Lengths of the Pantses

Patternmaking for Fashion Design

Curiosity over the actual definition (if there is such a thing) of the names for the various pants lengths after the piratas*/capris post led me to do some book-type sleuthing.

Here’s one picture, from Patternmaking for Fashion Design by Helen Joseph-Armstrong. According to it, we are all wrong and “capris” are the length only one inch above the ankle bone (which I would’ve called pedal-pushers or flood pants or clam-diggers, if pressed). Her pedal pushers and “toreador” length I would both have called capris. Apparently Bermudas are quite a bit shorter than I’d thought, only about 3/4 of the way down the thigh. Maybe I’m mixing them up with men’s board shorts. Probably this says something about the imprecision of everyday word usage, regional variation, and just my own failure to pay attention. Of course, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s no actual standardized terminology. I don’t think there’s an International Code of Fashion Nomenclature that will bar your style from sale if it isn’t labeled appropriately.

What do you think? Any other “official” length designations out there I should be aware of? I’m a little torn on issues like this. On the one hand, who the frick cares? On the other hand, I spend most of my professional life dealing with extremely technical terminology, and I really appreciate the precision it allows. If there is an agreed upon standard, I’d like to at least know what it is so that if I screw it up, it’s on purpose.

Ooo, oo, I know what Tyo’s pants are!

Moi, circa 1983. Jeez I loved this outfit. I am pretty sure my mom made it.

They’re knickers!!!!

Ok, I’ll stick with capris. Or piratas.

*the Patrones magazine is in Spanish, from Spain. Given the differences in clothing terminology between England and North America, I’m not going to assume that the terminology Patrones uses is common to Spanish-speakers worldwide, either.



Filed under Sewing

42 responses to “Lengths of the Pantses

  1. Cute picture! Do the ties on the pants match the top?
    I’m not too wrapped up in getting terminology right since, like you said, different locales use different terms anyway. (Bunny hug/hoody, pack sack/back pack)
    Surprised capris are that long though.

  2. sewforward

    A great reference book and a good spider-smashing-tool when required :-)! I always figured what we ‘call’ or ‘name’ our styles are really regional (and generational) rather than definitive, although Helen may possibly disagree.

  3. Oklahoma Mom

    I know that I have a hard time with pants lengths its always nice to see the demonstration of how to do it correctly.

  4. starryfishathome

    Your little kneelength trousers aren’t knickers in the UK. Knickers are ladies undergarments, and are never seen in public. Decades ago(1920’s) they could have been knickerbockers and would have been worn for golf by men ( but were more usually called plus fours). No one wears them now.

    • Oh! I’ve always wondered what plus fours were. They’re referred to several times in Harry Potter. LOL

    • Yes, there seems to be a trend of North Americans using the term for outerwear and Brits reserving it for underwear (same with pants! And even, arguably, vest) ;). When I was (very) small we called them knickers, presumably short for knickerbockers.

  5. L. Weimer

    Yes, they are knickers. My daughter had a sweet Xmas outfit in 1984 or -85 with velvet maroon knickers and jacket. Thanks for the memories.

  6. Aww, you’re so cute there! And now I see how your girls wound up blonde. πŸ™‚ I have nothing to say about pant lengths. Any idea what the pant is called when the legs are too long and they drag under your foot, causing the ragged hems on the back? πŸ˜€ Oh hello high school pants, nice to remember you again (or not).

  7. What a cute picture of you.
    I’ve always thought of capri’s as being below the knee. I don’t really have a set length below the knee but above the knee are shorts to me. I have a book that has a similar picture on pants/shorts lengths and naming, I should see how well they line up.

  8. Thanks for finding that nifty diagram! Now i’m correctly schooled on pant length terminology!

    If I’m not wearing pants that go all the way to my shoes, I prefer a dress or skirt (usually around knee length.) All of the “capris” i like are actually “pedal pushers” according to the chart! I don’t like there to be any question about whether or not i’ve outgrown or shrunk my long pants. Any pant right above the ankle makes me feel that way because I’m on the tall side.

