What are Tap Pants?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Tap pants are a women's garment resembling shorts, only with slits that run up the leg instead of solid legs. They can be worn alone or with other garments, and can also be used as underwear, depending on how they are manufactured. Many runners and athletes wear them because they allow a full range of movement with some modesty. Other women wear these shorts, also called French knickers, as lingerie items. Some department stores carry them, and almost all lingerie and athletic stores carry variations on the design. It is also possible to sew your own, and there are numerous patterns available at sewing stores and on Internet sites.

Woman posing
Woman posing

The name comes from the adoption of tap pants by tap dancers, who usually wore them to practices. The slit leg design allowed the dancers to move freely while they worked out and explored new routines. Runners and other athletes picked up the design as well. In addition to providing freedom of movement combined with coverage of the pelvic area, they also provide more ventilation than typical shorts do, since they are open along the side.

When marketed for athletic wear, tap pants are often called side cut shorts. They are usually made from cotton and similar breathable fibers, and are designed to be washed in a machine for ease of care. Athletes can wear them alone, or wear underwear underneath, depending on design and personal taste. They are also designed to be stretchy, further enhancing mobility in them, and they can be worn with a variety of upper garments.

They can also be worn as undergarments, usually with full skirts and dresses. The slimmer lines of most 20th century fashion led to a decline in the use of tap pants as undergarments, and their increasing use as lingerie items designed for use in the bedroom. As undergarments, however, these shorts are very loose and comfortable, for women who wear styles which can accommodate them. As lingerie, they are made from a variety of textiles, but tend to be silky and revealing.

Some women use tap pants as leisurewear, pulling a pair on over a swimsuit, for example, to provide modesty when out of the pool. They are also comfortable for lounging around the house, although some fashion forward women have been known to wear them in more formal environments. Such wear usually requires excellent physical condition, since most of the leg is on display.

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


Tap panties are ideal as the companion from camisoles and chemises to long nightgowns as sleep and play wear. A couple can make love wearing them for all forms of sexual relations as the leg openings are wide enough for full and complete access, yet the panties provide modesty and are still underwear. They are the perfect sleep wear and superior to any other style of panty for the purpose.


@Calvin77 - I am a little envious of your sewing skills. it's a great idea and if I could do it I would!

I'm currently looking around on a few online auction sites for vintage tap pants. I know they used to be popular in the past, and this kind of item would be great to wear under regular clothes.

Modern day silk underwear is a bit too 'samey' for my taste. When you make your own or buy and use something older it creates a much nicer and totally unique garment. That's style for you!


I made my own lace tap pants to use as pajamas. I wanted them to match my lace camisole, so I bought a bigger sized camisole exactly like mine and sewed the tap pants out of it. It's my favorite camisole and it doesn't have a matching bottom.

The hardest part was finding a pattern that would work with such a small amount of cloth. I didn't have any room for wide seams. I had to change the pattern a little bit but it worked out great. Now I have a matched set of tap pants and a camisole!


I love the satin tap pants look for lingerie because it reveals a little skin, but it also hides enough to keep things mysterious.

I never have understood why ladies want to wear lingerie that practically leaves them naked. What fun is that? None, I say!

It is my experience that half the fun is getting there, and if there are no obstacles to slow things down and make things interesting, too much of the excitement is lost altogether.

So with cute little tap pants and a chemise, that are a little revealing but not extraordinarily so, you let your partner know what is on your mind; but you also leave a lot to their imagination as well.

Devious, right?


I’m not sure if tap pants are still commonly used as actual gear for tap dancing all that often, but a sort of hybrid of them definitely is. These are actually long pants with the slits up the sides.

Now, the slits don’t go all the way up, but they allow the dancers feet and ankles to have a good deal of flexibility, which is often where you need the most room for movement as a tap dancer.

However, I think I like the idea of tap pants for tap practice simply because they can easily be hidden underneath street clothes for the commute there and back.

Plus, you wouldn’t have to worry about stepping on your pants while dancing, because tap pants are actually shorts! Very cool!

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