History of Harem Trousers/Harem Pants

A Brief History of Harem Trousers/Harem Pants

Harem pants or harem trousers are baggy, long pants caught in at the ankle. Early on, the style was also called a ‘harem skirt’, ‘Turkish dress’ as you will notice the trousers do very much resemble a skirt due to baggy look.

The harem style trouser or harem pant has been around a lot longer than you might have thought.  Although the harem trouser has had many come backs through the years these trousers were first seen in the Kingdom of Persia approximately 2,000 years ago, the pants were worn by women among different middle-eastern tribes to represent modesty and innocence. This can be seen through the style and design of the original harem pants, they resembled what we would know as bloomers by being very loose around the hips and legs thus for hiding the feminine body shape.

The harem pants or harem trouser in one of their first incarnations made it onto the western scene in the 1800s.
In February 1851, Elizabeth Smith Miller of Peterboro, New York wore the “Turkish dress” to Seneca Falls, New York, home of Amelia Bloomer and her temperance journal, The Lily
Amelia Bloomer was an American women’s rights and temperance advocate.  The next month Bloomer announced to her readers that she had adopted the dress and, in response to many inquiries, printed a description of her dress and instructions on how to make it. By June many newspapers had dubbed it the “Bloomer dress”.


Even though she did not create the women’s clothing reform style known as bloomers (harem pants), her name became associated with it because of her early and strong advocacy of the garment.  Pants had not been worn by women in public before this time period,they illustrated the gender boundaries they intended to break and were warm by many of the feminine groups including suffragists and Strangite Mormons.  Harem trousers/pants as we know them today look very different to the original form so don’t get any ideas that the women’s movement were wearing bright hippy coloured funky trousers as they were generally light coloured possibly with some fine detail around the ankle and waist band.
The Bloomer was a major symbol of women’s rights movement in the early 1850s but after three years of wearing the dress and fearing that the new dress was drawing attention away from the suffragist cause, many of these women returned to corsets, long skirts, and more conventional forms of dress.

We have mentioned that in the 1800s the harem trouser was first introduced to western society but it wasn’t until 1900s that the style moved on into a more middle eastern style. 

In 1911 the Paris couturier Paul Poiret introduced another incarnation of the harem pants as part of his efforts to reinvent and ‘liberate’ Western female fashion.   The trousers were inspired by Middle East styles, and by Turkish trousers known as şalvar.   The term ‘harem pants’ subsequently became popular in the West as a generic term for baggy trousers caught in at the ankle that suggest the Turkish style, or similar styles. His “Style Sultane” included the jupe-culotte or harem pant, made with full legs tied in at the ankle. Alternative names for the harem skirt/pants included jupe-sultane (sultan skirt), and jupe-pantalon (trouser-skirt). These designs were seen as controversial as Western women typically did not wear trousers at the time as trousers were seen as a male piece of clothing.

Poiret’s explicit exoticism and references to Middle Eastern styles, using the imagery of harems and sultans to establish his Orientalist style, was widely regarded as immoral and inappropriately sexualised. Poiret himself insisted that he designed harem pants for the chic woman to show off “the harmony of her form and all the freedom of her native suppleness.” Adam Geczy suggests that harem pants, as a direct cultural appropriation, represent the point at which Western fashion began seriously challenging traditional cultural claims to their own styles.  Although Poiret is often credited with single-handedly inventing trousers for Western women, the couturier Jeanne Margaine-Lacroix presented wide-legged trousers in 1910, and a fellow couturier, Bourniche, is also credited with designing such styles at the time.