Jodhpurs Guide

Jodhpurs Guide – History & Style of the Infamous Indian Pants Explained

The Jodhpur pants or Jodhpurs, as they are commonly called in the western hemisphere, has like many classic men’s wear pieces, an equestrian root . Like many other garments they too have made the transition into menswear and have become the gold standard for traditional formal wear in India. It is also seen as an alternative (paired with the Nehru jacket) to the western tuxedo in black tie events in India. Interestingly, they have not shed their equestrian roots to make a similar transition into men’s wear in the rest of the world. Please note that I have specifically mentioned menswear as they have been successfully adapted into the women’s wear collections of most major designers around the globe. In India, the Jodhpur pants have also successfully made another transition from formal wear to informal wear and is gaining in popularity across the region. It remains to be seen whether the rest of the men’s fashion world will make use of this classic piece of clothing in the near future.

Sir Pratap Singh

Sir Pratap Singh

History of the Jodhpurs

The Jodhpurs get their name from the capital city of the former princely state of Marwar. Situated in the modern day state of Rajasthan in western India, Jodhpur city was founded in 1495 by Rao Jodha who belonged to the Rathore clan of Rajputs. It ceased to exist when it merged with the newly independent state of India in 1947. The Rajputs belonged to the warrior class in India and took great pride in their equestrian skills. This pride manifested itself, in more peaceful times, in their mastery over the game of Polo which has Indian origins.

In the late 1800s, Sir Pratap Singh , the Maharaja of Idar and the Regent of Jodhpur , who was an avid Polo player , was dissatisfied with the prevailing style of breeches and embarked on a quest to produce a garment more suited to the needs of the game. He chose as his template the ‘churidarwhich is a traditional Indian long pants . The Churidar extends from the waist to the ankle and is tight along the calf but loose or baggy at the hips and is worn by both men and women in the sub- continent. Sir Pratap retained the basic style, the tight fit from the calf to the ankle, but he increased the baggy aspect by flaring the garment along the thighs and hips. This allowed for their free movement while riding, a revolutionary design in the era before the invention of stretch fabrics. In addition, he reinforced the fabric along the inner calf and knee to protect them from rubbing while riding . The first pair was tailored in Jodhpur in the year 1890 and was made from thick cotton twill cloth. The new breeches were quickly adopted by the other Polo teams in India. For more information about the Jodhpur you should take a look at this book.

Jodhpurs as part of military uniforms

Jodhpurs as part of military uniforms

Introduction to the west

In 1897, Queen Victoria, the Monarch of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the Empress of India, celebrated her Diamond Jubilee. During that year several rulers of the Princely States in India traveled to England to participate in the celebrations. Sir Pratap Singh, as the Regent of Jodhpur also traveled to England and took with him the Jodhpur Polo team. The team, besides winning most matches, also caused a sensation with their new breeches.  The British were quick to spot the advantages of the new design and quickly adopted them.

Young Princess Elizabeth in Jodhpurs

Young Princess Elizabeth in Jodhpurs

There is a story behind the naming of these breeches. It seemed that Sir Pratap found himself in the need for a new pair and was forced to visit a Savile Row tailor where he had no option but to reveal their design. On being asked by the tailor what the garment he ordered were called, Sir Pratap, not being too conversant with the English language, misunderstood the question and replied – Jodhpur. And the name stuck. Their use quickly spread throughout the British Empire and even crossed the Atlantic to the USA, where today a variant is called the Kentucky Jodhpur.

During the early part of the 20 th Century the Jodhpur pants was co-opted by the various armies  in Europe especially the cavalry units . From the cavalry they made the transition to the motorcycle troops and were also worn by the Officer Corps as cavalry units were considered the elite units. As usual Hollywood was quick to follow and Hollywood directors started wearing them to the sets , perhaps to instill fear , authority and respect!

Jodhpurs at the film set

Jodhpurs at the film set

With the increasing popularity of sports and sporting activities , the Jodhpur pants started making an appearance on the tennis court , the ski slopes , and also among aviation and motor car sports. During the 1920s when women began to ride astride saddle , they chose the Jodhpur and Coco Chanel was reportedly the first high profile woman to wear them. Amelia Earhart and Amy Johnson were the other famous women who donned Jodhpur pants and many young women of the times , no doubt inspired by them , began to wear Jodhpur pants as both fashion wear and sports wear including dancing ! Their popularity among women continued till the Second World War where they were part of the uniform of the Womens Land Army.

