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.
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.