Jodhpurs or Breeches?

Last year for a vintage cycle ride I made these Jodhpurs/Breeches. I cut a pattern, sewed a garment and wore it on numerous occasions all the while wondering absent mindedly if they were jodhpurs or breeches? So today it seemed fitting to do some quick research before posting about making ‘them’ what ever ‘they’ are.

Photo Credit: Stuart Attwood, taken at the Glenbrook Vintage Railway

My preliminary research was in my collection of fashion history books, (which are themselves part of history all being written pre 1952). In all books ‘jodhpurs’ were not mentioned – a good sign that ‘Breeches’ would have been the term of the day. Even the chambers encyclopaedia of 1923 made NO mention of Jodhpurs, despite quite a detailed account of the history of breeches, leading me to believe Wikipedia when it told me that the term Jodhpurs although used since 1897, was a colloquial term at the time; breeches the correct term.

I had worn the garment in question to Vintage cycle events, so I was also interested in the contemporary 1920s use of such a garment. Taste and Fashion features a whole chapter on sports wear; James Laver writes of cycle wear consisting of long skirts protected by chain guards until the 1920s when shorts were worn.

‘By the middle of the twenties skirts had become so short that to wear them on a cycle was hardly decent. The end of the twenties saw a widespread adoption, in England at any rate, of shorts for cycling.’ Laver, James, Taste and Fashion (revised edition 1946) (pg 181)

OK , so my wearing breeches was not completely accurate for cycling after all (although I’m sure some ladies would have worn them) … He also writes about ‘riding costume’, saying ‘an increasing number of women have taken to riding astride, and for this purpose have adopted an unconventional male costume, consisting of breeches…’ etc (pg 184).

General consensus seems to be that ‘Jodhpur’ referred colloquially to ‘riding-breeches with a tight extension to the ankle’ (Chambers Dictionary 1961), and were so named as they were a westernised version of riding garments worn in the region of Jodhpur, India. Well, my breeches are not ankle length – so I’m feeling pretty confident that they are breeches… but if anyone knows better do share!

Next question was… I made them from cotton velveteen – despite having no evidence that this was correct. Google to the rescue turned up this pattern from despite being called knickers (another term!) the pattern is very similar in shape to the one I drew… and lists velvet as a recommended fabric!

I often sew first, research after… but hopefully over time this will cease to be a theme for me!

So back to sewing BREECHES.

Last year I was fortunate enough to borrow a pair of original 20s/30s breeches from Susie Ford of Agent Bluebelles wardrobe. See my outfit below – The jacket was made by me – but breeches and boots are originals borrowed. While I had the original pair available I took a pattern – the cut of this garment is SO different from standard trousers. The pockets are sewn in unusual ways and working out how the button plackets are constructed was a challenge. Along with taking patterns I photographed many of the details for future reference – so here follows a possibly boring post if you’re not enthusiastic in 1920s breeches construction… I’m guessing it’s a subject for a select few – but there are pretty posed photos at the end!

susies photo
Winter Deco 2015 Left to right: Me wearing original breeches, Estelle and Susie (Susie’s outfit is entirely original!)

The breeches I borrowed are made of a heavy knit and have very little stretch. The waist was a little big, but the knees were tiny – in fact I could not fasten the buttons round the knee – but fortunately that is hidden by the boots!

So here are some close up images of the original breeches pictured above:


Detail of cuffs; all button plackets were cut on the fold out of a lightweight cotton.





Detail of centre back; showing extra seam allowance at waist – I am assuming this allows for easy alteration in waist size. Seam allowances are overlocked, facings machined in position. Is this standard for the time? I don’t see that many original pieces so am unsure.


breeches 4

Front; Note the welt pockets – they were challenging to recreate! The pockets are sewn in conjunction with the button facing, in what should have been one fell swoop but turned into much grumbling and unpicking! The choice of heavy cotton velveteen did not help matters!

Also evident in the above image is the different grain direction on left and right panels, whoever cut these was either in a rush or short of fabric!

breeches 6

Interior of the breeches, pocket bags cut on fold, crotch strengthened with soft leather.

So there are the details of the original garment along with the finished pattern… But this essay ain’t over yet!!

Here’s a few photos of the completed breeches I sewed up using this pattern 🙂

Photo Credit: Stuart Attwood, on location at the Glenbrook Vintage Railway
Photo Credit: Stuart Attwood, on location at the Glenbrook Vintage Railway

The staff were curious what Stuart and I were up to, and even joined in modelling 🙂

Photo credit: Stuart Attwood, on location at the Glenbrook Vintage Railway

Well I hope some of you made it to the end of this post! Is it too long? Not long enough? Do you have further knowledge on what differentiates breeches from jodhpurs in the ’20s and ’30s?

I welcome feedback and constructive criticism!

6 thoughts on “Jodhpurs or Breeches?

  1. Excellent informative Blog. You have been so painstaking in describing the details of making the breeches. You may be interested – years ago when I directed “Journeys End” (set in the trenches WW1) for our local theatre, I was also involved in the costumes. Officers bought and kept
    their own uniforms, so I was able to borrow enough heirlooms from local families. The problem was that men tended to be smaller then, so I had to get permission to temporarily let out back waist seams and at the calf. As they couldn’t have polished brass buttons in the trenches, cloth covered ones were substituted also insignia. The tailoring was very much as you described it.


    1. Thanks Jean, I’m pleased to hear that the tailoring techniques match other garments from the era. There are so many identifying details for working out the date of a garment which I still need to learn.


  2. Those breeches are really fabulous !
    I really enjoy your posts, the pictures are beautiful, the texts really interesting and I like the fact that you source ( is that the good word?) what you say . I look forward to seeing the next !

    About the jodhpurs, I’ve read that in Reconstructing History : ”Early in the 20th century, jodhpurs appear in ladies’ riding wardrobes. These were identical to breeches except they extended to the ankle and ended in a cuff rather than the buttons at breeches knees. They were designed to be worn with ankle boots. Jodhpurs often had an instep strap echoing the riding trousers of the 19th century. ”


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