Couple in Jodhpurs

Couple in Jodhpurs

In recent times some designers have used Jodhpur pants in their collections to create an aura of upper class tradition and sportiness . With the invention of Lycra , the Jodhpur pant began to be more streamlined and eventually even influenced leggings and skinny jeans where their features have been retained more as an element of style and fashion rather than practicality .

Transition to Formal Wear in India

The Jodhpur pants slowly made the transition from purely utility wear to formal wear. As most men rode horses to get around it made sense to incorporate the Jodhpur pant into their dally wardrobe. While making the transition a few changes were made. First they switched the cloth to a superior cotton twill fabric and the reinforcements along the inner calf and thigh were watered down a bit and eventually disappeared altogether when cars were introduced in India and men ceased to ride to get around. The Jodhpur pants, due to their royal heritage, was mostly worn by the Royalty and Upper classes in India who were the style icons of their days. These days however they are going through a revival of sorts and most Indian gentlemen own a pair.

Rakish Yoshimi Yoshitsugu with Jodhpurs on one of the first motorcycles in Japan - 1930s

Rakish Yoshimi Yoshitsugu with Jodhpurs on one of the first motorcycles in Japan – 1930s – submitted by our reader Dave McDermott who found the picture in his wife’s family album

Difference Between Breeches & Jodhpurs

Addition by our reader Alexander Cave:

Jodhpurs

Jodphurs (and there is a curious way of pronouncing the word correctly, so as to give the hearer confidence you know what you are talking about!) are not the same as riding breeches, or breeks. despite similarities. Those not familiar with the differences often mean riding breeches when they say Jodphurs. Jods’ are always the long-legged Indian-origin garment rightly described, that have been adapted to suit European riding habits and preferences, and are always worn over close-fitting ankle-high jodphur boots, or paddock boots.

Breeches

Riding breeches have a similar appearance above the knee, but these are a direct descendant of the riding legwear of previous generations, and owe almost all their heritage to the buttoned, buckled or laced breeches as worn with hose, butchers or jacks. Riding breeches are most commonly seen in thick 32oz Bedford cord or cavalry twill, although other materials are used according to intended use. The similarity to the modern riding jodphur is the run of the single seem, arranged so that it is placed on the outside of the leg to aid comfort when in the saddle – the added leather or self-material knee-pads have the combined role of padding the knee against friction, and added durability.

Until later decades of the 20th century, as all officers were expected to be accomplished horsemen, British army infantry officers wore riding breeches as part of the service dress, usually worn with strapped and laced field-boots, or with puttees, and Highland officers had theirs made up in the appropriate tartan. Military riding breeches have additional characteristics, usually omitted from their civilian variant, so as to accommodate items such as the intricately fastening regimental stable-belts. RCMP uniform is perhaps the best-known example to consider.

Riding breeches fasten very snugly below the knee, with the button or lacing extending some five or six inches, and are made with methods of coupling to the boots worn – usually button and tab, sometimes buckled straps. Modern varieties now use Velcro-style fastenings for ease.

The genuine article is still readily available off the peg from equestrian suppliers, and bespoke for those who prefer, and the choice of colors in recommended Bedford cord or cavalry twill is varied enough to suit most tastes. The garments produced by fashion houses are a poor substitute when seen next to the genuine item.

How to wear Jodhpur Pants

In India , Jodhpur pants are typically paired with the Jodhpuri coat better known as the short Nehru Jacket in the rest of the world. Usually in contrasting colors, dark jacket (usually black) with brass buttons, white pants and dress shoes. Depending on the occasion it is worn with traditional Indian headwear, however most people dispense with the headwear during non – traditional occasions.  They can also be worn with matching colored jackets. All white is a popular alternative. Like western suits the jacket and pants are now made from the same fabric and the traditional cotton can be replaced by wool or silk or any fabric of choice. Contrasting colors other than black and white are also gaining in popularity .

In its less formal avatar , the Jodhpur pants are paired with a kurta ( a traditional Indian shirt ) and Indian footwear like Kolapuri Chappals , Jootees or sandals . In such cases the fabric is usually lightweight cotton or a cotton blend. A sleeveless jacket is also worn when the weather is a little cold.

