A very short history of trousers…….


St. Pantaleone was a fourth-century Christian physician and martyr known as the “all-merciful.” Beheaded under orders of Roman emperor Diocletian, he became the patron saint of Venice, and a reliquary containing his blood (allegedly still liquid) is housed in the Italian town of Ravello.

Pantaleone is probably the only saint to be dubiously honoured by having an article of clothing named after him—though how the attribution came about involves folklore more than fact. His name literally means “all lion” (pan, “all”; leone, “lion”), and though he was a clever and pious physician, he passed inexplicably into Italian folklore as a lovable but simpleminded buffoon, decidedly unsaintly in character. It is the comic Pantaleone of folklore, through behavior and attire, who eventually gave his name to pants.

An appallingly mean man, he starved servants “…..until their skeletons cast no shadow, and though he valued a gentlemanly reputation, he flirted with women, who publicly mocked him”

These traits are embodied in a gaunt, swarthy, goateed Pantaleone of the sixteenth-century Italian commedia dell’arte. The character wore a pair of trousers, tight from ankle to knee, then flaring out like a petticoat. The comedy genre was carried by bands of traveling actors to England and France. And the Pantalone character always appeared in exaggerated trousers. In France, the character and his pants came to be called Pantalon; and in England, Pantaloon.

Shakespeare helped popularise the British term in As You Like It. In the eighteenth century, when pantaloons—by then a stylized form of knee breeches—reached the shores of America, their name was shortened to “pants.” And in this century, the fashion industry, when referring to stylish women’s trousers, has for some reason only known to themselves have further abbreviated the word to “pant.”

Whereas St. Pantaleone circuitously lent his name to pants, the ancient Celts donated their word for men’s leg coverings, trews, to “trousers,” while the Romans contributed their word for a baggy type of breeches, laxus, meaning “loose,” to “slacks.”

You will no doubt be heartened to hear that in California (where else!). Government Code Section 12947.5 (part of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)) expressly protects the right to wear pants. Thus, the standard California FEHA discrimination complaint form includes an option for “denied the right to wear pants.”

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