Pedal pushers are pants that are as symbolic of the 1950s as were poodle skirts. They are quite similar in style to the Capri pant that became popular in 1949 and were nearly instantly embraced by movie stars like Audrey Hepburn. Unlike the Capri pant, which is a slim fit, or tight fitting style that ends just below the knee, pedal pushers often have a looser fit and end at mid-calf. They frequently lack the characteristic slit on the bottom side seam of the Capri, and might instead feature cuffs.
The original goal of this type of pant was to allow women to ride a bicycle comfortably, without their entangling clothing in the chain or wheels. Generally, the longer and looser the pant, the more likely a person is to snag it in the chains, which could result in ripped pants or, at the very least, grease stains that are hard to remove. Some bicyclists use elastic bands to keep the pant leg away from the chain, but pedal pushers offered a way to avoid this unfashionable look and keep the clothing protected.
Sometimes, the name is used as a synonym for Capri and a variety of other styles of pant that end at the calf or just below the knee. A few other names that are sometimes used for similar items of clothing include clam diggers, toreador pants, motor scooter slacks, and Calypso or pirate pants. Clam diggers are often cuffed pants and are meant to imitate the way people rolled up their pants when searching for clams in ankle deep water.
The terms motor scooter slacks and pedal pushers are essentially the same thing. Capri pants are quite similar to toreador and Calypso or pirate pants. The main difference with Calypso and pirate pants from the Capris is that they are supposed to look a little worn and might feature a shorter waist, below the natural waistline. All styles of Capri are usually short and tended to be skinny fit or tightly fitting to the body, so they typically aren't suited to a great deal of athletic activity.
This style of pant has gone in and out of fashion. They are often simply called Capri pants, even if they have a looser fit. The pants come in a variety of colors, fabrics, and patterns and are still excellent for use in casual rides on a bicycle.