Breeches (pronounced IPA| [ˈbritʃɪz] ) are an item of male clothing covering the body from the waist down, with separate coverings for each leg, usually stopping just below the knee, though in some cases reaching to the ankles. The breeching of a young boy, at an age somewhere between six and eight, was a landmark in his childhood.

The spelling britches reflects a common pronunciation, and is often used in casual speech to mean trousers or "pants". Breeks is a Scots or northern English spelling and pronunciation.


Breeches is a double plural known since c.1205, from Old English (and before Old French) "brēc", the plural of "brōc" "garment for the legs and trunk," from the Proto-Germanic word *"brōkiz", whence also the Old Norse word "brók", which shows up in the epithet of the Viking king Ragnar Loðbrók, Ragnar "Hairy-breeches". The Proto-Germanic word also gave rise, via a Celtic language, to the Latin word "bracca"; the Romans, who did not generally wear pants, referred to Germanic tribes as "braccati", "wearers of breeches" (or rather, of fabric wrapped around the legs.)

Like other words for similar garments (e.g., "pants", "knickers", "shorts") the word "breeches" has been applied to both outer garments and underwear. "Breeches" is a singular word which uses a plural form to reflect it has two legs. This construction is common in English, but is no longer common in other languages, e.g., the parallel modern Dutch "broek".

At first "breeches" indicated a cloth worn as underwear by both men and women.

In the latter sixteenth century, "breeches" began to replace "hose" (while the German "Hosen", also a plural, ousted "Bruch") as the general English term for men's lower outer garments, a usage that remained standard until knee-length breeches were replaced for everyday wear by long pantaloons or trousers.

Until around the end of the nineteenth century (but later in some places), small boys wore special forms of dresses until they were "breeched", or given adult male styles of clothes, at about the age of six to eight (the age fell slowly to perhaps three). Their clothes were not usually confusable with those of little girls, as the head-covering and hair, chest and collar, and other features were differentiated from female styles.

Types of breeches

The terms "breeches" or "knee-breeches" specifically designate the knee-length garments worn by men from the later sixteenth century to the early nineteenth century. After that, they survived in England only in very formal wear, such as the livery worn by some servants into the early twentieth century, and the court dress worn by others, such as Queen's Counsel, down to the present day on formal occasions.
*Spanish breeches, stiff, ungathered breeches popular from the 1630s until the 1650s.
*Petticoat breeches, very full, ungathered breeches popular from the 1650s until the early 1660s, giving the impression of a woman's petticoat.
*Rhinegraves, full, gathered breeches popular from the early 1660s until the mid 1670s, often worn with an overskirt over them.
*"Fall front" breeches, breeches with a panel or flap covering the front opening and fastened up with buttons at either corner.
*Breeches are still worn by many chasidic men, particulaly those of Galician or Hungarian origin, such as Satmar and Sanz
*In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the term "breech-cloth" or "breech-clout" was also used to describe the apron-like loincloths worn by some Native American peoples.
*In contemporary contexts, "breeches" are distinguished from other forms of pants or trousers as being shorter than ankle-length and form-fitting, as "riding breeches". (Note, however, that riding breeches through much of the twentieth century tended to flare dramatically through the thighs.)
*Breeches are also an item of protective clothing used in the martial art of "Fencing".
*In the Book of Exodus the kohenim (priests) were commanded to wear white linen breeches known as "michnasayim".


The singular meanwhile survived in the metaphorical sense of the part of the body covered by breeches, i.e., posterior, buttocks; paradoxically, the alliterating expression 'bare breech' thus means without any inner or outer breeches.Fact|date=February 2007

This also led to the following:
*a "(gun) breech" is the part of a firearm behind the bore (known since 1575 in gunnery).Fact|date=February 2007
*breech birth in childbirthing (since 1673)

Riding Breeches

Riding breeches are specifically designed for equestrian activities. Traditionally, they were tight in the legs, stopping about halfway down the calf, with buckles or laces in the calf section, and had a pronounced flare through the thighs that allowed freedom of movement for the rider. However, with the advent of modern stretch materials such as spandex, modern breeches have no flare and fit skin-tight. Zippers and velcro fastenings have replaced laces and buckles at the calves as well. The flared style is seen at times, and is available to cavalry and other historic reenactors.