Characteristics of Jodhpurs

  1. Traditionally made of cotton twill (cavalry twill surfaced in the late 1930s) but now made from an array of high quality materials.
  2. Flared along the thighs and hips, very full at the hip.
  3. Very Tight fitting along the calf (from knee to ankle) traditionally ending in a cuff with a strap under the instep but the cuff and strap missing in non riding Jodhpurs .
  4. Traditionally reinforced with additional material along the inner thigh and calf but this reinforcement is dispensed with in formal Jodhpur pants.
  5. Modern Jodhpur pants usually sport French Fly Fronts, belt loops and two front pockets. Most lack hip pockets.
Gaj Singh Maharaja of Jodhpur in white jodhpur pants formal wear

Gaj Singh Maharaja of Jodhpur in white jodhpur pants formal wear

Jodhpur Style Guide

For those brave souls who have the ability to carry off anything they wear, the classic Jodhpuri Coat / Jodhpur pants combination can make them stand out in a sea of suits. It is recommended that you wear this combination only if you have the confidence to carry it off. Both contrasting and matching colors can be worn. It is advisable to follow the same guidelines ( for shoes and accessories ) as you would when wearing a western suit. A pocket square can be added for a bit of color. The brass buttons of the coat can be replaced with traditional suit buttons. Solid colors are recommended or thin pin stripes at the most. Shirt cuffs are usually not displayed while wearing Jodhpuri Coats; however the wearer can exercise his discretion.

The Jodhpur pants can be paired with a sports jacket and matching shirt. A Hacking Jacket is recommended for a more streamlined formal look and a two buttoned sport jacket for a more casual look. A tie or scarf can also be added, if so required. Single vented jackets are recommended as they share similar equestrian roots and of course you can also display a bit of shirt cuff. Suitable shoes for this combination include wing tip oxfords or anything that you would usually wear with a sports coat. A Norfolk jacket goes very well with Jodhpur pants as well and overall the jackets can be patterned or solid colored but the Jodhpur pants themselves should never have any patterns.

Sports Coat in Tweed with Jodphurs

Sports Coat in Tweed with Jodphurs

For those who prefer a less formal look, the Jodhpur pants can be worn with an Oxford Cloth Button Down shirt. For an even more casual look the shirt can be kept untucked and the sleeves folded up. Shirts with long tails and two back pleats packed under the shoulders as in the British style are more suited to this style though centre box pleats will also do. The back shoulder pleats add to the drape of the shirt when worn untucked.  A military style shirt with a placket, large pockets with buttoned flaps and shoulder straps go very well with Jodhpur pants to create a more outdoor look. In fact this look was very popular in pre – independent India among the cavalry officers at the time.  Sandals, flip flops, short boots or boat shoes can all be worn with this combination. For a even more casual look the shirt can be replaced with a Polo shirt or any casual T Shirt. In a nutshell if you let the Jodhpur Pants replace your trousers, whether they be formal, chinos or jeans is up to you but owning at least one pair to combine with tweed jackets, could be a fantastic addition to your wardrobe.

Jodhpur pants worn with tall boots has been incorporated into the uniform of motorcycle policemen all over the world and this look can be modified to suit you if you like to ride motorcycles. Leather jackets go extremely well with this combination.

Where to buy Jodhpurs?

Unfortunately the Jodhpur pantw for men are not readily available in the western hemisphere although Ralph Lauren does make them for women. It seems like they can be bought directly from India, though I have not ordered anything from there and the quality and reliability of the vendor remains questionable. Most Made to Measure providers won’t have a suitable pattern available so your are pretty much stuck with bespoke versions because chances that you find jodhpurs for men of the rack are basically zero. Riding Jodhpurs seem to be widely available from various outlets. Again, I have not purchase these from any vendor but a Google search yields a number of vendors who offer equestrian Jodhpur pants which are different from the original version.

Jodhpur pants Raghavendra Rathore collection

Jodhpur pants Raghavendra Rathore collection

The best place to buy anything is usually from its place of origin and the Jodhpur pants seem to be no exception. Designer Raghavendra Rathore is a member of the Royal family of Jodhpur who combines his heritage with a dash of the contemporary fashion. He is a graduate from the Parsons School of Design and has worked for Oscar De la Renta and DKNY. Among his specialities is the modern Jodhpur jacket and pants. Apparently, he ships products abroad but for further details about the process, write to info@rathore.com. Apart from that, if you play polo, these are probably best and only cost $110.

26 replies
  1. E Smith
    E Smith says:

    An interesting article; very informative. Many thanks.

