See vintage gaucho pants & culottes: These cute skirts were actually pants & so practical (1930s-1980s)

Vintage gaucho pants and culottes

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What is the difference between gaucho pants and culottes?

First, it’s worth noting that the terms “gaucho pants” and “culottes” are often used interchangeably, which can lead to confusion about their differences. Both styles of pants are like split skirts, and have a wide, flowing cut — and that can make them look very similar at first glance.

There are some key differences between the two, though. Gaucho pants typically have a high waist and are wide-legged, with a length that falls somewhere between the knee and ankle.

Retro gaucho pants and culottes fashion

They’re often made of lightweight materials like linen or cotton, and are associated with the equestrian culture of Argentina’s Pampas region, where gauchos — what we’d call cowboys — traditionally wore them for comfort and ease of movement. (They’re not too unlike the American cowboy’s chaps, although those are worn over pants.)

Culottes, on the other hand, are typically shorter than gaucho pants, often falling just above or below the knee. They can be high-waisted or sit at the natural waist — but unlike gaucho pants, they are usually tailored to have a more structured A-line silhouette.

Culottes have been in (and out of) fashion since the Victorian era, and were originally worn as a practical alternative to long skirts, allowing women more freedom of movement, especially for sporting activities. (As it turns out, both gauchos and culottes are enjoying a fashion revival at the moment.)

So while gaucho pants and culottes may look similar at first glance, the key differences lie in their length, structure, and historical origins. And while both styles of pants can be comfortable and stylish — as you can see below, they offer slightly different looks and functionality.

Vintage culottes and gaucho pants from the 1930s (1937)

Culottes — buttoned — look like a tailored skirt! Unbuttoned, gives you the freedom of trousers.

Vintage culottes from the 1930s (1937)

Vintage singer/actress Deanna Durbin modeling culottes (1940)

Vintage acress Deanna Durbin modeling culottes (1940)

From campus to kitchen, They’re wearing culottes (1955)

By Margaret Parker Gary, Women’s Day – August 1955

Good campus companions — jerkin and knee-length culottes in an Orlon-and-wool blend, blouse in Acrilan jersey; both washable

The trim tailored-skirt look — new machine-washable blend in men’s-wear flannel weave coordinates with fine cotton-print blouse.

For a busy day at home — culottes and blouse in light and dark tones of one color, crease-resistant, no-iron cotton.

Wear them for sports or everyday chores — make them knee short or dress length.

From campus to kitchen, culottes are the new '50s fashion

Culottes are back in fashion again and for a very good reason. Let’s admit it, girls — far too few of us have the streamlined proportions needed for snug-fitting slacks, even though it took our disapproving men to convince us.

More becoming and just as functional, culottes give you all the freedom of movement you need in workday chores or active sports, besides making a good appearance in public.

We’ve combined our gracefully cut culottes with a good-looking, easy-to-wear blouse and added a smart little belt-buttoned jerkin to complete the costume for streetwear.

Simplicity culottes from 1955

Simplicity culottes from 1955

Culottes swing back into the fashion picture (1960)

By Jo Hughes – The Times (Shreveport, Louisiana) May 27, 1960

Culottes, those wide, swingy pants that look like a skirt when you stand still, have come back with such a bang that you can have them for summer in everything from lingerie to evening gowns.

Vintage culottes styles from 1960

Culottes are cool, they are casual and they are colorful. They fit American life in 1960, far more than when they were introduced back in the ’30s. Since all kinds of pants were then considered pretty daring, culottes were worn only in the country or by unconventional types like Hollywood stars.

Today, after an era of skintight pants, culottes seem positively conservative, and they are being welcomed in a big way by women who have avoided close-fitting pants. Their femininity also appeals to those who still like to look like women.

Culottes on campus (1960)
Culotte dresses are also often called butterfly dresses, and they come in every silhouette from shirtwaists for town, to bareback halter styles for beach and patio. Look for them in solid-color Dacron and cotton, in gingham-type checks and in blazing white sharkskin.

MORE: Bell-bottoms & beyond: Wild pants for women that were high fashion in the 60s and 70s

Other makers are showing these divided skirt dresses in vivid, splashy prints such as one I saw with pink flowers and green leaves on a white ground. Leopard prints in gold and black on white are also new.

And there are dark prints for those early fall days when it’s still warm, but you feel foolish in summer pastels. Dresses usually have a skirt length about two inches below the knee.

Vintage culottes The pants that looked like skirts (1960)

Sportswear culottes, on the other hand, are generally at or a little above the knee. You can have them two ways. They come in one-piece styles, with tops varying from bateau necklines through a tailored blouse look, to a bare sundress.

Or you can get culotte skirts and buy a variety of tops to suit your taste. This kind of sportswear culotte is wonderful for women who don’t take to shorts. You have your pants and your skirt, too!

1960s Culottes for women - Vintage fashion
The evening culotte story is equally versatile. There are bare midriff culottes with tiny peasant blouses and elbow-length ruffled sleeves. There are shirtwaist top culottes in patterned silk shantung, polka dot pure silks, and monotone pastel silk.

Halter culottes for evening often combine two fabrics, such as a linen bodice in solid coral with coral and white chiffon trousers. Popular lilac is used in a chiffon top with lilac and mauve-printed jersey culottes.

All culottes, whether day dress, sports or evening, feature emphasized waistlines, since a well-cinched waist must provide contrast for the fullness of the trousers.

Accessorize your culottes by choosing gay, novelty jewelry rather than conservative “go with everything” pearls. Bubbly necklaces or long strands of colorful beads spark the carefree mood of culottes.

Casual culottes in the sixties

For town culottes, choose medium-heel pumps or one-strap sandals. Soft flats or moccasins go with sportswear culottes, while evening sandals or satin pumps should match the predominating color of the costume.

And if you like the culotte idea well enough, you can even have it in lingerie. If you’re tired of summer dusters for lounging, try a culotte in floor or dress length.

Pajamas are also available in this new silhouette, usually short for hot-weather sleeping.

A culotte suit style (1966)

The cutlottesuit, putting a new kick into skirts. This, in pale beige Shetland with football patches on the shoulders, by Jackie Stuart, in bonded wool.

A culotte suit style (1966)

Spring green & summery floral culottes from 1969

Spring green culottes from 1969

Koffee Kasual Culottes – Classic permanent press culottes (1969)

Casual culottes for women (1969)

Singer Dionne Warwick in colorful fashion gaucho pants (1967)

Singer Dionne Warwick in colorful fashion culottes (1967)

Hostess gaucho pants (aka culottes): Glamorous one-step dressing (1974)

1. Get set for compliments. Stunning wild-flower print mixes tones of red, pink, yellow, purple, accents of green and white on luscious periwinkle blue background. Step-in style with three-quarter front zipper. V-neck-line set-off by ruffles. Self-sash. Nylon tricot. 

2. A soft, flowing silhouette that’s fashion-right, priced right too. Step-in style closes with sparkling rhinestone buttons, 2 concealed snaps at the waist. Jewel-neckline, bracelet length sleeves elasticized at wrists, self-sash. Jersey of 100% nylon tricot.

Retro fashion - Hostess culottes (1974)

Retro 80s patterned gaucho pants style from 1981

Retro 80s gaucho pants style from 1981

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Comments on this story

One Response

  1. I miss these so much that I actually still have a vintage pair. I’m waiting for them & 1920s style long trimmed coats to come back in style.

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