The History of Jodhpurs and Riding Gear - An Elegant Fetish

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After the fall of the Roman Empire the traditional, loose fitting toga rapidly disappeared. The conquering hordes from the North wore clothes which protected them from more severe weather. Most notable was the fact that the legs were encased separately in long, stocking-like tubes. Short trousers, usually referred to as breeches, covered the hips, buttocks, and genital regions.

  For hundreds of years after these times, breeches and stockings were used in varying proportions to clad men's lower extremities. Sometimes the breeches extended all the way to the knees with resultant shorter stockings. At times, but not often at this period, the breeches would reach the ankle. Frequently, calf or knee-high boots would be worn with the breeches tucked in. Padding might be added to the genital area to emphasize the wearer's "manliness."

  By the 18th century, the most frequently worn attire consisted of close fitting breeches which came to the knee, knee length stockings, and a rather heavy shoe, often adorned with a silver buckle. Various shirts and coats were available, and the powdered wig was essential. The aristocracy and the laboring man both wore pretty much the same attire; the main difference being in the fabrics. Longer breeches, tucked into tall boots, might be worn by horsemen or outdoor workers. This style of dress was in vogue on both sides of the Atlantic. The many portraits of the colonists and Founding Fathers show this style constantly.

   Now, what of the ladies? I have never been able to find any evidence of women from this period wearing any garments that revealed their legs. (Lower limbs, that is!)  Long skirts or various dresses were the rule. Early pioneering women who endured the severe climate and hard labors are always depicted in skirts. Yet, it is difficult for be to believe that under extreme hardships women did not don men's attire and throw a leg over the saddle! Courageous women who rode horses did so on a side saddle while dressed in a flowing skirt.


As the 18th century drew to a close, breeches and stockings rapidly went out of fashion. Men's long trousers began to look more and more as we see them today, two hundred years later. The width of the trousers might vary as fashion dictated, and the bottoms would sometimes be narrow and sometimes flared to be worn over a low boot. During the 19th century a number of diverse elements influenced these changes in dress such as a growing urban population, increased immigration to the New World, the settling of the western United States, and transportation by steamboats, trains, and stagecoaches It became less and less necessary to get "booted and spurred" when preparing to travel.

   However, the day of the horse was far from over. The cavalry was extremely important in military campaigns such as the American Civil War. Soldiers on horseback in both the Union and Confederate forces wore knee high boots with their trousers tucked in, but taking the horse drawn cars from your brownstone residence in midtown New York City did not require you to wear heavy boots. After all, you were going to spend the day in your office!

   Civilian dress for men became more conservative. Gone were the ruffled shirts and elegant fabrics. It is interesting to note that formal attire moved to became the black trousers and coats which still hold fast today.

   Ah yes, the ladies!  Corsets, uplifted busts, bustles (which emphasized the derriere), high necklines, low necklines-these all came and went. But the lower limbs were still covered. It was a rare thing to see a leg. On the frontier, women may have slipped into trousers, but I doubt it. For hundreds of years, there had been a strong taboo concerning women wearing men's clothes. Remember Joan of Arc?

   It has always seemed to me, as a historian of various subjects, that the world began to move faster as it entered the 20th century. It is doubtful if any hundred period in recorded history saw so many developments as occurred during the 1900s. This is certainly true in the evolution of clothing.

   Very early in that period, a creative tailor (I wish I knew who!) hit upon an idea which would provide more comfort to a rider who spent many hours in the saddle. Riding breeches had gradually become very tight. An anecdote from this time speaks of a man who said to his tailor, "If I can get into 'em, I don't want 'em!" There is a beautiful portrait of King Ludwig II wearing skin tight white breeches and elegant, thigh boots. In the portrait, he is standing; I doubt if he would be able to sit, much less straddle a horse!

   As anyone would suspect, the discomfort of tight breeches is felt mainly in the knees which would be pinched unmercifully when bent. The solution by the tailoring master was to add some fullness to the thigh area of the garment. This added fabric would be drawn taut, but not constrictive, when the knees were bent and the boots placed in the stirrups. In this simple design was born the flared breeches so dear to heart of vintage riding apparel enthusiasts.

   From the practical standpoint, these flared breeches were very successful. Riders enjoyed comfort in the saddle hitherto unimagined. The breeches were cut snugly below the knee and slipped into tall riding boots with ease so a graceful line was apparent all the way from the boot sole up the shaft of the boot, across the knee area, along the thigh to the waist of the rider. Ah, how beautiful!

   The flared breeches looked good when off the horse also. The gracefully rounded "peg" set off the slim, tall boots elegantly. Over time, the breeches were frequently enhanced with double fabric on the knees and seat. These patches were sometimes made from soft leather. Zippers had not been invented, so various button closures were devised for the fly front. Most notable was the "drop front" whereby the wearer, when he needed to, could unbutton an entire panel of fabric on the front of the breeches.


There is, however, another element to be considered when one views the rapidity with which the concept of riding breeches with flared sides was accepted.

