A Revolutionary Moment
From this point on, we see more clearly how social history figures into fashion trends. The eighteenth century, which included the influential years of the Enlightenment, brought clothing changes of various natures. It was the French Revolution, however, that turned men in trousers against men in breeches and exposed the yawning gap between classes. The Revolution’s leaders even promoted a specific form of dress, that of the sans-culotte, for the newly liberated citizen. Trousers were considered workingman’s attire, and firmly associated with the lower orders.
After the first years of the Revolution, the calls for group identity in dress ceased. The mood changed to encourage men to wear what they wanted. The Incroyables, nicknamed the “Invisibles” for the outlandishly high-necked collars that masked their faces, were brought together by mutual political and social outlooks. They vied among themselves as to who could sport the most exaggeratedly cut garments: abbreviated vests, coats with swallowtails, and voluminous trousers. Other social forces helped reinforce the concept of trousers as the pants of choice for men by the early nineteenth century. Most of Europe had been at war for years, and trousers and boots were easier to wear and provided more effective covering. Dressing for warfare had always been a major stimulus in the development of men’s fashion, and it was no mistake that so many military men stood out as fashion leaders.