From Culottes To Maillots: A Glossary Of Tricky Fashion Terms

Culottes

What: Cropped, wide-legged pants designed to hang like a skirt.

What's With The Name?: The original culottes were designed for aristocratic Frenchmen and looked quite a bit different from the roomy trousers we've been seeing on the runways lately (and have heralded as a trend worth trying). They were tight breeches that fastened just below the knee, and became (probably) the most politically-charged pants in history during the French Revolution, when the name "sans-culottes" was given to antimonarchists who rejected the stuffy style. While the king was beheaded, the garment lived on elsewhere in Europe and North America, and a swingier, "split-skirt" style was adopted by women in the Victorian Age for the purpose of horseback riding. They had a moment in the '80s, as part of a new take on the skirt suit, but still had their fair share of haters (fashion critic Robin Givhan, for one, called them "the fashion equivalent of processed cheese"—ouch).

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What's the difference between culottes and gauchos? Is "maillot" just a fancy word for a one-piece? Mules are everywhere this season—but where did they get their name? I don't know about you, but these are the kind of things that run through my mind when I'm browsing through the names that designers give their wares.

Luckily, all of these questions have answers—some of which are more fascinating than you might expect! So before you pick out your next trendy summer purchase, click through the slideshow above to get the lowdown on the story behind the style.

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