Sailor Pants

AKA: drop-front trousers, drop-front flares

How to say it: as it looks

Traditional Features: 

body template

  • slim fit through the upper leg
  • flared from the knee to the hem
  • drop-front closing
  • 13 buttons
  • full length


…of the style: Given the name of this pant, it is no surprise that the style originates from the Naval ships of the past. If you have read the Flares post, you will know that sailors in the early US Navy are responsible for the flared style of pant that took over mainstream fashion in the 1970s, so I guess you could say that the sailor pants are the original trend setters.

The US Navy introduced their official uniform in 1817; the uniform consisted of flared pants, a top and a vest in white duck fabric for summer and navy wool for winter (with a jacket). The pants started out being held up by drawstring, but this was disbanded by the sailors in 1864 and replaced with the now iconic drop-flap front with 7 buttons across the top. The flap was apparently made bigger to allow for more ventilation in tropical climates and so 2 buttons were added on each side in 1897, and then 2 more in 1907 to make a total of 13 buttons which is now the norm.

One theory behind the spread of the sailor pant to mainstream fashion concerns a 4 year-old Albert Edward, Prince of Wales. The young prince was apparently given a miniature version of the uniform worn by the sailors on the Royal Yacht in 1846. He wore this outfit on a cruise in the Channel Islands that year and it was a hit! By the 1870s the ‘sailor suit’, with its buttoned pants, was a popular children’s outfit all over the world.

Another theory is that after WWII, clothing manufacturers picked up on the patriotic feelings of the US nation and adapted the Naval Bell-bottoms for women’s fashion, allowing them to be comfortable, chic and patriotic all at the same time.

Regardless of how the sailor pants made the leap to popular fashion, there is no doubt that they did as the style has regularly popped into high fashion over the years, depending on the current trends and designer inspirations. Given 21st century fashion’s current love of the skinny silhouette, modern sailors pants have mostly lost the original flared leg, but the iconic buttoned front remains.

…of the name: This isn’t documented anywhere, but I assume they are called sailor pants because they were originally worn by sailors.

For more info on Sailor Pants try Wikipedia, eHow, or check out the Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion

Random Facts

  • the sailor suit is very popular in Japan, particularly in girl’s schools and is known as sailor fuku by the Japanese
  • the story of the 13 buttons on the original sailors pants representing the 13 original colonies is fake. The number of buttons has changed over the years and is purely a result of practicality and style choices

21st Century Sailor Pants

Modern sailor pants aren’t always flared like the originals, but are easily identified by the buttons on the front.

Derek Lam ralph lauren blue label

Derek Lam, Ralph Lauren Blue Label

Versace Ralph Lauren

Versace, Ralph Lauren


0 thoughts on “Sailor Pants

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