    I do note that you use the word ‘pant’ a few times. Surely you mean ‘pants’, not ‘pant’? I have always understood the word pants, when referring to trousers, to only be correct in the plural.

    • jospar
      jospar says:

      I believe that this follows the same rule as “shoe” and “shoes”.a shoe and a pair of shoes, singular and plural.

      • F Smith
        F Smith says:

        No, the word ‘pants’ is a plurale tantum, a noun that only appears in the plural form.

        Your example is incorrect because there are two shoes, each one separate from the other but combined to form a pair, whilst there is only one pair of pants, indivisible.

        • jospar
          jospar says:

          The same must hold true for trousers,but in English we ca say ” nice pattern on that trouser,hang them with my other trousers.”

  2. jospar
    jospar says:

    Sorry to have to correct an otherwise perfect article, but I have two pair of jodpher trousers by Ralph Lauren, one bought this year (2013).
    Looking forwards to the article on boots. I expect Chelsea boots, riding boots, strapped Chelsea’s and finally,Chukka boots. But hopefully no cowboy (Western)boots.

  3. Hal
    Hal says:

    I was under the impression that Jodhpur’s should be made bespoke – the skin tight lower leg and interconnection of three panels at the knee means that they have to be (or else use lycra or elastic). That’s how they do make them in Jodhpur and it is a cottage industry for many of the locals. It is something that should be supported, like skilled tailors and traditional unique crafts everywhere.

    Whilst I look forward to going to Jodhpur one day, I can’t imagine I’d make a trip just for the breeches, however.

  4. R. Scott Purdy
    R. Scott Purdy says:

    I believe the best riding breeches for men (Jodphurs) are made by The Tailored Sportsman. I have owned several pair over the years.

  5. Alexander Cave
    Alexander Cave says:

    Update:This comment was so great and useful that we encorporated it into the article above. Please see the Paragraph about the distinction between breeches and Jodhpurs. Thank you Alex!

  6. Alexander Cave
    Alexander Cave says:

    It is worth looking closely at the picture of staff officers. The different material chosen by the individual can been seen in the breeches of the three front row seated, all three wear field-boots. The officer standing far right is in puttees and the French officer standing far left appears to be a form of soft gaiter.

  7. LPB
    LPB says:

    I read (and enjoyed) the entire article, but I saw nothing to back up your headline claim that Jodhpurs are somehow “infamous”.

    Do they suffer from a bad reputation for something they said or did?

    • Sven Raphael Schneider
      Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      Dear LPB, we chose the headline because Jodhpurs suffer from being perceived as in appropriate for most occasions and the author tried to point out there was no reason for that. However, I see your point and maybe we should have come up with a different word instead.

  8. FG
    FG says:

    Thorough post, though it seems to me that the one photo simply shows trousers tucked into riding boots. I think Alexander Cave did a spot on summary. I’ve purchased breeches (flared, in a traditional style) from Horse Country and been relatively happy with them.

  9. Christopher Long
    Christopher Long says:

    That’s useful additional information from Alexander Cave – I think he has said it all regarding the distinction between riding breeches and jodhpurs. The rather pronounced flare of pre-war breeches might (at least on the hunting field) attract some rather quizzical gazes in 2013, but there are still one or two makers in the UK – French’s Sportswear in Leicester are one [http://pipey3.wix.com/frenchsportswear] and of course Frank Hall of Market Harborough [http://www.frankhalltailors.co.uk/]. Oliver Brown make quite good RTW breeches in both cavalry twill and bedford cord [http://www.oliverbrown.org.uk/mens-clothing-and-menswear/mens-hunting-clothes/cavalry-twill-breeches.html]. These are more subdued in cut.

  10. D. Bowen
    D. Bowen says:

    An excellent article. I feel that well researched articles which can give a deep understanding of the history and uses of clothing are often more useful for someone who wants to build a meaningful personal style, than even the best listing of current fashions. With deep history, one can make a sort of visual poetry in the clothing one wears, with reference to the past, while a selection of even the best current fashions chosen without knowledge creates more of an ‘alphabet soup’ effect; even when the soup has the same or greater number of letters, a poem is more meaningful.

    An interesting puzzle is posed by a garment like jodhpurs which are classic, and in some ways, visually familiar, yet which would be almost unique on the street today. After some consideration, I think that there are two ways that an unusual garment with a lot of history can be successfully worn today.