   The flare, when properly placed with the widest point about opposite the crotch, draws immediate attention to the wearer's genital area. Many men, possibly even most men, feel that the sexual center of the body governs a great many of their motives and acts. If you couple that theory with the power and sense of control and domination that comes from stomping about in a pair of heavy, knee high boots, you may see the reason that designers of military, law enforcement, and other uniforms rapidly incorporated flared breeches and tall boots into their output.

   Many military uniforms in World War I included breeches and boots. Sometimes puttees, usually of leather, would be substituted for boots, and the foot soldier's breeches might have a modified, rather "droopy," flare. But officers, cavalry troops, and aviators had some very snappy uniforms with tall boots and flared breeches. Following the close of the war, you have only to look at the uniforms which began to appear in Germany in the 1930s to see the authoritative look of boots and breeches. The "power" image, as I label it, probably reached its pinnacle in the all black attire of the feared SS troops of the late 1930s and 1940s. The tall, black, highly polished boots, black flared breeches, and black jackets with black leather belts provided an overwhelming aura of authority, power, and fear.

   It was not only in the military that boots and breeches were found. Law enforcement personnel, especially motorcycle police, picked up the image. If you examine catalogs of wearing apparel from the 1930s and 1940s, you will see that breeches and boots were offered to and worn by hunters, linemen, bus drivers, rifle teams, and even service station attendants, as well as to horseback riders.

   Now, once again, what were women wearing? Early in the 20th century, the liberation of females got under way. It was long overdue. Participation in athletic events was probably where women's legs first began to be seen in public. For bicycling they wore a loose, bloomer type garment. My mother-in law, who attended college from 1918 to 1922 told me that they were permitted to wear "riding pants" when on botany field trips. I assume she meant breeches or jodhpurs which I will discuss later. Swimming attire always included long stocking. Modesty and concern for looking "too much like a man" were always in people's minds. That attitude lasted for a long time. Women in pants were looked upon as "fast," and pants or "slacks" were not commonly seen on the streets until well into the 1930s. Even in the 1950s, some schools would permit girls to wear ski pants if they had to walk some distance in the cold, but they were required to change into skirts before attending classes.

   For riding, however, women's styles rather rapidly adopted the male image. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s most women rode astride. (Had they been practicing secretly for years?) For formal fox hunting, some women still rode sidesaddle, but this practice rapidly fell into disuse. Flared breeches with tall boots became the rage, not only in the saddle but also as motorcycle riders, members of shooting teams, campers, and hikers. Those must have been glorious days! I would have been out of control!

   Quite soon after flared breeches and tall boots became de rigueur for riding, a similar fashion developed. The style was first seen in India and, as far as I can determine, was developed and worn by English colonists there. I suspect the style was developed as a more comfortable alternative to be worn in the very hot climate. The pants became known as jodhpurs and were first commonly worn in Jodhpur, a former state in NW India. There is also now a city named Jodhpur in central Rajasthan.

   Jodhpurs (and please note the correct spelling-often misspelled "jodphurs") were cut in a pattern similar to flared breeches except the legs extended to the ankle. The fit below the knee was close, sometimes skintight. Jodhpurs were worn with a low, ankle high boot which became known, appropriately, as a jodhpur boot. The boot had a single strap which encircled the ankle and buckled on the side. Sometimes the jodhpur boot had elastic webbing on the sides, but the strap closure was the usual form. Jodhpurs had a strap, sometimes elastic, which went under the boot at the instep. The strap held the jodhpurs in place and preventive them from riding up.

  My understanding is that the jodhpur style went first to England and from there to Europe and the United States. Probably, jodhpurs were first worn by men, but my research shows that they rapidly became a popular part of women's general attire. They soon were being worn as "fun" or informal garments, often with a low shoe. The fact that one did not need to buy a tall, expensive boot to wear with jodhpurs undoubtedly contributed to their rise in popularity. The jodhpur style was frequently worn by preteen and teen-age girls, and even by toddlers! I have a clothing catalog from 1943 which shows corduroy jodhpurs for children ages 2-3!

   Advertisements for riding apparel at this period (early 1940s) will frequently depict one model wearing flared breeches and tall riding boots, another model wearing jodhpurs with an identical cut to the flare, and a third model wearing long trousers labeled "saddle pants" with all three styles being shown on the same page. The manufactures were, of course, trying to appeal to as many customers as possible, but it is very interesting to see the vast variety of flared breeches that were available for men, boys, women, and girls. There were breeches made of wool, cotton, and corduroy. Double seat and knees were common. There was a variety of leg closures-laced, buttoned, and zippered. The drop front was still occasionally seen, but men's and boys' fly fronts were either buttoned or (after 1940) zippered. Female styles usually had buttoned or zippered closures on the left side, but women's breeches and jodhpurs also occasionally featured a drop front.

   After World War II, breeches and jodhpurs are seen less often in fashion catalogs. Indeed, jodhpurs essentially disappeared from the riding ring, but flared breeches with tall boots were the invariable rule for anyone riding English style. Flared breeches were still favored by many law enforcement officials especially motorcycle squads, but by the late 1950s breeches were less often seen on other uniformed groups. Long trousers were in; breeches were out! Sad turn of events!

