3England Takes Scotland's Kilts, Can Never Take Their Freedom
So, by the mid-1700s you have a clear pattern: pants are regarded as a sign that your people are modern and civilized. From Henry VIII establishing them as a symbol of power and dominance, to Peter the Great seeing them as a symbol of modernity, the pants revolution was sweeping the world.
Which brings us to one of the last hold-outs after the Russians were pantsified -- these guys:
The Scottish Highlanders.
As ridiculous as man-dresses may look to us today, back in 18th century, Scotland kilts were seen as an unmistakable sign of badassery and rebellion. The Jacobite Rebels fighting to put a Catholic monarch back on the throne even adopted kilts as an informal military uniform. In 1745, these ventilated-crotch warriors kicked ass all the way into England before they were forced to retreat. Needless to say, the whole thing left King George II feeling a little worried. And so, the following year King George decided that the best way to deal with the Scottish rebels was to take away their kilts. And replace them with pants.
"This last part is very important." - King George II
The punishments for disobeying the Dress Act were severe. If a man was caught wearing anything resembling a dress, he was sent prison for six months. Do it again, and they were shipped off to work on a plantation for seven years. For wearing a kilt.
The only ones exempt from the clothing restrictions were Scottish army officials, who were thus seen even more manly because of it.
"Good Lord! His penis is shaped like a sword!"
By the time the Dress Act was repealed in 1782, the damage was already done. Apparently, men in Scotland had gotten used to the extra support of a good pair of trousers, because even though kilts were no longer forbidden, they continued wearing pants. Maybe they realized that too much freedom can be a bad thing too (especially regarding one's balls), or maybe it was the fact that suddenly all the nobles were trying to bring the kilt back, making it profoundly uncool for regular people. Whatever the reason, traditional Highland garb has gone the way of the codpiece.
Not that it didn't put up a valiant fight.
The real impact of the Kilt Proscription was its influence on the way that leaders have come to view certain styles of dress as a symbol of rebellion. So, fast forward to the late 1700s, when monarchies were falling and democracy was blossoming. Sure enough, you find pants were right at the heart of it.
2The French Revolution Revolutionizes Your Pants
At no time in history did pants embody the struggle for power more than during the French Revolution. Basically, the French Revolution is the main reason your pants go down to your feet.
If you've had to study the French Revolution, you know that it was actually more like several revolutions rolled into one, with leaders coming and going so fast that it was hard to keep track of all the heads rolling. But throughout the Revolution, it was the Sans-culottes who did most of the dirty work. The Sans-culottes were a group of working class militants who came to symbolize the revolutionary spirit in France ... and their name literally translates to "without breeches."
As in "that guy on the floor is a huge sans culottes."
This does not mean they fought in the nude. The name was actually a roundabout, somewhat misleading way of saying that the revolutionaries wore long pants, as opposed to the knee-length ones worn by the Royalists.
"Unhand me, you full-panted beast!"
Soon, the Sans-culottes became a symbol of freedom and patriotism -- as did their trousers. After the Revolution, long pants were worn by men of all social strata as a sign of compliance with the new government. The art world started reflecting their popularity, painting the Sans-culottes as ordinary men willing to risk their lives for liberty.
Albeit in a casual, indifferent way.
The artwork depicting heroic soldiers in long pants influenced the kinds of idealized political posters and advertisements we see today. The image of the Sans-culottes has become so ingrained in the modern consciousness that trousers that go down to your shoes are still the only acceptable way for men to wear them. The Sans-culottes effectively erased the manliness of the knee-length breeches (baseball players notwithstanding).
Sans-Culottes established fashion (and more specifically, pants) as a legitimate form of patriotism. So the next time you see a guy wearing a pair of American flag pants, let him know that he has the French to thank for them.
We're sure he'll be thrilled to hear it.