Jodhpurs – a history

Jodhpurs entered Western fashion culture by way of horseriding. They are trousers which are tightfitting with a seam that diverts from the inside leg and ending in a tightfitting cuff at the ankle. Before the invention of stretch fabric the trousers would be flared at the hip coming to a tight fit at the knees and down to the ankle. Essentially they were a practical type of trouser that allowed the wearer to have movement in the hips and comfort from the knee to ankle when sitting down.

As with many garments, the context in which they have been worn in the past has formed the fashion status they have been given. Like many clothes used for sports activities, the style has been incorporated into fashionable street clothes beyond their practical use. Even early Hollywood directors took to wearing jodhpurs on set. But why?

Many will be aware that jodhpurs have their origin in India as they are named after the town of Jodhpur. Let’s step in the time machine and take a look at the journey from India to modern day Western fashion.

 

The Churidar

This type of traditional trouser has been worn in India for centuries. It is wide around the hip area and gathers in tight folds at the calf and cut on the bias for stretch. They are worn by both men and women with a loose shirt or long tunic on top. This is a type of trouser first found in Asia and suitable for a hot climate  – to allow ventilation around the hip area and to allow flexibility when sitting.

 

 

The influence of polo in the 19th Century

Polo, always played on horseback, has been a popular game for centuries, played throughout ancient Persia and Central Asia by nobility and the military. The Islamic influence in Northern India, during the Mughal Empire period, introduced the natives to a game with which they fell in love.

In 1818 Jodhpur went into subsidiary alliance under British rule. From 1834, there were polo clubs established across Northern India. The rules of polo as we know it now (with use of a stick and a ball) were invented in North India and played and loved by British Army cavalry officers whilst posted to India. They introduced the game to the UK throughout the mid-1800s.

Buy at Art.com
Polo Servants

 

The first modern rules polo match in the UK was in 1871. The 9th Lancers regiment played the 10th Hussars. The first civilian polo club was launched in 1872 in England. Polo was a success in the UK amongst military, students and aristoctratic types and soon became popular in America and Argentina as a glamorous sport. Polo tactics were also seen as useful for training the cavalry back in England, including a young Winston Churchill who loved the game and couldn’t wait to be posted to India in 1896.  Polo was included in the Olympic Games from 1900 until the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Buy at Art.com
Maharaja Pratap Singhji o…
English Photographer

 

Lieutenant-General Maharaja Sir Pratap Singh Sahib Bahadur of Idar (1845 -1922), an officer in the British India Army, helped to make jodhpurs popular in England. He was the son of the Maharaja of Jodhpur and an enthusiastic polo player. Sir Pratap arranged tailoring of a polo riding trouser in India in 1890. This trouser had leather patches on the inside leg for saddle protection. The maharajas of Jodhpur were polo champs and the state gained a reputation as a centre of polo excellence (and remained so until 1949). In 1892, the princely state of Jodhpur produced a very successful polo team. The best polo players in North India made up this super-team.

Sir Pratap visited Queen Victoria in England for her diamond jubilee celebration in 1897. He showcased the trousers on the Jodhpur polo team he brought with him. Pratap was military assistant to The Prince of Wales (later King Edward) who was a keen equestrian and a dedicated follower of fashion. The Prince of Wales was a popular figure in India and may have played a part in making jodhpurs fashionable amongst nobility in England. Pratap’s polo team certainly impressed the fashionable elite at the time.

The very practical jodhpur style was soon incorporated into the riding breeches worn by the English polo teams. These breeches stopped mid calf and were worn with long riding boots and stockings. English tailors in Savile Row then went on to design the new baggy-style breeches which soon became known as jodhpurs.

Soon enough, the Indian design of full length jodhpurs with a protective patch on the inside leg became popular. With the longer leg, wearing long boots was not necessary. The longer jodhpur protected the legs from the saddle and from friction and slipping.

Buy at Art.com
Couple, Both Wearing Jodh…
H. Armstrong Roberts

 

 

20th Century military uniform

The jodhpur trouser became popular for military uniforms in Europe relating to riding a horse (and later a motorcycle). It was used a lot during World War I: a time when a military uniform gained much respect and an air of authority.

Staff of General Sir Athus Sloggett who until quite recently occupied the post of D.G.M.S. with B.E.F. France

 

This air of military authority surrounding the jodhpur even influenced those fragile egos of early Hollywood directors who donned the military style to gain authority and respect (perhaps also fear) whilst sitting down on set. And of course, the jodhpur was used by polo players across the world.

With the ever-increasing popularity of sporting and physical activity, the jodhpur later expanded into other practical wear such as in tennis, skiing, aviation and motor car driving. Almost any pursuit that required sitting would welcome the jodhpur. Any pursuit that involved riding horses would encourage jodhpurs for ease of riding and practicality.

 

Capt. Thomas [polo] (LOC)

 

1920s

By the 1920s, the popularity of exercise and sporting pursuits for women came into full force. Women had experimented with the idea of trousers (including jodhpurs) for practical reasons during the war effort of World War I and were willing to introduce trouser-wearing to every aspect of their modern lives.

By the 1920s women had thrown off the shackles of traditionally wearing dresses to ride a horse or bike. This led to the fashion of jodhpurs being taken up by the modern, active woman. Fashion designer Coco Chanel was influential in ensuring that a jodhpur style could be worn as a fashion item by modern thinking, active women.

Hollywood director William Reed directs his wife Eva Novak in the Australian movie "The Romance of Runnibede", Sydney, 1927 / Sam Hood
Jodhpurs were adapted to suit the needs of riders with the leather patches increasing up the leg to create a reinforced seat and by putting seams on the outside leg only – for greater comfort when riding. Jodhpurs soon became part of the dress code for equestrian competitive sport and anyone serious about riding.