In the 1950s, an unusual item appeared in catalogs of equestrian wear.  It was called a Saddle Suit. It consisted of a tailored jacket, slim in the waist, and flared out at the hip. It came down a few inches below the waist, about to mid hip. With it, one worn trousers labeled Kentucky Jodhpurs which differed from the traditional jodhpurs of the time in having no flare or "peg" at the hip and were cut to cut to conform closely to the entire length of the leg. Also, unlike traditional jodhpurs, the Kentucky style flared out at the ankle in a kind of bellbottom that fitted over the jodhpur boot. The Kentucky style was available to both men and women, but I believe it had a rather short life.


Synthetic fabrics had been developing for some years when World War II moved production of these materials to military use. By the late 1940s further research enabled manufacturers to produce sturdy and attractive fabrics which threatened to oust the woolen and cotton industries.

   Of special interest were fabrics which could stretch and then return to their original shape. The fashion world pounced on these new materials which offered both comfort and a sensuous, figure conforming style.

   The first extended use of these stretch fabrics appears to have been in making ski pants. Skiers in the 1950s reveled in the comfort and freedom of these stretch pants. They were much admired by fans of the well shaped, posterior factor of both men and women. They were indeed "sexy."

   As is so often the case, attire which appears first as part of a sports uniform quickly enters the general wardrobe. And so it was with stretch ski pants. Early in the 1960s stretch pants were seen everywhere. One really needed a slim figure to wear them, but they were extremely popular with all sizes. The "twiggy" look drove countless women to emulate the extremely thin, often emaciated models of the period.

   By the end of the 1960s stretch fabrics began to be used in breeches and jodhpurs. Traditionalists at first resisted the new style which eliminated or greatly reduced the flare, but by the early 1970s breeches with a flare were considered very old fashioned. (I own a hybrid pair of black breeches from this period made of a beautiful stretch fabric cut with a full flare. Very rare!) The skintight breeches of today have now been in vogue for over thirty years. It is interesting to note that fashion designers have made at least two attempts to bring back flared breeches and jodhpurs-in the 1960s, when fashion boots returned, and again in the 1980s. Both of these attempts met with little enthusiasm. What! Bring attention to my hips? NO WAY! 


As we come into the 21st century the aficionado of equestrian attire and equipment (boots, breeches, jodhpurs, spurs, whips, leather, etc.) has a number of opportunities to partially satisfy that fetish desire. First, and foremost of all, one can tune into this site (Jodhpur Fetish) and find regularly updated excellent materials. There are several other sites which specialize in riding boots, women in boots, etc. Thanks to the resources of the World Wide Web these sites can be found easily with their connecting links.

   These web sites all have a strong orientation toward the discreet male voyeur. Many of the sites have, in addition to an equestrian bent, a sadomasochistic flavor with a female dominant-male submissive emphasis. The Mistress very frequently wears skintight breeches and tall boots, some with incredibly high heels. The male viewer, secure in his own quarters, can spend hours watching these sites and, through fantasy, achieve considerable sexual satisfaction which may not be available to him any other way.

   Another group of people who greatly enjoy equestrian attire are the so-called "leathermen." Gay men, of the non-feminine, non-lisping, non-fuzzy sweater variety, often have a strong predilection toward leather-boots, jackets, pants, and flared breeches. This masculine garb, brought into prominence by the talented artist-Tom of Finland, can be seen in leather bars worldwide and in unbelievable concentrations at conventions such as International Mr. Leather (IML) and Mid-Atlantic Leather (MAL).

   We cannot deny it-equestrian attire, in addition to its practical aspects which provide security and comfort in the saddle, has a strong, sexual component for many people, but clearly not everyone. Some heterosexual men may be highly aroused by the sight of or actual contact with a woman in boots and breeches. Others care not at all, and indeed object to women wearing what appear to them as masculine clothes. A substantial body of homosexual men wear attire which emphasizes their masculine outlook-boots and leather. Motorcycles frequently go with this image.

   This fetish cannot be easily explained. In fact, some people become irate when questioned about their interests. I have often been told by interviewees, " What difference does it make? Who cares? I just like boots. That's it!"

   However, some components of this fetish can be isolated. (1) It is primarily a male thing. Women may wear boots and breeches, but I believe they do so either to please a male in one way or another or because the attire is either fashionable or correct for a certain activity. In years of study on this matter, I have never found a woman who was actually sexually aroused by riding attire. Fetishism is rare among women. (2) Boots, in addition to providing a sense of security, are a symbol of authority, power, and control. Many men like strong women, and many women like to be in charge. (3) From the male standpoint, inserting the foot and leg into a tall boot can be likened to sexual penetration of the female. (4) Breeches draw attention to the sexual center of the body-the male penile region and the female buttocks and hips. The older style of flared breeches were essentially an aggrandizement of the whole genital area, front and rear. The current style of breeches, skintight fabric and a leather seat, are a delight to see on a well shaped arse! Small wonder they now reign supreme! 



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