Hose and Breeches

Men in the sixteenth century had a number of choices about what to wear on their lower body, almost all involving some combination of breeches, or baggy pants, and hose. The basic combination of hose for the lower legs and breeches for the waist and upper legs had been in use since about 1200.

The simplest part of the hose and breeches combination was the hose, a precursor to knit stockings. Hose were made from a loosely woven fabric and they were cut on the bias, or diagonally, which allowed them to fit the legs snugly. It was very fashionable to show off the shape of the legs, and upper-class men sought out tailors skilled in making tight-fitting hose. Late in the century knitting began to be used to make hose, which made for a stretchy, formfitting look, but did not become common until the seventeenth century. If worn with longer breeches, hose might reach just to the knee and be held in place by a garter. By the fifteenth century, however, tailors had developed the ability to join what were once two

The man and boys are wearing hose and pumpkin breeches, which were often made in panels of alternating fabric and padded to give them a particular shape. Reproduced by permission of © .
separate leg hose into one garment, joined at the crotch. This allowed for full-length hose and shorter breeches, allowing more of the leg to be shown. Hose might be made in a variety of colors, though off-white seems to have been the most common.

Breeches, a form of pants, came in a wide variety of styles. The most common form of breech was called the trunk hose. Trunk hose were attached to the bottom of the doublet, a padded overshirt, with points, or small ties, and bagged outward before fastening on the upper leg. They looked almost like a puffy short skirt. Trunk hose were often worn with canions, a loose-fitting hose for the upper leg. An exaggerated form of trunk hose was known as pumpkin breeches. Made with contrasting vertical panels of fabric, these breeches ballooned outward, making it look as if the wearer had a large pumpkin about his waist. Venetians were a form of breeches that reached to the knee; they were padded at the waist and upper thigh and grew slimmer as they reached the knee. Pluderhose were baggy all the way from the waist to the knee, and the baggy fabric hung down to hide the fastening at the knee. The longest breeches, known as slops, reached all the way to the calf.

Breeches could be made from a variety of fabrics, including wool, cotton, silk, and velvet, and could be among the most intricate of men's garments. In many cases breeches were made in panels of alternating fabric, and they might be trimmed out with lace strips of fur. Very often breeches were padded with bombast, a form of stuffing, to give them a particular shape. Although padded breeches were most common among upper-class men, simple hose and breeches were worn by men of all classes.


Bigelow, Marybelle S. Fashion in History: Apparel in the Western World. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing, 1970.

Cassin-Scott, Jack. Costume and Fashion in Colour, 1550–1760. Introduction by Ruth M. Green. Dorset, England: Blandford Press, 1975.

Payne, Blanche, Geitel Winakor, and Jane Farrell-Beck. The History of Costume. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.

[ See also Volume 2, Europe in the Middle Ages: Hose and Breeches ; Volume 3, Sixteenth Century: Bombast ]

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