Tag Archives: hose

The truth about pants (dedicated to a disgruntled Toronto Star reader)

4 Oct

People tell me I’ve hit the big time when I receive hate mail.

I write as the men’s entrepreneurial image expert in the  Toronto Star‘s Small Business section, and one day, I got a 4 am  email from an intelligent but angry reader who couldn’t believe that I would waste his time talking about something as unimportant as socks.

He got personal, saying that I was the best journalist this side of Fox news, and expressed an interest in reading future posts he envisioned such as, “Belts vs Suspenders, which one makes you more money?” and “The Truth About Pants”.

I thought the latter would make a fine blog topic, so in honour of  this disgruntled reader, I’m pleased to tell you the truth about pants!

History

Costume is divided into five major types of clothing: draped (a wrapped cloth – e.g. togas), slip-on (over-the-head – e.g. poncho), closed sewn (e.g. tunic, shirt), open sewn costume (long cloth closed, stitched, worn over other garments – e.g. coats, caftan, Russian tulup), and sheath (sewn and tubular, fitted closely to the body – e.g. breeches, skirts).

There is evidence in Bronze Age paintings found in the Spanish Levant that men wore some kind of leather trouser that was adorned with fringe and sometimes garters, and there is mention of  “linen breeches” for all “the sons of Aaron” in Exodus XXVIII, but it wasn’t until people started riding horses that these leg tubes caught on.

Before this, men wore the types of clothing women wore – robes, mantles, and tunics. When horses became the prime mode of transportation, riding with two free legs was preferable, so the garment  was adopted by individual riders and mounted armies who, over time, made them part of military uniforms.

Heavily pleated Japanese hakama

Civilizations in Asia and Europe had some form of pants. In Japan, the Samurai wore a kind of pleated split skirt called the hakama, Turks had harem pants, and the Gauls and Celts wore breeches (brit-chez) and trousers. European breeches morphed into hose or chausses, which looked like hip-waders made of wool that tied to the braies, short drawers tied around the waist.

Chausses tied to braies

Bracae, Latin for breeches took a while to catch on in Rome, though Italy was surrounded with cultures that wore some kind of leg covering. Ancient Roman men generally avoided wearing trousers or pants of any kind, considering them barbaric, and worn by “uncivilized” people who lived outside areas controlled by Rome, like the Gauls who lived in present-day France, or the Celts in the north. But during the Roman conquests of cooler northern Europe, the chilly Roman army adopted the local dress of short, tight leg coverings for warmth and protection, which were eventually brought to Rome.

These breeches they would have worn looked like pajama bottoms, tied to the waist and held to the legs by criss-crossed bands of linen or other material. Feminalia were snugly fitting knee-length pants that covered the length of the thighbone, or femur (hence the name). Augustus Caesar (63 B.C.E. –14 C.E. ), the famous Roman emperor wore feminalia through the winter “to protect his sometimes fragile health”. (Source)

Evolution

Parti-coloured hose in Medieval Spain

In the 14th century, the cut and construction of men’s hose improved, and parti-coloured hose, hose with different coloured legs, were popular in Europe. These hose were made of knitted wool, sometimes lined with linen, and often coloured red, black, or brown – popular colours of the period made so with dyes of iron ore.

During Henry VI’s reign, men’s hose got a little more structured and laced to the doublet which, I assume, gave an increased feeling of security to the wearer. The 15th century saw the inclusion of the infamous codpiece that began as a triangle of fabric laced to the crotch to cover a gentleman’s tackle.

Early codpiece

By the time of Henry VIII, codpieces were the order of the day, padded and exaggerated in size, sometimes used as pouches for coins and such. Codpieces peeked out from the divide of a Tudor gent’s waistcoat skirts, not to be ignored!

Hose separated into two parts in the middle of the 16th century, becoming upper and lower hosen. The lower hose were more like a stocking and the upper hose looked like puffed shorts, made of brocades if the wearer could afford it. This upper piece was known as trunk hose.

16th century trunk hose

From this point in time, the trunk hose grew in length, becoming nether hosen during the Elizabethan reign, then into huge pleated knee-length slops in 1600, and heavily pleated bag breeches later in the century. For the next few hundred years, the lower garments grew longer and slimmer, becoming pantaloons by the 19th century.

Long pants as we know them today appeared during the early 1800s and have kept on since, varying in widths and rise lengths (the distance from waistband to crotch) during different eras. Front openings have evolved from tie-on crotch covers (codpieces) to button front flaps (fall-front) to a modern zippered fly.

Lots of changes, lots of forms. That is the true story of pants, an interesting and complex evolution of leg tubes developed for equine travel.

Further reading: article on pant origins in The Atlantic.

Uniform series: Toronto Fire Services

26 Jul

Adelaide Street Fire Hall – “the show must go on”.

When I was in university, part of my training as a costume designer was studying costume history, including military costume/uniforms. My original plan in life was to be a men’s clothing designer, so naturally I was drawn to the lines, durability, and practicality of military uniforms. Uniforms worn by emergency services like fire and police follow a very logical design for very specific purposes, with safety at top of mind.

Earlier this year, I visited the Adelaide Street Fire Hall, the busiest station in Canada, because I was interested in what pieces  make up the fire fighting uniform, what those pieces are made of, and what their purpose is. I was guided through the fire fighter uniform by Morgan Maschke, a fire fighter who impressed me with his textile knowledge – he seemed to know what materials were in every piece we looked at.

