Breeches

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Breeches as worn in America in the late eighteenth century: Elijah Boardman by Ralph Earl, 1789.

Breeches (/ˈbrɪɨz/ BRICH-əz) are an item of clothing covering the body from the waist down, with separate coverings for each leg, usually stopping just below the knee, though in some cases reaching to the ankles. The breeches were normally closed and fastened about the leg, along its open seams at varied lengths, and to the knee, by either buttons or by a draw-string, or by one or more straps and buckle or brooches. Formerly a standard item of Western men's clothing, they had fallen out of use by the early 19th century in favor of pantaloons and then trousers. Modern athletic garments used for English riding and fencing, although called breeches or britches, differ from breeches in ways discussed in this article.

Etymology[edit]

Breeches is a double plural known since c. 1205, from Old English brēc, the plural of brōc "garment for the legs and trunk", from the Proto-Germanic word *brōk-, plural *brōkiz, whence also the Old Norse word brók, which shows up in the epithet of the Viking king Ragnar Loðbrók, Ragnar "Hairy-breeches". The Proto-Germanic word also gave rise, via a Celtic language, to the Latin word brāca or bracca; the Romans, who did not generally wear pants, referred to Germanic tribes as brācātī or braccātī, "wearers of breeches" (or rather, of fabric wrapped around the legs.)

Like other words for similar garments (e.g., pants, knickers, and shorts) the word breeches has been applied to both outer garments and underwear. Breeches uses a plural form to reflect it has two legs; the word has no singular form (it is a plurale tantum). This construction is common in English and Italian, but is no longer common in some other languages in which it was once common; e.g., the parallel modern Dutch broek.

At first breeches indicated a cloth worn as underwear by both men and women.

In the latter sixteenth century, breeches began to replace hose (while the German Hosen, also a plural, ousted Bruch) as the general English term for men's lower outer garments, a usage that remained standard until knee-length breeches were replaced for everyday wear by long pantaloons or trousers.

Until around the end of the nineteenth century (but later in some places), small boys wore special forms of dresses until they were "breeched", or given the adult male styles of clothes, at about the age of six to eight (the age fell slowly to perhaps three). Their clothes were not usually confusable with those of little girls, as the head-covering and hair, chest and collar, and other features were differentiated from female styles.

During the French Revolution breeches (culottes in French) were seen as a symbol of the nobility. Lower-class revolutionaries became known as sansculottes ("without breeches").

Britches[edit]

The spelling britches is a spelling variant, not a corruption, dating from the 17th century. Presently, britches reflects a common pronunciation often used in casual speech to mean trousers or pants in many English speaking parts of the world. Breeks is a Scots or northern English spelling and pronunciation.

Breech[edit]

The singular form of the word has survived in the metaphorical sense of the part of the body covered by breeches, (i.e., posterior, buttocks); paradoxically, the alliterating expression "bare breech" thus means without any inner or outer breeches.[1]

This also led to the following:

Types of breeches[edit]

A pair of buckles for dress breeches. The T-hook of the buckle is inserted into a buttonhole located on the strap at the bottoms of the leg of the breeches. The end of the strap is slipped through, the prongs lowered and then the end slipped through the otherside of the buckle.
Greek men wearing traditional breeches (vrakes) on the island of Ios, Greece.

The terms breeches or knee-breeches specifically designate the knee-length garments worn by men from the later sixteenth century to the early nineteenth century. After that, they survived in England only in very formal wear, such as the livery worn by some servants into the early twentieth century, and the court dress worn by others, such as Queen's Counsel, down to the present day on formal occasions.

Riding breeches[edit]

Riding breeches are specifically designed for equestrian activities. Traditionally, they were tight in the legs, stopping about halfway down the calf, with buckles or laces in the calf section, and had a pronounced flare through the thighs that allowed freedom of movement for the rider. However, with the advent of modern stretch materials such as spandex, modern breeches have no flare and fit skin-tight. Zippers and velcro fastenings have replaced laces and buckles at the calves as well. The flared style is seen at times, and is available to cavalry and other historic reenactors.

Melbourne show competitor in jodhpurs.

