Harem Pants

AKA: Hammer pants, drop-crotch pants, Turkish pants, Bloomers

How to say it: har-em

Traditional Features: 

body template

  • baggy around the hip
  • gathered in at the knee
  • fitted from the knee to the ankle
  • low crotch seam


…of the style: The Harem pant has quite the history. Originally worn by Persian women some 2,000 years ago, the pant was extremely baggy around the hip and crotch area and allowed free movement to perform tasks whilst still hiding the womanly figure and conforming to the dress codes of the time. The harem pant at this time was known as the shalwar, shalvar, salvar and shalvaar.

The origins of the style in Western culture comes from the 1800s and women’s rights advocate Amelia Bloomer. At this time in history Harem pants were known as ‘bloomers’ and were debuted by Amelia, after which they became a sort of uniform for women’s groups like the Suffragettes. Following their introduction into women’s wear, ‘harem pants’ or ‘bloomers’ were marketed as a way to promote an active lifestyle for women without compromising their decency, but the style did not take off and disappeared until the early 1900s.

In 1909 designer Paul Poiret released a collection influenced by Oriental and Persian clothing, and Harem pants were thrust into the realms of high fashion. Women began to wear the pants as they challenged traditional ideas of appropriate female dress, but the style did not last long and once again the Harem pant vanished from the fashion landscape.

This disappearance lasted barely 70 years before the Harem pant burst into mainstream fashion in the late 1980s/early 1990s, aided by rapper MC Hammer and his ‘U Can’t Touch This’ video. Now called the ‘Hammer’ pant, the style was adopted by younger fashion consumers and worn by both men and women.

In 2009 Harem pants made another foray into the fashion world and finally made somewhat of an impact on high fashion. Now more sleek and refined than its very baggy predecessors, the 21st Century Harem created an interesting silhouette without varying too far from the skinny fit that women were so used to. Celebrities and fashionistas alike took to the Harem pant and cemented its place in women’s wear.

A few years along from the afore-mentioned comeback, the Harem pant doesn’t really look much like the original Persian shalwars anymore – these pants are now much slimmer, with hardly any bagginess through the hip area, although the dropped crotch as remained. While the slimmer cut has no doubt made the Harem pant easier to wear, it has perhaps taken away some of the uniqueness of the style.

…of the name: Harem pants are often associated with ancient Turkey with many illustrations from the time showing beautiful women wearing the pant while dancing or performing various tasks in court. The term Harem comes from the Turkish or Arabic word for the women’s living quarters in a house.

The term Bloomers came from Amelia Bloomer who was the first to wear the style in the 1800s.

The term Hammer Pants came from rapper MC Hammer who wore the style in his music videos and brought about the comeback of the pant in the 1980s.

For more info on Harem Pants try Yahoo Voices, lindawomenclothing, wiseGeek, The Evolution of Harem Pants or check out the Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion

Random Facts

  • The Persians were apparently the first to invent the pant, and the word shalwar (in its various versions) literally means ‘pant’.
  • After the Persian ruler Nair-Ne-Din saw the Parisian ballet in 1890, he returned home and ordered that all women should wear short skirts instead of their shalwars (pants).

21st Century Harem Pants

Now generally much slimmer fitting that the original, Harem pants have lost their billowy-ness but not their comfort factor. This comfortable feel combined with the newer, chic silhouette has kept them in the marketplace since the early 2000s, with new choices hitting stores almost every season.

asos 2 eileen fisher

ASOS, Eileen Fisher

CLU Catherine_Malandrino

CLU, Catherine Malandrino


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