Here I am, circa 1942-'43, wearing breeches.Talk about child abuse!
I remember breeches as the most uncomfortable and personally detestable form of winter attire ever inflicted on a boy and I cannot believe that they are still included as formal, traditional dress for our Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Generally made of a heavy almost felt-like material or corduroy, they were billowy at the hips and thighs and tapered down to a snug fit right at the knee where they were tightened even further by laces. It was not uncommon to have leather patches sewn on the knees. Tell-tail creases embedded behind my knee and on my upper calf would remain visible many hours after taking the damned things off.
We were even cursed with breeches as a form of Boy Scout winter wear, switching to shorts with the same itchy all-wool, full length socks in the summer. The only good thing about breeches that I can think of was that there was no pant leg to get caught in the sproket and chain when riding a bicycle.
Coarse, knee-high wool socks, sometimes in colorful argyle patterns, completed the every day ensemble. I'll guarantee that, regardless of some backward and unexpected style shift today, no self-respecting boy would be caught dead dressing like that in the 21st century.
Surprisingly, from the late 16th century until the early 19th century, most men and boys wore breeches as their lower body garment. Through the centuries breeches were seen in many forms and lengths. In the early 18th century breeches were barely seen beneath long waistcoats and coats. By the mid-18th century they were more noticeable beneath shorter waistcoats and open coats, and so the cut of breeches became tighter and revealed the shape of the leg.
Worn by all levels of society, breeches were made in a great variety of silks, cottons, linens, wools, knits, and leathers. It was the lower classes, peasants, workmen, and sailors that first wore long trousers, and were first derisively called "sans culottes", without short trousers. Boys from affluent families began the transition to long trousers when in the late 18th century they began wearing long trouser skeleton suits. The term breeches coined the term breeching.
Loose fitting calf-length pants were also worn by boys and girls in the 1960s but, again, they were not very popular with boys. The name was derived from the act of clam digging (if you lived in an Atlantics province) or more likely from simply wading along a beech without getting the pant legs wet or dirty. Clam diggers were similar in style to same-vintage pedal pushers and Capri pants.
I admit that this was no doubt much more than you needed to know about breeks, but I'm at least glad that I got them off my mind, or should I say...my backside!
Down with the breeches of my youth, I say! Give me a good pair of denim jeans any day.
I can always tuck the bottom of the jeans into my socks, when I want to ride a bicycle.