    The first way, is to place that garment in a cultural environment that it is linked with. If a man were to wear a yellow morning coat covered in a print of purple elephants along with a pair of denim shorts to Royal Ascot his fashion choice would be almost universally questioned, but it would be details like the choice of a printed fabric for his coat, and the denim shorts which would be questioned, even by people who collect elephant-themed items, or the man who own many pairs of denim shorts, and not a single morning coat. For those of us not attending a formal event in India, or participating in an equestrian event however, this approach is not likely to be helpful however. Equestrian theme or no, I doubt that wearing jodhpurs as an audience member at the racetrack would create a favorable impression.

    The second way of rendering an unusual, historic garment socially appropriate would be to pair it with those garments with which it has the most harmony. A man may easily use a fine pair of oxford shoes or a sports coat to smarten up a more casual outfit, but this is in great part due to the fact that these are both common items in a man’s wardrobe. A more unusual item of clothing like a top hat on the other hand is not especially well understood by most people, but it is understood to be formal, and it would best be combined with the most formal clothing with which people are familiar. A man who wears a top hat with a tuxedo will still attract attention, but will not necessarily look like a clown. By harmonizing the unfamiliar garment with the most appropriate, but familiar one, an enthusiastic wearer and lover of menswear may also draw some insight into the appropriateness of his unusual garment to the time and place. If one cannot justify wearing a tuxedo, one can probably not justify wearing a top hat except for novelty or humorous intent.

    Looking at jodhpurs this way can give us a good idea how to wear them successfully. While jodhpurs have been, and are still worn in India with a wide variety of footwear, they have a special affinity to high boots, and they look most natural, when worn inside, rather than outside of the boots. By looking at such situations where a modern gentleman might wear high boots with his pants tucked into them, we may see how jodhpurs might be seen as clever and smart, and not just a novelty.

    In a place with notable snowstorms for example, jodhpurs worn with high boots on a day when the roads and sidewalks are not fully cleared shows much more flair and style than shoes with galoshes.

    A hiker or outdoor trekker might also pair jodhpurs with a pair of high snake-proof boots like the Chippewa #23913, to produce a very traditional look, but also achieve a very practical outfit which in addition to protecting the gentleman from reptiles, will not pick up burs and briars, and will protect him from thorns and cactus. Such an outfit also would be superior to the common ‘snake chaps’ widely used in rattlesnake country, because the clean profile of a high boot makes ticks comparatively easy to spot and remove before they can get inside your pants (important for outdoorsmen with Lyme disease spreading in the US and Europe, and with new tick-borne diseases being discovered yearly all over the world, including new emerging diseases in the US and other developed nations .

    With a bit of thought, one might be able to think of other places where a high boot, and by extension, a gentleman in jodhpurs might be appropriate. Does anyone have some tips in this regard?

    • Sven Raphael Schneider
      Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      Wow, that’s a long, thoughtful comment. Thank you very much! I would have never thought about the aspect of practicality in regard to ticks. Most high elegant leather boots are leather lined and hence too cold for winter wear in my opinion. The man on the motorcycle wears them naturally and they look great on him. Also, in combination with tweed jackets they look great outdoors, for example when hiking.

  11. Arsch Sharma
    Arsch Sharma says:

    It is indeed a very informative article, and very nicely penned. I think that the Jodhpore trousers can work really well with tweed jackets, much like plus fours. My great grandfather used to wear them quite often when he used to go hunting. The most beautiful thing about these trousers is that they can be tailored from a variety of fabrics, which makes them suitable to wear at any time of the year.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] compliment the silhouette of the hacking jacket. Once again the more adventurous can mix and match. Jodhpur trousers and Jodhpur boots are a good choice for those who have the confidence to carry them […]

  2. […] the equestrian fashion favored the shepherd’s check jodhpur trousers that summer […]

  3. […] were not worn on the shoulders but still on the cuff. The British Warm was intended to be worn with Jodhpur trousers and field boots which came up to the knee. In order to reveal a glimpse of the trousers, the […]

  4. […] honoring the cavalry that brought polo to the western world by means of wearing white jeans (or Jodhpurs), to the divot stomping at halftime. In both Constantinople’s ancient fields and those of the […]

  5. […] Soon it is boot season again and so it’s the perfect time to start a little series about different boots. First up, we’d like to discuss Jodhpur boots because they are a classic shoe closet staple even though they are not quite as popular as the Chelsea boot, which we will cover shortly. Like most boots, Jodhpurs have an equestrian root, being developed for riding after the ‘invention ‘of the Jodhpur trousers. […]

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