There are four main types of riding breeches:
* Knee patch breeches: Breeches that stop mid-calf, designed to be worn with tall boots, which come up to the knee, or with half chaps and short paddock boots. They have grippy material, usually leather or a "grippy" synthetic, only on the inside of the knee area. These are the only type of breeches worn by hunt seat riders. Show jumpers, eventers, show hunters, as well as some endurance riders, and pleasure riders also often use the breeches.Price, Steven D. (ed.) "The Whole Horse Catalog: Revised and Updated" New York:Fireside 1998 ISBN 0-684-83995-4 p. 211–15]
* Full seat breeches: Breeches with grippy material from the knee, up the inner thigh, and across the buttocks. These breeches are primarily seen in dressage competition, where the "sticky" seat helps riders stay quiet and deep in the saddle as they sit the gaits of their horses. However, they are also worn by eventers and other riders. They are designed to be worn with tall boots or half chaps.
* Jockeys' breeches also known as silks are made from a white lightweight fabric, usually nylon and typically have elasticised lower legs. Some racing authorities have regulations that require a jockey's name to be inscribed along the thigh of the breeches.
* Jodhpurs are a type of riding pants with legs extending to the ankles, where they end in a small cuff that fits over the top of a low riding boot. They are commonly placed in a separate category separate from other types of breeches due to their additional length. They are most often worn by children. However, they are worn by adults in the show ring in the UK and Australia, and in the USA are seen on adults during riding lessons and for casual riding. These riding pants have elastic straps or "stirrups" that run under the rider's boots, and are usually worn with garters, to prevent them from riding up. They are meant to be worn with "jodhpur boots," also known as "paddock boots," which come up just above the ankles.
* Kentucky Jodhpurs are full-length riding pants used exclusively in Saddle seat style riding. Like Hunt Seat jodhpurs, they are close-fitting from waist to ankle, but differ in that they are much longer, ending with a flared bell bottom that fits over the jodhpur boot, usually extending longer than the heel of the boot in back, and covering the arch of the foot (but not the toe) in front. The overall look gives the impression of a rider with a long leg, a desired equitation standard. Like the hunt seat jodhpur, they have elastic straps that run under the boot to help hold the pant leg in place.

Color is important in selecting breeches for competition. Sanctioning organizations and tradition both dictate that show clothing is to be quiet, classic and conservative in design. White is common in dressage, and is also seen in show jumping. Beige is seen in most hunt seat-style equestrian disciplines, though light grays, "canary" (a dull yellow), rust, tan, and an olive-greenish colour are periodically popular with hunt seat competitors. Eventers wear classic colours for the dressage and stadium phase, but less classic colours may be seen on the cross-country course (especially at the lower levels) to match the "stable colours" of the rider. Saddle seat riders, whose riding clothing styles derived from men's business suits, wear Kentucky Jodhpurs in dark colors, usually black, navy blue, or a shade that matches the riding coat.

Breeches may be front or side zip. Some competitors believe the side-zip to give a cleaner appearance and to be more flattering. Styles are also developing to parallel trends in street clothing, including low-rise breeches.

ee also

*Clothing terminology
*Hebrew Priests were commanded in the Law of Moses (Exodus 28:42) to wear breeches (basically underwear) when they ministered in the tabernacle: "And thou shalt make them linen breeches to cover their nakedness; from the loins even unto the thighs they shall reach".
*The "Breeches Bible", a Geneva-edited Bible of 1560, was so called on account of rendition of Genesis iii.7 (already in Wyclif) "They sewed figge leaves together, and made themselves breeches."
*Daniele da Volterra, nicknamed "the breeches maker" ("il braghettone")


ources and references

*Oxford English Dictionary
* [ Etymology]

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Breeches — in der historischen Form: Kaiser Joseph II. (um 1780) …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Breeches — Breech es (br[i^]ch [e^]z), n. pl. [OE. brech, brek, AS. br[=e]k, pl. of br[=o]c breech, breeches; akin to Icel. br[=o]k breeches, ODan. brog, D. broek, G. bruch; cf. L. bracae, braccae, which is of Celtic origin. Cf. {Brail}.] 1. A garment worn… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • breeches — c.1200, a double plural, from O.E. brec breeches, which already was plural of broc garment for the legs and trunk, from P.Gmc. *brokiz (Cf. O.N. brok, Du. broek, Dan. brog, O.H.G. bruoh, Ger. Bruch, obsolete since 18c. except in Swiss dialect),… …   Etymology dictionary

  • breeches — [brich′iz] pl.n. [see BREECH] 1. trousers reaching to or just below the knees and often tapered to fit closely 2. Informal any trousers too big for one s breeches Informal too forward, presumptuous, etc. for one s position or status …   English World dictionary

  • breeches — (izg. brȉčis) ž pl. tantum DEFINICIJA jahaće hlače gore široke, a dolje tijesno priljubljene uz nogu ETIMOLOGIJA engl …   Hrvatski jezični portal

  • breeches — ► PLURAL NOUN ▪ short trousers fastened just below the knee, now worn for riding or as part of ceremonial dress …   English terms dictionary

  • breeches — (also pair of breeches sing.) 1 short trousers, esp. fastened below the knee, now used esp. for riding or in court costume. 2 colloq. any trousers, knickerbockers, or underpants. Phrases and idioms: Breeches Bible the Geneva Bible of 1560… …   Useful english dictionary

  • breeches — noun /bɹɪitʃəz,bɹɪtʃəz/ a) A garment worn by men, covering the hips and thighs; smallclothes. And how then was the Devil drest? b) Trousers; pantaloons; britches. Oh! he was in his Sundays best: See Also …   Wiktionary

  • Breeches — Stiefelhose; Reithosen * * * Bree|ches 〈[bri:tʃız] nur Pl.〉 oben weite, um die Waden enganliegende Kniehose, Reithose [engl., „Knie , Reithose“] * * * Bree|ches [ brɪt̮ʃəs] <Pl.> [engl. breeches, Pl. von: breech < aengl. brēc, Pl. von:… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • breeches — /brich iz/, n. (used with a pl. v.) 1. Also called knee breeches. knee length trousers, often having ornamental buckles or elaborate decoration at or near the bottoms, commonly worn by men and boys in the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries. 2.… …   Universalium

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