Oversized shorts, baggy Bermudas, and wide leg pants - spacious5b106uuymsqBIEGCCJKBDCJFDDCI, but never silly— are consistently contemporary in almost every setting. They create dimension when paired with a tailored blazer, or can create more dramatic proportions when layered under a big knit or a boxy, oversized coats.  Wide-legged trousers are classically sophisticated— Katharine Hepburn sported more than a few menswear-tailored varieties—, while oversized shorts (skorts), in leather with a comfy sweater as worn by Alexa Chung , come off as casual and street ready; these pieces are incredibly versatile.
Baggy shorts are not a new concept. Culottes, originally a French word, referred to the knee breeches worn by upper class European gentlemen from the Renaissance through the early 19th century.  These extended shorts were tight around the knee, where they were fastened with a button, strap, or buckle.  During the Victorian Era, the mid to late 19th century, long skirts were tailored for horseback riding.  Women could then sit astride a man’s saddle rather than riding sidesaddle.  The term, “culottes,” was then adapted to describe these split riding skirts.  Today, many women use split skirts for sports or to run around town.  They provide more freedom and aid movement, while being feminine
For many of us, these shorts have been wardrobe staples for years. The style has been a mainstay in South East Asia.  Fishermen in Thailand and Vietnam found them practical, as they offered unrestricted movement and breathability.  Lungis in Burma, and a more parachute-like Harem pant in India function similarly to the Thai shorts, and are essentially unisex.  This style of short has become popular among travelers to Nepal and the Middle East; a great option when one wants to dress lighter, but still remain conservative and respectful toward the culture one is visiting.
Leon Bakst, who designed the costumes for the Ballets Russes in the early 1900s first reigned in long shorts and Arabian style pants.  His eccentricity and imagination inspired designers and provoked the Parisian community to take more risks with bright colors and prints.  Yves Saint Laurent  famously drew from the Ballets Russes for his Russian collection, and Erdem channeled Bakst with Russes-inspired flared shirts and harlequin-patterned pants.
Baggy bottoms were fused into Western fashion, and went viral in the 80’s when wide shorts ruled the runways. This season, contemporary designers are once again re-inventing the baggy short. Alexander Wang layered a collared, military jacket with leather detailing over a pair of black Bermuda shorts and black gladiator shoe for a sleek, yet bold look.  Creatures of the Wind paired pink baroque-printed culottes with a dark bombshell-like jacket to create exotic punk.  Celine showed monotone, drop-crotched slacks—slightly slouchy, minimalist chic—, while Chloe mixed mid-length, oversized orange Bermuda shorts with pleated transparent tulle tops for an elegant aesthetic. Suno joined in as well, playfully pairing drawstring seersucker oversized shorts with a feminine, high-necked organza blouse.
This is a style that transits directly from the runway to the streets- easily incorporated into any lifestyle. Going to dinner at Brushstrokes in New York City?  Wear culottes with a Yohji Yamamoto blazer and studded mary janes.  Pair them with a fitted tank and slip on espadrilles for shopping at Dream Collective in LA.  Wear bermudas with a sequin top and stilettos for a night at David Lynch’s Silencio. Going to Belize?  Substitute a cover up with wide legged trousers, strappy sandals, and simple, yet elegant Cartier studs on the beach.  Trade in the caftan for a silk tunic and harem pants for voluminous ease wandering Morocco.  Throw them on and go barefoot to the Yoga session at your retreat in Tulum.  Layer a button down shirt over baggy shorts db111uuymsqBIEGCCJKBDCJFDDCIand smoking slippers for a boy-meets-girl-meets-boy-meets-girl look in London town.
French painter Henri Matisse adopts harem style in Odalisque in Grey Culottes. Between 1869 and 1954, Matisse interpreted Orientalism in his work by portraying a majority of women, wearing the customary Indian long shorts or Persian kaftan (which in a sense would be these wide, easy shorts), lounging in beds.  He captures a sexual energy and confidence in these women that may be frowned upon by their society. The figures in the paintings seem to embrace their bodies, and for this, it is hard to look away. We are drawn to their spirits, as we are to their effortless, contextually subversive draped styling – a look we continue to channel, appropriate, examine, and make ourselves very comfortable in.
~Susan Brickell

June 2013