What Ever Happened to Stirrup Pants?

by Tori Telfer

Sometimes an item of clothing is so unflattering, so wrong, that all we can do is hope and pray it falls into the depths of forgotten fashion and never experiences a resurgence. For these types of trends, we mostly have the 1980s to thank — a decade where almost everything once considered hip and cool is now considered ill-advised and hideous.

Today, I'm here to talk about a pant whose innocent equestrian history was brutally co-opted by '80s tweens, high on aerobic inspiration: The stirrup pant.

I believe I may have owned one or two stirrup-y pairs of pairs when I was a child, but you're not allowed to hold that against me, because the stirrup pant makes a lot of sense when you're dressing a rambunctious kid. The secure strap at the bottom means that stirrup pants will stay put no matter how many playground slides your offspring flings themselves down. Plus, it's easier to get their wiggly feet into boots. It's when grownups start wearing stirrup pants that things get crazy.

For such a horrifying article of clothing, the stirrup pant has a very practical history. Some might even call it vaguely feminist. Here's why: In the early 1900s, women were fighting not only for the right to vote, but for the non-political but very social right to ride astride a horse — that is, with one leg on either side of the horse, as opposed to the confining and very proper sidesaddle riding that was de rigueur for women for hundreds of years. But as society came to gradually and reluctantly accept the fact that women were now riding astride, the need for better riding clothes became obvious. So items like stirrup pants and jodhpurs for women were born, with tight legs that could be tucked into riding boots without bunching up. (Stirrup pants are also used for skiing — another sport that requires fitted pants that can be easily worn with boots.)

But then the '80s hit, sportswear became street wear, and all was lost.

Why did stirrup pants become so endlessly hip in the '80s? Because all things exercise-related were so hip in the '80s. Leotards, headbands, leg warmers, weird aerobic belts, the shell suit — if you could wear it to the gym, you could wear it to a house party. It was all so frighteningly logical, too: The snug strap of stirrup pants meant they could be tucked comfortably under leg warmers, and their fitted shape meant they were practically begging to be topped off with an off-the-shoulder sweatshirt. Add a matching scrunchie and — oh, girl.


I'd hesitate to say that stirrup pants are "back," though you can buy them at Anthropologie now, which has to mean something. But today's stirrup pants are really just tight leggings with a strap at the bottom, which is something entirely different than the tapered authentic '80s look you see above. The stirrup pant is no legging, coy and tight. A classic stirrup pant has volume — in all the wrong places — and nobody looks good it in.

Main Image: RetroMonkeys via Etsy; Others: ThePatternCottage via Etsy; Rockstreetvintage via Etsy