There are four main types of riding breeches:

Knee-patch breeches
Breeches that stop mid-calf, designed to be worn with tall boots, which come up to the knee, or with half chaps and short paddock boots. They have grippy material, usually leather or a "grippy" synthetic, only on the inside of the knee area. These are the only type of breeches worn by hunt seat riders. Show jumpers, eventers, show hunters, as well as some endurance riders, and pleasure riders also often use the breeches.[3]
Full seat breeches
Breeches with grippy material from the knee, up the inner thigh, and across the buttocks. These breeches are primarily seen in dressage competition, where the "sticky" seat helps riders stay quiet and deep in the saddle as they sit the gaits of their horses. However, they are also worn by eventers and other riders. They are designed to be worn with tall boots or half chaps.[3]
Jockeys' breeches
Also known as silks, jockeys' breeches are made from a white lightweight fabric, usually nylon and typically have elasticised lower legs. Some racing authorities have regulations that require a jockey's name to be inscribed along the thigh of the breeches.
Jodhpur breeches
These breeches, which are also called jodhpurs, are a type of riding pants with legs extending to the ankles, where they end in a small cuff that fits over the top of a low riding boot. They are commonly placed in a separate category from other types of breeches due to their additional length. They are most often worn by children. However, they are worn by adults in the show ring in the United Kingdom and Australia, and in the United States are seen on adults during riding lessons and for casual riding. These riding pants have elastic straps or "stirrups" that run under the rider's boots, and are usually worn with garters, to prevent them from riding up. They are meant to be worn with jodhpur boots, also known as "paddock boots", which come up just above the ankles. The advantage of jodhpurs is that expensive high riding boots are not required to protect the calf of the leg from rubbing against the horse's flank or the stirrup leathers.[3]
Kentucky jodhpurs
Kentucky jodphurs are full-length riding pants used exclusively in saddle seat style riding. Like hunt seat jodhpurs, they are close-fitting from waist to ankle, but differ in that they are much longer, ending with a flared bell bottom that fits over the jodhpur boot, usually extending longer than the heel of the boot in back, and covering the arch of the foot (but not the toe) in front. The overall look gives the impression of a rider with a long leg, a desired equitation standard. Like the hunt seat jodhpur, they have elastic straps that run under the boot to help hold the pant leg in place.[3]

Color is important in selecting breeches for competition. Sanctioning organizations and tradition both dictate that show clothing is to be quiet, classic and conservative in design. White is common in dressage, and is also seen in show jumping. Beige is seen in most hunt seat-style equestrian disciplines, though light grays, "canary" (a dull yellow), rust, tan, and an olive-greenish colour are periodically popular with hunt seat competitors. Eventers wear classic colours for the dressage and stadium phase, but less classic colours may be seen on the cross-country course (especially at the lower levels) to match the "stable colours" of the rider. Saddle seat riders, whose riding clothing styles derived from men's business suits, wear Kentucky jodhpurs in dark colors, usually black, navy blue, or a shade that matches the riding coat.[3]

Breeches may be front or side zip. Some competitors believe the side-zip to give a cleaner appearance and to be more flattering. Styles are also developing to parallel trends in street clothing, including low-rise breeches and brightly colored and patterned breeches & jodhpurs that are aimed primarily at children.

Riding breeches were formerly made of thick cavalty-twill and had flared thighs (balloon legs), until the invention and use of multi-stretch fabrics like Nylon and Spandex became widespread for riding in the 1960s. The balloon legs were there to accommodate the riders knees as they sat in the saddle, but fabrics that stretched in all four directions made such excess material unnecessary and the form-fitting and much thinner modern breeches and jodhpurs became normal.

Fencing breeches[edit]

Fencing breeches an item of clothing used in the sport of fencing. This is so the fencers can stretch their legs more than they usually can wearing just normal jogging trousers or tracksuit bottoms. This is also used as a protective clothing for the legs.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ MedicineNet.com
  2. ^ "breech". Memidex Dictionary/Thesaurus. Retrieved 2011-06-03. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Price, Steven D. (ed.) The Whole Horse Catalog: Revised and Updated New York:Fireside 1998 ISBN 0-684-83995-4 p. 211–15

Sources and references[edit]