    • I feel the same way about just-above-ankle-length pants! (For the same reason…) Although, now that skinnies are the vogue it’s much easier to find pants long “enough” for some reason—because they bunch up at the ankle (or not, in my case) rather than draping down over the shoe.

  9. My grandmother always referred to those capri-thru-pedal pusher length pants as clam diggers. I think that length-wise they would fall somewhere between the two, although she’s the only one I’ve ever heard call them that.

  10. Amy

    I love this illustration! I always think of capris as being right above the ankle… It’s nice having standard terms so that there can be common understanding, so I don’t mind if they get defined. When I was first learning about gardening and horticulture I got so lost by common names which meant something different in Texas than they did even in Tennessee. I think Latin is cool anyway. πŸ™‚

    • Yeah, common names can be so frustrating! What I call a “gopher” is a Richardson’s ground squirrel, but they are not what people from other areas mean at all when they say gopher. πŸ™‚

  11. Sherry

    We’d call them knickerbockers here too! Well I would anyway, I can’t speak for everyone, but most of our terminology down under is derived from Britain. I made a velvet pair in the 1980’s (blush)!
    I generally think of capris as anything between mid calf and ankle, and toreador pants more as a costume than a fashion term, as it’s not really used here.
    I haven’t heard Jamaica shorts used here either, but that length isn’t exactly common today, I’ve seen mainly 60’s versions. We use the term pedal pushers though – they’re shorter so you can ride your bike without getting the legs stuck in the chain!

    • My impression is that one of the defining characters of knickerbockers/knickers (as opposed to pedal-pushers/”capris” is the gathering at the bottom. Which certainly applies to Tyo’s pair… As you can see from the picture above, I was wearing them in the 80s as well. πŸ˜‰

  12. Love the pic of you! I have the old Vogue Sewing as my reference, and the diagram on trouser lengths is almost identical to you except that they add one right below the knee called “deck pants” and call the toreador length “gaucho”. Very interesting! I’m also surprised to see that capri length is so close to the ankle. I always find differences in terminology interesting!

  13. That photo of you is so hilariously cute! I love the outfit.

  14. Short shorts, tee hee! πŸ™‚ But in all seriousness I only use three terms: Shorts (above the knee), Capri’s (from the knee to just above the ankle) and Trousers (all the way baby – or sometimes I say Pants). Husband calls his trousers “big boy pants”, as in: “Are we going out? Ok, I’ll just put my big boys pants on”. My dad believes that shorts are meant to be short and trousers are meant to be long, anything in-between is a joke he calls Short Longs or Long Shorts… πŸ™‚

    • Yeah, that would be the three terms I use (except pants rather than trousers—being North American, “trousers” sounds really formal and old-fashioned to me).

      I can see where your father’s coming from. It took me a really long time to warm up to capris. Except apparently they’re pedal-pushers. /sigh.

  15. Jamaicas! Let’s bring that one in to common vocabulary. That’s about where I like my normal shorts to hit.

  16. wow i’m pretty stoked and scandalized to find out that shorts in the 1960s were today’s short-shorts or almost hot-pants. i mean, my mom told me stories about her hot-pants before she met dad and i refused to believe they were that tiny!

  17. Toreadors? There’s a length called Toreadors? “Hi, I’m wearing a vampire”.

    My gamer geek is showing.

    • You know what? I HAD MANAGED NOT TO THINK THAT! At all! And then you came along and now all I’m going to be thinking about all day are sulky, artistic vampies in matador costumes. Seriously. /headdesk.

  18. Meg

    Wow – I would NEVER have guessed that capris were so long!

  19. JG

    I was raised in the 80’s and really short shorts were called daisy dukes. Ahhh, the good ol’ days!

  20. And for god’s sake DON’T tell her she’s wearing knickers.

    And here’s to me thinking that shorts were, well, short and longs were ya know. My head hurts :o)

  21. I would have called the Toreador length ‘capris’ too, but I kind of like the idea of feeling like a bull fighter LOL – as for the pedal pushers, I’m pretty sure I’ve heard that one from my mum so it’s not new, though I haven’t thought about it in awhile ^__^

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