 

1930s and 1940s

Aviators Amy Johnson and Amelia Earhart made jodhpurs an exciting and modern fashion. I’m sure many young women admired their courage and wanted to emulate them. Jodhpurs were also worn as fashion items to add style to practical wear, especially for women taking part in any kind of physical activity. Even dancing…..

Jitterbugging in Negro juke joint, Saturday evening, outside Clarksdale, Mississippi (LOC)

 

 

The popularity of jodhpurs for women continued to World War II when once again utility and practicality in clothing were a part of the war effort. In fact, jodhpurs were part of the uniform for the Women’s Land Army, often in practical corduroy or cotton twill.

 

jodhpurs worn by Women's Land Army 1941

 

1950s – 1970s

Around the world, jodhpurs are increasingly being used for various types of civic uniforms that involve riding either horses or motorcycles (such as in the police force).

Sportswear filters into fashion wear. As with most sportswear, the comfort and practicality of the designs entered fashion along with the image that you are fit, sporty and active. Some designers pushed the equestrian elements of style into their fashions to promote a notion of class, tradition, upper-class pursuits and smart/casual sportiness. A typical example is Ralph Lauren and his Polo brand launched in 1967.

The invention of stretch fabrics such as lycra in the late 1960s and early 1970s allowed for a more streamline version of jodhpurs to appear in horseriding and in fashion. This meant that jodhpurs could fit more snugly around the leg without compromising comfort.

 

1980s – 21st Century

The arrival of leggings in fashion is a natural evolution of the practicality, flexibility and comfort that jodhpurs have brought to fashion, sportswear and utility wear. Throughout these decades you will have noticed some of the features of jodhpurs remain purely for decoration or to add a sporty, classic equestrian feel to fashion. The style has also influenced a style of skinny jeans that we see in the shops today.

So, the next time you see a pair of jodhpur-style leggings on the high street, imagine the evolution of this style inspired by the ancient game of polo and kept alive through practicality and fashion.

 

Sources and recommended reading:

The Evolution of Polo, Horace A. Laffaye (2009)

18 Comments on “Jodhpurs – a history

  1. Thank you! I really enjoyed it! History AND cool Vintage pictures! Thank you for taking the time to research and create this great post!

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to comment, Dee. It means a lot to me.

  2. A pleasant reading and an excellent article about the history of Jodhpurs,i didn’t know such a long history is there behind the jodhpurs.

  3. Thank you! I never knew what this type of pants were called or why they
    were shaped so! I finally decided to find out when I came across a vintage
    photo.

    • Thanks for your comment, Maureen. The history of jodhpurs is fascinating.

  4. Very interesting article. I knew that they originated in India and that they were somehow associated with the game of Polo. I also knew of them being warn by Military Officers in WW I and in the 1940’s and 1950’s by Mounted Police, Motorcycle Police and even Pedal-pushing Police Officers plus Motorcycle AA & RAC Patrolmen. As mentioned, anything to do with horse-riding also saw the Jodhpurs being worn by both contestants and non-contestants! However, your article fills in the gaps as to what they were originally and why plus their evolution to the present tight-fitting ‘trouser/Jodhpur’. Many thanks.

    • Thank you so much, Alan, for your comment. I too was interested to find out more when I thought about the interesting history of this practical trouser.

  5. Found this information of origin very informative & still find jodhpurs to be as comfortable as my p.j.’s. Always so much more to things in life than meet the eye & love knowing the truth about the origin of all things. How else are they to be given accurate credit…

  6. Knew jodhpurs were worn by horseback riders but were still puzzled when we found two nice pair in our Mothers stored items. Didn’t think she was much of a horseback rider but then we read about motorcycle riding. My Dad had a motorcycle while they were dating and in early years of their marriage. This might explain the reason for the fancy pants, so to speak. Thanks for the interesting and informative article; and maybe puzzle solving too.

  7. Hmm, interesting.
    My mother born into a so called *Elite* family though was forced to live a life of abject poverty was in drips and drabs dressed in such wear in order to illustrate to others who were aware of such vibes the energy of her family.
    A TRULY wicked family full of Zionists who could not bare to accept my mother a bi racial child of African bloodline.
    I have many photos of my mother dressed as the *elite* but her life?
    Tragic.

  8. When I speak of the likes of the *elite* I am referring to the likes of the Astors,Sir Abe Bailey, Aga Khan III, Rothschild,Sir Henry Hirst et al.
    I can not say anymore but it is interesting to know this lil bi racial child was essentially thrown away in order to *protect the elite blood line*, yet was dressed in clothing to showcase her bloodline.
    The irony.
    *Walks back out*.

  9. My last post,
    My great grandfather owned racehorses and entered them into the Derby for many who know the Derby,this is the greatest race of all.
    Potent to know that I am of the elite, I always knew, but often *certain* obstacles can rear their heads.
    😉
    Moving on…a great website researching the history of a dress code that was and is every day wear for my family.

  10. Very informative story and as an Indian and from a province of which Jodhpur is a part am very delighted to read the article

  11. Interesting and informative article. I was particularly searching for the reason that jodphers seemed to have such a ‘flap’ of material at the hip. They are not wide, but fitted at the waist, and again below the knee. But the wide material at the hip has stayed. If it is for sitting comfort, I guess it will remain as many of us do love to sit, whether in chairs or on horses. I suppose it’s good that they convey authority, or some designer would have made a storage pocket in the flap!

    • It does have an interesting history, doesn’t it Bonnie? I also think the comfort angle is probably what has kept the shape loose at the hip. Even today’s tight stretch fabrics have limitations so I think for comfort and circulation it is still the best shape for sitting down. Thanks for your comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

V is for Vintage on Facebook

Follow

JBettyB

Follow

Follow on Bloglovin