Parachute pants are an iconic style of pants. They're referred to as "parachute" pants partly because of their baggy cut and partly because they're made of synthetic nylon material like that used to make parachutes. Though mostly recognizable because of use by break dancers and entertainers, the pants also enjoy a fad status associated with the 1980s.
Parachute pants are characterized by their special cut and the fabric with which they are made. Their most recognizable attribute is their bagginess, followed by the ripstop nylon synthetic material from which they're created. The bagginess is centered around the thighs, but the cut tapers down the legs to form a tight gathering around the ankle. In many ways, they appear to be opposite of bell bottoms, which are tight around the thighs and drastically loosen as they reach the ankle area.
Parachute pants found their height in popularity in the 1980s. During this decade, increasing numbers of break dancers and entertainers such as Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer helped to popularize the style. As a result, parachute pants became a fad that is now largely associated with the decade and its popular culture.
Despite their place in the history of fashion, parachute pants also served a legitimately functional purpose. Break dancers chose to wear these pants largely because the material lessened friction between the break dancer's body and the floor, protecting the break dancer against burns that could be suffered after continuous contact with the surface. The cut of the pants also allowed them remain in place on a break dancer's body, regardless of the moves performed. These pants also provided for a durable uniform because the material was sturdy and not easily frayed.
Like many other fashion pieces, parachute pants could be embellished. The pants often were made of brightly colored material to suit the wearer or, in the case of an entertainer, his or her performance. The pants also could be made with printed fabric. Extra zippers, pockets and folds often were added to the pants, though many of these were less than functional and mainly added to the aesthetic value of the pants. Extra folds, however, could prove to be advantageous to dancers, because the folds could move simultaneously with the dancer and add a dramatic flair to a performance.
Parachute pants should not be confused with harem pants. The styles are similar, but there are definite differences between the two. The main difference lies within the cut of the pants. Harem pants typically have a consistent width down the leg but are gathered at the ankle. Parachute pants, on the other hand, are wider at the thigh area and begin gathering below the knee, resulting in a tight fit around the ankle.