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Loosely tailored, plus fours are slacks that fall 4 inches (10 cm) below the knee, and which came to be a common men's sporting garment in the late 1800s. Worn in Europe for centuries, they were named for the length of the material that blouses over the knee. Concurrently, there are also plus twos, plus sixes, and plus eights, defined by the same means, but not nearly as popular.
The trousers have a band that gathers the loose material at the knee, keeping them from being in the way of the wearer. Prior to the height of their popularity, when they became more traditionally known as men's wear, plus fours were more commonly worn by women and young boys, and they were often referred to as knickers. Their bagginess made them quite comfortable active wear due to the fact that they allow for a greater degree of movement. They are a cross between a pair of long shorts and the full-length trouser.
The height of the popularity of the plus fours was reached in the United States in 1924, following a visit by Prince Edward of Wales to America. The Prince was seen and photographed wearing them, and they soon become a fashion trend. The carefree, more baggy style was all the rage and was worn as a fashion statement and not as the sporting attire it was originally created to be.
In addition to their use on the golf course, these banded pants are also worn by horse riders and members of the cavalry. Their loose fit often makes them more comfortable than the traditional and long-favored breeches. Skiers have also been known to choose plus fours over other ski pants as they are held securely in place and do not allow for as much air movement as a loose pant leg does. Baseball players also wear a form of these pants, thought not as baggy at the knee. Whatever their chosen purpose, the common choice of material to make plus fours in is tweed, tartan, or cotton twill.
Always known to make a style statement as he golfed the greens, plus fours were favored and brought back into the spotlight by Professional Golfers' Association (PGA) great Payne Stewart. As a part of a traditional golf ensemble, argyle socks are commonly worn with them, something he did as well. While not seen as often as they once were, plus fours have not lost their iconic style.
@indemnifyme - I actually like the look of plus fours. Plus, I admire how exact their name is. They are knee length, plus four inches. Hence, plus fours.
Anyway, I actually wish these pants would come back in style, at least for recreational and weekend wear. Have you seen some of the styles men (especially young men) are wearing these days? They're just awful! Baggy pants hanging off of their bottoms, jeans that look like they've been mauled by a bear...
And then you have the older men and their too-short shorts! I think I would prefer a man to wear a nice pair of plus fours as an alternative to these other styles!
I think plus fours look a bit ridiculous anywhere but the golf course or the baseball field (or maybe a costume party.) I'm sure I'm not alone in associated plus fours trousers with sports, not style!
I actually saw a gentleman wearing a pair of these pants in public the other day. He was out for a stroll and looked like he'd come straight out of the past...and not in a good way! I will say he looked comfortable, but he also looked totally unfashionable and silly.
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