In modern times, there is little distinction between a pair of pants and a pair of trousers. However, this has not always been the case. In most people's minds, they are considered interchangeable items of clothing for men. While both serve the purpose of covering the lower half of the body from the waist down, there are key differences between pants and trousers that distinguish them from one another. In the following article, we will explore these differences in detail.
Trousers and pants are interchangeable terms that describe a garment covering the lower body from waist to ankles, with separate sections for each leg. However, the usage of these words differs between regions. Trousers are commonly used in the UK, while pants are the preferred term in America. It's worth noting that in the UK, pants specifically refer to undergarments. In this article, we will delve into the distinctions between trousers and pants.
The words trousers and pants are considered pluralia tantum, meaning they typically only appear in their plural form- similar to words like scissors and tongs. Therefore, a pair of trousers is the commonly used correct form. However, the singular form may be seen in certain compound words such as trouser-leg, trouser-press, and trouser-bottoms.
As nouns, "pants" refers to a piece of clothing worn from the waist downwards and covering each leg individually, typically reaching the ankles. This term is primarily used in North America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Ireland, Cumbria, Lancashire, Liverpool, and Manchester. On the other hand, "trousers" are an item of clothing that covers the area between the waist and ankles or knees and is split into two parts for each leg. Jeans are a type of pants made from denim or dungaree fabric.
What constitutes ‘Pants’?
In North America, "pants" is the commonly used term for trousers. As mentioned before, "trousers" in American English denotes specifically formal and tailored pants. However, in British English, "pants" is never used to refer to trousers. In England and most other countries where British English is spoken, "pants" refers to undergarments or underwear.
In the United States, undergarments are underwear, underpants, or panties (with panties specifically being for women).
However, in the United Kingdom, pants are worn under trousers. This linguistic difference can lead to uncomfortable and embarrassing situations when talking with someone from a different country.
For instance, complimenting an American on their "nice pants" would be received positively, but saying the same to a British person could cause confusion and awkwardness as you may inadvertently be referring to their undergarments.
Despite this, in countries such as Australia, pants and trousers are often used interchangeably. However, they are not the only terms used to describe garments worn on the lower half of a man's body.
Other terms like slacks, jeans, khakis, chinos, and corduroys are also used to describe different types of pants/trousers.
What constitutes ‘Trousers’?
Trousers, also known as pants, are a type of clothing worn on the lower half of the body. Unlike skirts and dresses, which cover both legs together, trousers consist of separate pieces for each leg.
Traditionally, trousers were primarily worn by men; however, in the late 20th century, they became a popular choice for women's clothing as well. Trousers can be worn at the hips or waist and are typically held up by fastenings, suspenders/braces, or a belt.
In British English, the term trouser is commonly used; however, in American English, the word pant is typically used to describe this type of clothing. In America, trousers may specifically refer to a well-fitting piece of attire that includes a waistband, belt loops, and fly front.
American Terminology vs British Terminology
When it comes to trousers and pants, Americans are not strict about their definitions. The main distinction between American shorts and British pants is that pants are longer, resembling underwear. Americans tend to use the word "pants" for both trousers and underwear or shorts. In Britain, however, underwear is referred to as "pants" and what Americans call "pants" are known as trousers.
In American English, what is known as shorts or underwear are more similar to pants in England. In England, pants refer to men's undergarments while panties are typically worn by women. However, unlike tight and short panties that hug the body of the wearer, pants are looser and longer.
In Victorian England, pants were an intimate garment meant to cover the hips and groin area. In public, men would cover their pants with another article of clothing called trousers.
Trousers are loose-fitting and reach down to just above the feet. Interestingly, Americans often use the term "trouser pants" for this type of apparel.
To sum it up:
In American terminology, a trouser is a form-fitting article of clothing with a waistband, buttonholes, and a zipper at the front. On the other hand, pants refer to an outer garment that covers the lower half of the body from the waist to the ankles, with two separate sections for each leg.
In British English, trousers refer to an outer garment covering the body from the waist to the ankles, with a separate section for each leg. On the other hand, pants are used to describe undergarments. It's also one of the reasons why the British people ridicule Americans.
Pants and trousers come in various styles, including dress pants, jeans, khakis, chinos, leggings, overalls, and sweatpants. They can also be categorized based on their fit, fabric, and other characteristics. However, there is no single classification system that applies to all types.
After nearly 200 years of British rule, Indians began to adopt British clothing styles. The term 'Pantaloons' was coined by the British, but for Indians, it became 'patloon' - a term still used in rural areas today. However, in cities, the word 'patloon' is used interchangeably with 'trousers.' Some argue that pleated pants should be called trousers and non-pleated ones made of non-denim fabric should be called pants.