousers “hip-huggers;” “hipsters” were people.

Ski pants and a bell-bottomed jumpsuit from 1971.

Those ski pants, held taut by straps under the foot, had been around since the 1950s. Stretch gabardine was becoming available. “Bell-bottom” trousers were originally copied from sailors’ pants. For a few years the U.S. Navy was right in step with women’s street wear. (Old song: “Bell-bottom trousers, coat of navy blue; he’ll go skipping up the rigging like his daddy used to do.”)

Top: Culottes or a “pantskirt;” Bottom: gaucho pants. 1971.

Culottes (aka a pantskirt) usually had pleats, like the ones shown here; when you stood with your legs straight, they appeared to be a pleated skirt, rather than a “divided skirt.” Gaucho pants didn’t have pleats, so it was obvious that they were pants. (They look like the “elephant pants,” shortened, but were not made of soft, flowing fabric. [However: see culotte pattern 5586, far below.]

Pedal pushers stop at mid-calf; Capri pants just bared the ankle area.

In 2019, we are used to seeing skintight “leggings” worn without a covering tunic blouse or dress. These tight, close-fitting Capris probably look attractive if you’re used to our current tight clothes. However, these 70s’ versions did not benefit from stretch fabrics and were usually made of poplin or another non-stretch, non-knit fabric. Mary Tyler Moore looked great in them on the Dick Van Dyke Show in the 1960s, but they were controversial.

Deck pants and knickers, 1971.

If they were cuffed and rolled up, pants (the ones  now called “cropped”) might be described as “deck pants ” or “clamdiggers.” Knickers appeared until the 1980s, although they did not flatter many figures. I only saw them worn by very young women — they were rather “costumey.”

Bermudas stopped at the knee; Jamaicas were shorter.

This was a “Preppie” fashion (“yes, we are collegiate!”) and most people called any thigh-covering shorts “Bermudas.” For perfect 1960s’ Preppie shorts, Indian Madras plaid was the favored fabric — although the real thing ran (“bled”) when washed….

“Boy shorts,” a “skort” (skirt/shorts) and “shortpants.” 1971.

“Boy shorts” were the most modest option. If you bent over while wearing a “skort” or “hotpants,” your butt cheeks showed. I owned a skort in 1971, but quickly realized that I had to wear matching dance briefs when riding a bicycle. (It had looked modest enough standing still, in the dressing room….) I never heard the word “shortpants.” These are “hot pants.” If you made your hot pants by cutting the legs off a pair of jeans and leaving the edge frayed, you had “Daisie Maes” (after the character in the Li’l Abner cartoon strip) or “Daisy Dukes” (after a character on the TV show Dukes of Hazzard.

As a sidelight: when women proved not eager to trade their mini-skirts for midi-skirts, mid-calf skirts that buttoned down the front were sometimes worn open over hot pants as a sort of compromise. Not for the office!

As I said before, fashion nomenclature is variable. A quick flip through patterns produced these:

Simplicity 6450 dated to 1966. “Hip rider bell bottoms, Slim Knee Knockers, Slim Jamaicas.”

McCall’s 5586 from 1977. Right: “culottes.” So I was wrong about culottes and gauchos. Maybe.

Simplicity 8829, dated to 1970. “Misses’ dress and pantdress in two lengths.” I’d say version 4 has straight legs and is not a dress, but a jumpsuit! I would call version 3 a “playsuit.” I owned both (store-bought) in 1970.

Butterick 6888 from 1972. Left, jumpsuit; right, evening dress with front slit.

“Fashion is Spinach.” — Elizabeth Hawes.



Filed under 1960s-1970s, Panties knickers bloomers drawers step-ins, Resources for Costumers, Sportswear, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Women in Trousers

19 responses to “Capris or Pedal Pushers? Pants Vocabulary from 1971

  1. Palo Verde

    I agree that culottes had pleats to them (just finished making a pair in a teal cotton) and that gauchos did not. As for hot pants, I don’t remember hearing that term before the ’70s. Around 1968 to 1970 I recall making and wearing what I thought of as a skort: it had panel in the front but read as shorts in the back. And they were definitely mini-length. Wish I still had my teenage figure!

  2. I had corduroy plus-fours and knitted leg-warmers in 1975 or 76. I was about 23. A one-season fashion!
    And HOW did women manage to go to the loo in that last jumpsuit? You wouldn’t want to be in a hurry.

    • All jumpsuits have this problem — it’s not pleasant to have to undress pretty much completely in a public restroom! (And who knows how dirty the floors may be….) I ended up wearing my Joseph Magnin jumpsuit only in my own house, as “loungewear.” “What a waste of money,” I thought at the time — and still do.

  3. The headline should say “pedal” not “peddle”–it’s a reference to bicycle pedals. I remember my mom using that term, but I got the impression from her that in the 50’s, they would also use it for pants below the calf–called capris here–as well as the ones below the knee. I haven’t been able to double-check this, though.

    • My bad! Of course they are pedal pushers, but I missed that typo in the title. Yipes! I wore pedal pushers — for riding a bicycle, too. The above ankle length prevented them from getting caught by the chain. I fixed the title, thanks to you. Capris (which I also wore) were definitely longer than pedal pushers.

    • In the early 1960si remember that my mom called mid-calf pants “pedal-pushers” instead of Capris. And any long shorts were “Bermudas”, even if technically they were “Jamaicas”.

  4. Pipistrello

    I forgot about those knickerbockers! In the early 80s I was very proud of my first item of Fashion, rather than just having plain old clothes. Khaki green and worn with a bronze coloured belt. Metallics were all the rage! Too tight under the knee for sitting comfortable so I don’t think they lasted more than the season.

  5. Interesting!
    Hipsters were definitely trousers (that sat on one’s hips, rather than coming up to the waist) in my part of the world. I never heard the term applied to people until maybe early this century, and I found it very confusing for quite a while. Hipsters the people don’t wear hipsters the clothing, it seems.

  6. Yes, we called them hiphuggers hipsters were people. Never heard of elephant pants, I mean, really, who would wear something with that name? Only an an elephant who was a bit uptight. Jeans? The one and only 501s. They are still the best, always fit me well and always chic. I used to buy them in the early 60s when they were worn out and donated to charity. No luck like that now. Here in the south of France we need “leggings legislation” prohibiting the sale of any size other than “small” — you would not believe what I see here ……
    bonnie near Carpentras

    • Marilyn H

      Would love to see “leggings legislation” here in Michigan. These are NOT pants! They’re like wearing a coat of paint in public.

      • I, too, am uncomfortable about them. Remembering that, historically, sport-specfic clothes often make their way onto the streets as casual clothing, I saw a woman at the supermarket in the 1980s wearing only the leotard she had worn to the gym for an aerobics class. At the time, I thought “Is this what we will all be wearing in public some day?” Stretch knit leggings look to me to like dance rehearsal clothing. I’m glad 21st century women feel so comfortable with exposing their bodies — but I’m not sure everyone gets the same message.

      • P.S. I love your Queen Victoria gravatar.

  7. I remember knickers were a thing where I lived in Michigan in the fall of 1971. This was when I started high school, and several of the “cool” girls were wearing them. I wanted a pair, and even tried to convert an old pair of pants into knickers, with no success. But by the following spring, I don’t think anyone I went to school was wearing knickers!

  8. Elephant bells were popular in my area around 1973-4. They were made of denim or some other stiff fabric that would hold the shape. We would never have called the example from the booklet elephant pants.

  9. Pingback: monday . . ⛈ ⛈ ⛈ | Curls n Skirls

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