What are Knickerbockers?

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  • Written By: Jessica Reed
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 25 November 2018
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Knickerbockers are a type of men's pants, also known as trousers or breeches, that come down to the knee instead of the ankle and were especially popular in the 20th century. This type of trouser was worn in the summer by boys until they were considered adults. Once this happened, usually around puberty, boys could begin wearing regular trousers that went all the way down to the ankles. This was considered a right of passage into adulthood.

While knickerbockers were not an uncommon form of dress, the term itself came from a Washington Irving book, "A History of New York." A character in the book, Diedrich Knickerbocker, was named after a real-life man named Herman Knickerbocker. The character in the book became associated with a certain, stereotypical person who typically dresses in the knee-length trouser pants of that time. Thus the pants, and the type of person he represented, were known as knickerbockers.

This particular type of pants was known in New York where people who wore this style of pants lived. The pants become a symbol for the area, helped along by "A History of New York." Today the New York Knicks, short for the New York Knickerbockers, use the name with pride to show their state's history. It was first used to refer to Alexander Cartwright's baseball team in 1845, and since then the name has stuck. It was eventually taken on by the New York basketball team.


Today, knickerbockers are referred to as trousers and are especially popular attire for sporting events such as golfing. Golfers wear a special kind of trouser known as plus four trousers. The pants extend four inches (about 10 cm) below the knee and are more comfortable to wear while playing a game of golf. Plus twos, plus sixes, and plus eights all exist but are not as popular. Like the plus fours, each comes down a certain length below the knee as specified by the name.

Anyone who wants a pair can still find knickerbockers on sale at most clothing stores, though now they are referred to as trousers or simply capris. The term knickerbocker, while still common, is not used much in popular culture when talking about today's style of dress. Women may choose to wear this medium length style of pants, but typically the trousers are targeted at men. Women's pants of roughly the same length are usually a female type of capris, a form of knee length blue jean with a smoother, tighter appearance than men's trousers.


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Post 8

I know when most people hear the word, knickerbockers, they think of the clothing you see in many old photos.

While I am familiar with these, the first thing I think of is the Knickerbocker hotel in Chicago.

I once attended a conference that was held at this luxurious hotel, and don't know if I remember it because of the name or because of how nice it was.

It would be interesting to know how it got it's name, as maybe there is some tie to the clothing in some way.

Post 7

My husband wears knickerbockers all the time in the summer, but he just refers to them as “shorts.” I've noticed that most men don't wear really short shorts. Most of them wear the kind that come down at least to the knee.

He has a variety of knickerbockers. He has several plaid pairs in different colors. He also has swim trunks the same length.

He works in construction, and to keep cool in the summer, he will wear cargo knickerbockers in a light color. He has to wear big boots for protection, and they make him hot, so wearing short pants helps him cool off a bit.

Post 6

I have seen old family photos of my ancestors in knickerbockers. These pants sure were a lot baggier than the short trousers of today. They appeared to be cinched somehow around the hem, causing them to puff up.

They remind me a lot of the pantalones worn by women. These were cinched capri pants either worn under dresses or around the house as loungewear. My grandmother still has a pair that she used to wear as a child, and they look like they were designed by the same person who made the knickerbockers in the family photo.

Post 5

@bfree – I can see how knickerbockers could free a man up to concentrate on his golf game. For one thing, they don't have to worry about tripping over their long pant legs. They could not possibly step on the legs of their knickerbockers and fall over.

For the early morning golfer, knickerbockers are ideal, because he can't get dew on them. Wet pant legs can definitely be a distraction, because they make you cold and uncomfortable.

I have never played golf, but I do have a job that keeps me outdoors a lot. I wear knickerbockers even though my coworkers wear jeans, because I feel much more free to move about in them than in long trousers.

Post 4

@ladyjane – That is so funny! Women's cargo capris are usually come in a pretty relaxed fit, so they can resemble men's capris more closely. Also, all those pockets on the sides make them look like something a man would wear.

I like the capris that fit more loosely. They may look slightly more masculine, but I only wear them for casual occasions, so I don't care.

I basically think of them like blue jeans. There would be no shame in wearing a pair that looked just like those a man would wear, because some jeans are not meant to be feminine.

I imagine that your embarrassment was more for the young man than for yourself. Men have much more issues about being seen as feminine than females have at being deemed masculine.

Post 3

The popularity of the knickerbockers, or knickers for short, was at its peek during the roaring twenties. It's believed that they were a trend setter that was started from high society teens back in those days.

The kids were often seen wearing them with a clean and crisp white collared shirt and tie under a printed cable knit sweater.

The trend among younger adults slowly died out around nineteen twenty four when Oxford University banned the knickers from campus. Apparently this attire was too casual for their upscale reputation.

I wonder if today they've deemed t-shirts, sweat pants and tennis shoes inappropriate attire.

Post 2

As my little daughter and I were leaving the grocery store the other day, I couldn't help but to notice a young man coming in wearing a pair of short trousers like the knickerbockers.

The funny thing is after we crossed paths my daughter yelled out, "Look Mommy, he's wearing the same pants as you!" I had never been so embarrassed in all my life. I just kept walking face forward. I didn't dare turn around.

What I was wearing was a pair of khaki cargo capri's that I actually did purchase from the womens department. I don't know where he got his from, but they were identical to mine.

Post 1

Knickerbockers have been a family tradition for the men in my family for as long as I can remember. My father doesn't wear them, but my great grandfather and two great uncles wore them quite often. My grandfather still wears them every time he goes out to play golf.

My two younger brothers have become more interested in the sport as well over the years and now they've decided that golf knickerbockers are the only way to go. They have this belief that somehow the short trousers have improved their game.

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