What are Culottes?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Culottes are a form of split skirt. They are usually made full or calf length, and consist of a pair of loose, flowing trousers which strongly resemble a skirt until the wearer engages in vigorous physical activity. The shorter version is a skort, a pair of shorts with a flap of fabric in the front that turns them into a more modest skirt. Many active women who believe in wearing modest clothing for religious reasons wear culottes, as they allow a full range of movement without the potential for exposure.

Woman posing
Woman posing

Originally, the word was used to refer to trousers worn by men. Women's fashion appears to have appropriated the word in the 1800s, when women started wearing culottes so that they could ride horses astride instead of sidesaddle. The split skirt configuration was ideal for riding safely while preserving modesty norms. Culottes were worn by many women of modest families well into the 1900s, and were often sewn in fashionable patterns for a variety of tastes and classes.

In the 1960s, culottes became fashionable, and they were known as hostess pajamas. These trousers were a little more slimly cut, so they more strongly resembled pants, and they were often sewn in brightly patterned fabric with matching tops. Usually, culottes were sold in a set with the top, and were made from fabrics like silk or rayon, which were soft, shiny, and flowing.

Some consumers confuse culottes with skorts, which combine a short skirt with shorts. A true pair of culottes could genuinely be mistaken for a skirt, and they are not designed to fall above the knee, as skorts are. They can be made from any material, although because many women wear them for modesty, they are often thick, rather than sheer. Culottes can also come in a wide variety of patterns, and many are pleated or gathered for visual interest. Some beginning sewers undertake them as a sewing project because they are relatively easy to make.

Many conservative Christian women who belong to sects that preach modesty wear culottes, as do some Muslim women. These trousers give women who would otherwise feel restricted to skirts an opportunity to be physically active. The full coverage the offer is almost more modest than a skirt, because culottes are less likely to flip up with intense physical activity or a brisk wind. Their popularity with women as a modesty garment makes them readily available at stores which specialize in modest clothing, and some department stores may also carry a small section of culottes.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@orangey03 – It sounds like you need a culotte slip. I was delighted to discover that these even existed after having worn a pair of thin culottes and struggling with their semi-transparency for months.

They are cut the same way that culottes are. They actually remind me of the petticoats of the past, but you can get them without lace, if you like.

I prefer the kind with no lace, because it would cause lumps that would show through the culottes. I have a silk culotte slip that works just fine, and it is cool up against my skin.


I have a form of culottes that I like wearing to work. They are called gauchos, and they have extremely wide legs that are very skirt-like.

They reach about midway down my calves. They really do look like a skirt, except when I take a big step and you can see that they are split up the middle.

The only problem I have with them is that the material is quite thin. You can see the outline of my underwear through them, so I have to wear them with blouses that are long enough to cover my rear.


My grandmother made my mother some culotte dresses that were so cute. They were sleeveless, and the hem came down to the knees.

To me, they looked like a type of jumpsuit. They were all one piece, and my grandmother also made a sash to tie around the waist of each one.

I have a photo of myself as a baby being held by my mother in a red plaid culotte dress with a white sash. It buttoned up the front.

I vaguely remember wearing a couple of homemade culotte dresses as a toddler. Mostly, I only recall this because of seeing them in photos.


I remember wearing culottes in the early nineties when I was in elementary school. They were a part of an outfit that was sold as a set, and I loved the outfit so much that I wore it for as long as I could fit into it.

The culottes were made of a thin material that flowed in the wind. They were shorts, but the legs were wide enough to flow around. The outfit had a floral pattern on it, and in keeping with the trend of the time, the jacket had shoulder pads. It was a very fashionable getup.

I haven't worn culottes in years, but I do remember when they were all the rage. They will probably come back into fashion someday, as all things normally do.

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