Why we wear pants

The word “pants” is, let’s admit, pretty funny. It’s probably funnier for speakers of British English, for whom “pants” generally refers to underwear rather than outerwear. It’s a funny enough word that since the 1990s British English speakers (and some other English speakers, for that matter) have used it to mean something ridiculous or nonsensical, as in “The whole idea of fashion is pretty pants.” Some of the potty humor of it is retained in American English, too, thanks to compounds like underpants and panties. Just say it: pants. Pretty funny.

Anyway, it turns out that comedy is in the very DNA of the word pants, so maybe that’s why it’s so funny. You’re the smart and inquisitive kind of person reading a history of pants on the internet, so you probably already know that the word pants is short for pantaloons, but what you might not know is that pantaloons is an Anglicization of the Italian word Pantalone. Pantalone, in turn, was a character in the hugely popular Renaissance-era Italian comic theater known as commedia dell’arte. As Merriam-Webster explains, Pantalone (above) was a “greedy, lecherous, scheming old man who often ended up being duped and humiliated,” and who could be recognized by his costume, which included a brimless hat, an open black cassock, and, yeah, long trousers. When a similar style of pants became popular in Restoration England, they named their new fashion after the comedy character famous for his pants, like how super-short cutoff jeans would later be called Daisy Dukes.

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