We started off by discussing “station fatigues”, the clothing worn at the fire hall and under any of the safety gear worn on fire calls. Firefighters wear shirts made of  a strong and hard-wearing fabric blend – 65% cotton and 35% polyester, with an embroidered Toronto Fire Services patch on the sleeve, and epaulets on the shoulders (epaulets are ornamental shoulder pieces used in the military for decoration or to display insignia). Navy or white t-shirts are worn under the shirts, emblazoned with a Toronto Fire Services crest.

Station trousers are made of the same poly-cotton blend, but the fabric is a thicker and harder-wearing twill weave for  long-lasting strength. Trousers are a flat front design (i.e. no pleats) and properly fitted to each firefighter. Morgan says “a good fit makes for a safer uniform”.  A webbed nylon belt is worn with the trousers with a plain buckle.

Though Morgan had me going for a minute about firefighters wearing red thongs under their trousers, we got back on track and discussed  under things – undies of the individual’s choice, and socks of an 80% cotton and 20% nylon blend – the addition of nylon strengthens the cotton. It may seem that a sock should be more substantial, given the work these men do, but as I was to find out, there is much more protection to go over this base layer.

Morgan in full firefighting gear.

Bunker pants and coats

When firefighters go out on a call, their protective clothing is already set up, very much like the way backstage quick-changes are pre-set in the theatre – they just have to step into their boots and pull up their pants, then pull on their head gear and jackets on the truck. In emergency situations, time is of the essence and firefighters have their dressing down to a well-timed science.

Once he’s down the pole, the firefighter steps into his steel-toed boots, made of heavy rubber with a nail-proof sole. These boots are insulated with felt and Kevlar, an amazing textile that is extremely strong and heat-resistant (more on Kevlar in a few weeks).

The legs of his fire pants, known as bunker pants, sit around each boot and are pulled up with suspenders. Pants have adjustable waistband buckles, close in the front with Velcro, feature cargo pockets to carry small tools, and have reflective tape stitched on for visibility in fires or at night. Firefighters are often crawling on the floor below the smoke of burning buildings, so their fire pants have thick pads made of 2 – 3 layers of Kevlar at the knees.

Once these are on, he can get on the truck and start driving. Bunker coats, helmets, and other items needed to do their job safely are stored in the cab of the fire truck. Bunker coats and pants are composed a thermal barrier of Kevlar and Nomex (another flame-resistant textile) with a water barrier,  made to measure and available in short, regular, and tall, just like a man’s suit (remember, safety in fit). The Kevlar/Nomex material is woven in a plain basket weave of rough threads with a quilted layer inside.

The sleeves contain a fitted cuff to protect the wrist and the fleshy part of the hand. Presumably, this feature also acts to secure the sleeve to the firefighter. Over these, thick suede gloves with wooly, insulated lining to withstand extreme heat are worn.

Head gear and SCBA

The first piece to go on a firefighter’s head is a rather Medieval-looking hood, made of a flame-resistant and thermally stable fiber called PBI, Polygenzimidarole. The textile is woven in a fine rib that will not burn or melt, staying intact even if it is charred. The hood is designed to cover the head, the entire neck, upper chest, upper back, with a 5″ elasticized hole for the face.

Morgan put his fire helmet on me so I could feel the weight – a firefighter must have a strong neck to hold this 5 lb piece up for long periods of time, and as I discovered, I just don’t have the build for it, but Morgan’s strong, stocky Scottish frame does well to hold up the weight of the whole uniform.

He  explained that after 911, the Toronto Fire Department joined in solidarity with the NYC Fire Department and adopted their helmet style. Each helmet is made of thick leather, completely adjustable for the individual wearer, with “jumbo” ear flaps, and is amazingly hand-made. Instead of a regal bald eagle, Toronto adopted Canada’s national emblem, the beaver, as their bronzed animal of choice affixed to the top of the helmet. A thick leather identification number sits at the front of the helmet, with a pull-down polycarbonate visor attached to the sides. Learn more about the helmets here.

Firefighters sometimes need a supply of oxygen when working in burning buildings, and for this, they wear a SCBA, self-contained breathing apparatus. The SCBA consists of an aluminum tank of compressed oxygen wrapped in Kevlar, containing  half an hour of air for normal breathing. The tank is attached to flame resistant shoulder straps and a waist belt with a seat belt-style buckle to secure it. The face piece is edged with synthetic rubber with and a clear polymer shield, and regulator clamps to both secure and fit it into place. To prevent condensation from breathing, nose and mouth caps fit inside of the face piece. Absolutely every inch of firefighter is covered.

It was a pleasure spending time at the Adelaide Fire Hall and learning about their uniforms. While I was there, I witnessed the brotherhood amongst the fire fighters – they had a pizza party that day, and a large group of them left the hall to visit one of their colleagues at a hospital who had been injured on the job. They live and work as a team; cooking, eating, and cleaning together, relying on each other for safety and efficiency in extremely dangerous conditions. Their highly-engineered uniforms help keep them safe and secure so they can confidently do one of the most dangerous jobs on earth. For more information about protective fire uniforms, see this DuPont page.

Thanks to the Toronto Fire Services South Command and special thanks to my guide, Morgan Maschke, of the Adelaide Street Fire hall. Next post will focus on uniforms of the Toronto Police Services.