What the hell is a culotte? I remember thinking to myself some years ago when I first encountered the word. I was reading an essay by the beloved humorist David Sedaris in The New Yorker, in which he recounted his shopping experience in Tokyo. “I bought a pair of heavy black culottes. Dress culottes, you could call them, made by Comme des Garçons,” he wrote. “They made a pleasant whooshing sound as I ran up the stairs of my house.”
A quick image search revealed culottes to be a perplexing garment. It is a fashion item with a long, complex history wrapped up in revolution, class, and feminism, but I’ll cut to the chase and say that the modern-day men’s culotte is essentially a dress short so voluminous it is hard to tell where one leg begins and the other ends. Some pairs look like the baggiest shorts you’ve ever seen, with a fit that is wider-than-1990s wide and a cut that slinks well below the knee. Others skew more formal, with neat pleats or fringes that give off a skirt-like appearance. All this said, it isn’t exactly a look that flies under the radar—and yet, for a number of reasons, the garment feels deeply poised for its own moment in the sun this summer.
This isn’t new, exactly; culottes have popped up in the more esoteric corners of menswear, on the street style mainstay Nick Wooster and on a magazine cover featuring Frank Ocean. GQ cover star A$AP Rocky recently rocked a pair, as has Colombian singer Maluma, and the ultra-baggy look could be found on both the streets and runways at the most recent menswear shows. While the five-inch-inseamers of TikTok would have you believe that the only acceptable style of shorts is still the one that hits right at the knee or slightly above it, menswear is in a phase where nothing feels off-limits—and that includes something as far-out as the culotte.
“When I saw my first pair of culottes, my ideas of dressing up changed,” Sedaris recently told me over the phone. “I’ve always liked shorts. I don’t know that I would ever wear [regular] shorts with a sport coat, but culottes with a sport coat seemed kind of semi-formal.” And so culottes—quite often those whooshing designs made by Comme des Garçons—have become part of the author’s signature look. He usually wears a pair during his book tours or when he shows up on late-night shows. “Onstage, it’s a perfect place to wear something like that because people came to see a show,” he says. Wooster, meanwhile, strikes a more practical note: “Shorts and fashion is such an opportunity for footwear, too,” he says.
Culottes might seem striking, but lots of menswear silhouettes are slouching toward their extreme degree of bagginess. Flowy trousers feel more exciting than the skinny cut of yesteryear, while the most thrilling suits to wear are ones that eschew precise tailoring for a roomier fit. It’s only a matter of time until that mentality makes its way to shorts: Forward-looking brands like Dries Van Noten, Jil Sander, and Loewe have injected new energy into giant pairs, building on the foundation that has been in place thanks to the likes of Comme des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto.
There’s a broader cultural attitude that feels more culotte-friendly, too. The fashion world is embracing what we’ve called “elite weirdness.” The most exciting dressers—Lakeith Stanfield in his Saint Laurent jumpsuit at the Academy Awards, Dan Levy in a Thom Brown skirt suit at the Emmys, Travis Scott in his flared-out trousers at the most recent Dior show—are the ones most willing to push the envelope. Culottes fit the bill.
For both Sedaris and Wooster—and others who gravitate to this style—the appeal is multi-layered: a way to have comfort and subversiveness meet in the middle. The look isn’t for everyone, and indeed, it takes a little courage. “People do look at you funny,” Wooster says. “First, they think it’s a skirt, and then they understand that it’s not. But I’ve always liked upsetting people in some way with getting dressed.”
Sedaris, meanwhile, knew damn well that his audience had no familiarity with Comme des Garçons when he started wearing his culottes. “They thought it was like I was going into a clown’s closet,” he says. “But I didn’t care. I thought I looked great.” There lies some sage sartorial wisdom, whether culottes are for you or not. When it comes to this moment in menswear, not caring what others think and looking great tend to go hand in hand.
Originally posted 2021-07-01 21:17:41.