June 25, 1927

By Gregory Clark, June 25, 1927.

Paris announces knee pants for men.

When Paris speaks to the ladies, ladies listen.

And from the appearance of the downtown streets the last week or so it begins to look as if men are going to listen, too.

By knee pants Paris means something more than plus fours. But plus fours were the first step. Knee pants are the next step.

“France.” says a despatch from one of the most reliable news sources, “ever in the vanguard of human progress, has begun sponsoring a reform in masculine dress which threatens to do away with the conventional trouser and substitute in its place the ancient knee-breech. Maurice de Waleffe, a mere journalist, launched the campaign and stimulated a group of artists to open a Salon de la Mode Masculine, which has been liberally attended. M. de Waleffe points out that the trousers we wear to-day are not only social parvenus, but that they are inconvenient, ugly and deceptive. They are an offense to the esthetic eye, and an outrage in the sight of Mother Nature, for they ‘dissemble the harmonious line of the leg’. Yet they remain. There is no denying that trousers as we know them and wear them to-day have conquered the world. Under these circumstances M. de Waleffe is only too well aware of the magnitude of his task.

“His artists, however, are not to be discouraged. Not only have they shorn men of their pants, but their designs call for radical changes elsewhere. The prophetic pictures they have submitted represent the men of the new generation wearing broad-brimmed hats of a decidedly cowboy cut. The coats for almost all occasions are long – one artist prefers a rakish Prince Albert model, another suggests something halfway between a cutaway and a dress coat. They all go in at the waist, and all are long in the rear. Several designs frankly imitate eighteenth-century styles; others run to Spanish and Argentine motifs. They are all full of curves and contrast, and, as one critic says, ‘they liberate the natural line of the body, not without encouraging, by refinements of cutting and details of lingerie, a certain air of femininity.’

“At the salon several actors from the Paris stage appeared wearing the new styles, and they evoked great enthusiasm from the ladies, who composed most of the audience. But a male observer of the show remarked that the average man might not look quite so well as these well-shaped models. ‘There will be little esthetic profit,’ he announced, if the new styles display knock-knees, skinny calves and fat ankles -women’s experience with short skirts has given us food for thought along these lines. But the movement goes forward none the less, encouraged by the example of the MM. Briand and Doumergue, who have both ordered short pants in preparation for a visit to the Court of St. James.”

Plus Fours Getting Smaller

When you see a girl in a long skirt nowadays you do not give her the benefit of the virtue of modesty. You wonder, instinctively, what is the matter with her. Unsymmetrical, you say to yourself, or words to that effect.

In the vogue for plus fours, which has very slowly been growing in Toronto and is just this

season beginning to invade the business hours and business life, it must be granted that the majority are not bold men, but well-shaped men. The same held true of the short skirt five years ago. Those who could best afford the short skirt did so. Two factors entered into any delay – symmetry and modesty.

The same will probably be true of plus fours. The men with substantial underpinnings are already the first to blossom forth. Then the younger men will follow and break the ice for the odd sizes. Because there is a glorious quality to youth. If youth has comic legs youth is not aware of the fact.

And when the lads have accustomed us to thin legs and fat legs, bowed legs and knock- kneed legs, as we got used to the short skirt, then plus fours will begin to be general, and the older men will step forth with only themselves at all conscious of their new trousers.

Paris of course does not mean plus fours. She means knee breeches of the sort our great-grandfathers wore at funerals and weddings, or when the squire, in good humor, gave an old pair away.

They fitted close to the leg and had silver buckles at the knee, and were in color, black, plum, gray, blue or brown. Instead of the heavy golf stocking which fortunately for the thin man and unfortunately for the fat man are to-day worn with plus fours, silk hose that revealed the beauty of the calf were worn.

It is the Windsor costume of to-day which is worn on state occasions by statesmen, a fact which has prevented many a politician from aspiring to the highest ranks in his profession. His legs would not let him.

Already the plus four is moving perceptibly in the direction of the knee breeches decreed by Paris.

Last summer, did you notice the American tourists in their linen plus fours?

Plus fours are getting not baggier but smaller. The plain knicker has started to come back and oust the potato bags. This is only another step in what has been, in the case of the short skirt, a logical progression. Short skirts at first were roomy and full. Now they are skimpy. Once the shock is over compromise is past.

Plus fours in their full size were easy on the bandy-legged gallant because he could drape them low. And the fuller and lower they were draped the more the wearer was concealed.

The Age of Revealment

One of the mighty effects of the war was the revelation of the manly figure which puttees and spare fitting clothes insisted upon. No end of well-known dudes around Toronto were woefully showed up and exposed as frauds by puttees. In well-tailored suits with smartly-cut trousers that were kept well pressed, some of these lads who were supported in an upright position more by grace than by works, masqueraded as quite athletic and manly figures. Once they got into breeches and puttees their true aspect was revealed. No doubt some of them failed to enlist for that very reason. Rather than confess to skinny legs they confessed to a weak heart.

And the reverse effect was noticeable on certain heavy, stocky men, who, in the roomy trousers of the pre-war period, had no grace at all, and they seemed to be walking bears on heavy wooden structures. But, in revealing puttees you could see the strong, hard legs that held up the barrel of chest and mountain of chest, and they walked more like gods than their slim brothers.

We know one man who wore two pairs of puttees always. But it was a queer thing, nevertheless, that men with exceptionally skinny legs nearly always won the military cross at least.

This is a revealing age. Art is being given short shrift in the second quarter of the twentieth century. The painters are playing hob with the art that used to take pains to record a beautiful world. The musicians are bursting the eardrums that art had soothed. The art that used to enable a lady, with pads and hoops and panniers, high heels and a thousand other devices to make herself appear beautiful and whatever degree she or her advisers could conceive is lost. A minimum of material, and no art can conceal nature. We have got used to nature lately in the ladies, and nature is not half what the artists and poets of the past have, by careful selection and full use of their arts, led us to believe.

Some of the more rugged works of nature are still concealed, as Paris points out, by camouflaging trousers. Nature does not merely build the elm; she builds the gnarled oak. Nature is not bound to produce birches, slim and lovely. She turns out the odd weeping willow, with a trunk like a gas company tank and branches that no end of foliage can quite conceal.

Plus fours are showing us what we needed to know about many men. One of those English journalists of the shrewd, merciless type says that Lloyd George looks like a statesman at all times except when he walks, and then his short legs give him away as middle clawss. He doesn’t go well in Windsor breeches.

There are a number of men we would like to see in plus fours. Tommy Church is the first. Of maybe the last.

Lindbergh’s best pictures are in knickers.

Editor’s Notes: There were a lot of articles in the 1920s about changes in fashion and culture, and this is another, this time regarding short pants for men. Plus-fours were one thing, but you can see the anxiety about where it could be heading, being less baggy and more like 18th century breeches. But that did not happen.

Tommy Church was the Mayor of Toronto from 1915 to 1921, and at the time of this article, was a Conservative member or parliament for the riding of Toronto Northwest.