Culottes are a feminist item. Their progressive status is somewhat ironic, given the history of male culottes – posh French legwear which was so upper class the revolutionaries who stormed the Bastille were known as sans culottes (the term was a badge of honour, but had originally been a slur coined by the aristos the sans culottes would go on to topple).
Women’s culottes first appeared when Victorian ladies got active. Initially known as “split” or “divided skirts”, their two-legged nature was concealed by ruffles or panels, but gave women the freedom to ride bikes and horses properly. Later, culottes became a key part of the iconic uniform of the Guides and were sported by fashion visionary Elsa Schiaparelli, an early adopter of the kind of culottes you’ll find on the high street this season: ostentatiously and unapologetically biped. In 1931 her “divided-skirt” unified the British press: they hated it. Culottes as we know them were considered manly, with hints of lesbianism.
Everything about the paragraph above makes me want to love culottes. It makes me want to herald the fact that they are one of this summer’s key pieces with a lusty, manly-with-hints-of-lesbianism cheer. I should be thanking Armani, Alexander Wang, Mulberry and Proenza Schouler, all of whom featured culottes in their spring-summer shows. And yet… as so often in life, the things I should love aren’t necessarily the things I do. The problem is, it’s more difficult than you might think to find a pair that doesn’t make the wearer look like (a) the possessor of a chasmal camel-toe or (b) a doll that a child has dressed in another toy’s trousers.
However, I am by nature a joiner-in (I would have made a great Guide – except for the uniform, obviously) and the fashion world is absolutely insistent that culottes are a good idea. I want to believe that it is right, like it was about pink, and shoe-boots. As such I have done the research and compiled the checklist below for looking good in culottes. It helped me find my perfect pair. Will you?
■ Wear heels. Current fashion editorials are styling culottes with chunky flats. This is because many fashion people have unresolved anger issues, which they sometimes take out on the models.
■ Soften up: there are a variety of cuts on offer, from heavy satin at Givenchy to wide-legged leather at Joseph. In the real world, softer shapes are easiest to wear.
■ If in doubt, wear black. Obviously.
■ If you do attempt pattern: go hard or go home. This is not the season for wimpy prints.
■ The silhouette mid-calf culottes create can make choosing accessories tricky. A simple, generously sized box clutch will balance them out best.
■ Balance in the rest of your outfit is key, too. The look du jour is bold and on the minimal side, so choose items with a similar feel. Ditsy, girly pieces with a lot of detail won’t cut the mustard.
Follow Lauren on Twitter @LaurenLaverne