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What are Harem Pants?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 05 December 2016
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Harem pants are a loose fitting garment gathered at the ankles. Typically made of cotton, rayon or sheer fabrics, they are often seen in belly dancing and as part of costumes. Harem pants are comfortable and extremely easy to make, and can be great for both lounging around the house or as part of an exotic outfit.

Traditionally, this style of pants is associated with ancient Turkey. In many illustrations of the past, beautiful women are shown wearing similar garments, performing dances or court functions. The term harem comes from a Turkish and Arabic word that referred to the women’s quarters in a house, though modern usage often focuses on the more lascivious elements of this living arrangement. High ranking officials would often have several wives or concubines in the harem, who could be called upon for various services.

In the early decades of the 20th century, Western culture became fascinated with the fashion and exoticism of the Near Eastern courts. Through paintings and stories, the ideas of harem life became romanticized and idealized by a large minority of Western culture. Harem pants became a popular wardrobe item for fashionable and rather bohemian women.

Today, you will most likely see harem pants on a belly dancer. The loose fitting, lightweight garment allows ease of movement while adding flowing lines of fabric. Most versions use a considerable amount of fabric, so that it billows out gracefully over the gathered section at the ankle.

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Most harem pants are meant to be worn either under skirts or alone. Often, professional dancers will wear slightly sheer versions under circle skirts to add a touch of modesty to their outfit. Opaque versions can easily be worn on their own as part of a dance costume or other outfit. If you are making a harem girl costume, the pants are typically paired with a midriff-baring shirt or vest. For boys’ versions, the pants go well with a loose open vest or flowing tunic.

To make your own harem pants, you will need several yards of thin, flexible fabric and elastic. Patterns are easily available in sewing stores and online, and often involve only two pieces of fabric and two major seams. If you can sew in a straight line and cut with some accuracy, these pants should be no problem to make. For more advanced sewers, try adding details, like lace-up side slits or embroidery.

These pants are a great sewing project for novices as the fabric is so forgiving, and they can quite easily be made in an afternoon. Harem pants can form the basis of a variety of costumes, from Aladdin to an exotic dancer. By making a slimmer version out of soft silk or satin, they also make wonderful pajama bottoms or lounging pants.

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