Are Men Ready For Culottes?

'You look like a clown, mate'

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David Beckham had his sarong, Kanye had his Givenchy leather skirt - which he has since tried to ban images of - and Scots still proudly sport their kilts, but now an original piece of gender-fluid fashion is back to crash the grey area party: culottes. 

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Until the early-19th century, culottes were worn by middle-class men as a sign of status, while peasants were forced to toil in long trousers. The French called them ‘sans-culottes’, because they didn’t have any culottes - the barbarians.

But fashions come and go and culottes drifted into obscurity, a forgotten tombstone in the graveyard of sartorial mishaps, along with innumerable other trends (RIP Von Dutch caps, square-toed shoes and deep V t-shirts).

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That is, until now, because these baggy franken-shorts have been raised from the dead and are forecasted to be one of Autumn/Winter 16’s hottest items for discerning dressers.

With no concern for my wellbeing, ELLE sent me out into the hectic swell of so-called London, to gauge the people’s reaction to this most pressing of questions: 'How do I look in my slate grey culottes?'

Before I hit the streets, the ELLE fashion team try their best to style me, some people in the office say I look ok, I even hear the word ‘cool’ uttered. But I don’t look cool, I look like a Japanese space baby, or an art student, or a 12-year-old from the 90s who has gotten lost on the way to the skatepark, I half expect to find a yo yo and a packet of pogs in my pockets.

But fortune favours the brave, so I solemnly head to the lift, like a sacrificial lamb to the sartorial slaughter, I have accepted my fate.

A girl sits in the waiting room of the reception, she looks trendy, a good place to start. I ask her what she thinks of my big French pantaloons. 

‘I definitely noticed them,’ she says. ‘You’re wearing them with boots and the right top, I think they look good.’

Stunned, but buoyed by this encounter, I head for Soho, wondering whether I’m just out of touch and London really is ready for the culotte.

They’re not…

The comments come in hurtful waves: ‘Have you lost the other half of your trousers?’ ; ‘Is that a sarong gone wrong?’ ; ‘I know it’s fashion, but they’re stupid’ ; ‘Terrible, just terrible'. Young, old, male and female, no one seems to like my culottes.

I stop by a flower stand to ask the lady running it what she thinks.

‘Don’t ask me,’ she says.

‘Go on, please?’ I say.

‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes.’

‘You look like a wally!’

As I stagger back, reeling from the dagger blow of her retro insult, a man in a burgundy Citroen Picasso leans out of his window to pour salt on my gaping style wound: ‘You look absolutely terrible mate!’

If there’s one positive from this experiment, it’s that culottes get people talking; in a city where we seem to be so averse to day-to-day interactions, everyone I speak to has a strong, easily forthcoming opinion.

I’m beginning to quite like them, not aesthetically, not at all, but the warm October air swirling round my ankles is a pleasant contrast from the prison of my jeans.

I head to a hipster - the kind where the staff have non- ironic moustaches and wear beanies inside - coffee and donut shop for more opinions. I can’t help it, I’m a glutton for insults at this point.

‘They look horrible, just horrible’ ; ‘I respect you for wearing them, but no, they look really bad,’ the two edgy staff members say.

The issue, I think, is that they don’t really serve a practical purpose for men. If it’s warm, we wear shorts, if it’s cold, we wear trousers. I just don’t see most men responding to a such a confused make up of fabric.

On my way home, after being stared at in the pub and on the tube, I stop to get one more opinion. A child of about 13 is texting against a lamppost, he looks bewildered when I interrupt him and ask for his opinion on my leg wear.

He pauses for a moment, looking me up and down, carefully considering his words.

‘You look like a clown mate and not a cool one.’

And with that, his stinging critique, he goes back to texting and I, head bowed, disappear into the darkened streets of South London, a culotted leper, banished by an unforgiving public.

It’s hard to argue with him really.

 

Words by Finlay Renwick

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