Culottes. Love them or hate them, culottes are an intriguing and stylish part of women’s wear. They’re also an essential part of the Anderson Club collection. I love them for multiple reasons: they’re fun but practicable, feminine but powerful, versatile but glamorous.
If you’re already a fan of the Anderson Club, you’ll know that our clothes aren’t just about what you’re wearing – they’re a personal statement, and a reflection of who you are and your values. And culottes have a lot to say about you!
Who first wore culottes?
Knee or just below the knee style trousers first appeared in our wardrobes as long ago as the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance period … as an item of upper-class men’s clothing. And they remained so for hundreds of years, even incorporated into military uniforms during the 18th century.
In France, this type of trouser was a particular hallmark of the aristocracy. They fastened under the knee with buttons and a folding front. And they were made from a variety of sumptuous fabrics which included silk, brocade, velvet and satin.
In fact, so much were culottes symbolic of the aristocracy that the poorer classes of the French revolution became known as the “sans culottes” (without culottes) because they wore longer trousers. And as a result, the expression “sans culottes” slipped into popular use, as a contemptuous term for a revolutionary!
The beginnings of a feminist movement
Men continued to wear these shorter style trousers right up to the beginning of the 19th century, when the Duke of Wellington, began to sport long trousers. An early icon, fashionistas followed his lead. Even so, the culotte didn’t disappear and by the second half of the 19th century, culottes often formed part of the servants’ livery in the grander houses and estates.
Meanwhile, women were embracing the style, albeit quietly, as their own. Split skirts started to appear in ladies’ wardrobes so they could ride astride a horse rather than side saddle – something which was considered rather shocking in its day! And this led to them being adopted for gardening, cycling, tennis and other activities.
This allowed women to give the impression of wearing a skirt whilst still achieving an element of practicality. Ruffles and elaborate design disguised, in part, the split nature of the skirt allowing women to retain an aura of respectability.
Rebellious women lead the trend
Zinaida Gippius was a Russian poet, playwright, novelist, editor and religious thinker, who after the Russian revolution in 1917 moved and lived across Europe. Despite the fact that culottes were still inherently male even in the early 20th century, she was perhaps one of the first women to embrace them and openly wear them in public.
They were slow to catch on, and when famous Italian designer Elsa Schiaparelli presented her version of the culotte skirt for outdoor activities and sports, she was derided as an outrage and a lesbian! Likewise, when the famous tennis player of the time, Lili de Álvarez wore culottes at Wimbledon in 1931 (designed by Elsa Schiaparelli) it was to the absolute outrage of many spectators!
Culottes have fallen in and out of fashion throughout the decades since. They have a sort of Marmite reputation (you love them or hate them) and that’s another reason we love them. They are sometimes controversial, they are always slightly rebellious, different, sassy and even outrageous at times. And that pretty much sums up the Anderson Club fans.
So why did the Anderson Club opt for brocade culottes?
Bearing in mind both the male, military and practical history of the culottes, you may or may not be surprised that at the Anderson Club we’ve chosen to design our haute couture culottes in a gorgeous purple and red brocade.
Part of the reason for that is that I like the slight contradiction of ideas: practicality and masculinity, combined with sensuality, vibrance and beauty.
But brocade also has its own story to tell which intrigued me, as a designer.
Originally, it was made from yarns of real gold and silver, and it could take up to 13 years to make some brocades. It was decorated with rich embroidery and even with semi-precious stones making it heavy and uncomfortable.
It emanated originally from China and the Orient where the production process was kept secret. Eventually and inevitably production did spread to Byzantium, Syria, Persia, Turkey, Iran, and later to Italy, Spain and France.
A little bit of me
By the end of the 16th century, Russia began making brocade but it wasn’t until the 18th century that there was mass production in Russia. Despite this slow start, by the middle of the 19th century, “Russian brocade” was one of the best and so it forms an important part of Russian fashion history.
Throughout the centuries, brocade has been used to make outfits for noblemen, rulers and clergymen. Today, despite the fact that brocade is often made by machines, and silver and gold have been replaced with thin metal strands of lurex, clothing sewn from it still remains royally elegant, luxurious and exclusive. And of course, modern production means that brocade is now easy and comfortable to wear.
So that’s why I chose brocade for my culottes. By combing the practical culotte, with a fabric that has more than a mere thread of Russia in its history, both with its brocade and as a result of Zinaida Gippius’ influence, we designed and created an item of women’s wear that showcases an important part of the Anderson Club’s rich cultural heritage. And of course, it looks stunning too!
Culottes for 2018
With 1970s and 80s fashions bang on trend for 2018, so are culottes! The fashion bloggers are getting quite excited about wearing culottes and in the world of celebs, quite frankly you’re no one if you haven’t been seen sporting a pair.
The culotte look for this season is big and bold – so think high waisted, bright colours, flared, with a wide leg. It’s a style that is easy to wear too. Combine your culottes with kitten heels, pumps or even boots, as well as a formal, silk blouse or a simple T-shirt. And the joy of our brocade culottes is that you can wear them with red, purple, black or cream to achieve a casual but super stylish look.
So step out in style this season in a pair of brocade culottes. Salute the inspirational women who pushed fashion limits and conventions and helped bring us this wonderful addition to our wardrobes. And let’s embrace culottes for the freedom and style that they represent.