Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1793 French sans-culotte
Subjectsans-culotte 'without knee-breeches' revolutionary partisan
Culture: French
Setting: French Revolution, France 1790s-1810s

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Biggs 2024-02-26 online
"The sans-culottes were the shock troops that stormed the Bastille, the insurrectionaries that overthrew the monarchy, and the people who — on a weekly and sometimes even daily basis — gathered in the political clubs in Paris that gave representation to the masses. Here, they deliberated the most pressing political issues of the day.
    "They had a distinct identity, exclaiming it for all to hear on September 8, 1793:
        “We are the sans-culottes… the poor and virtuous… we know who our friends are. Those who freed us from     the clergy and from the nobility, from feudalism, from tithes, from royalty and from all the plagues that     follow in its wake.”

* Werlin 2017-01-06 online
"'We are the sans-culottes… poor and virtuous, we have formed a society of artisans and peasants. we know who our friends are: those who freed us from the clergy and from the nobility, from feudalism, from tithes, from royalty and from all the plagues that follow in its wake.'
On 8 September 1793 the sans-culottes society of Beaucaire, a militant group that rose to prominence during the most violent years of the French revolution, gave this rallying cry. But it wasn’t through words and actions alone that they stamped their mark on history. What they wore also made a powerful statement.
    "The name sans-culottes translates to 'without breeches', referring to the more casual trousers worn by the working classes. The sans-culottes expressed their new freedoms through their clothing, transforming dress which had been a mark of poverty into a badge of honour. They proclaimed to the world that their clothing, once a sign of oppression, was now a sign of freedom.  The people had found a voice and suddenly the ordinary, the 'artisans and peasants', became extraordinary.
    "What the sans-culottes claimed to have stood for and the reality of their actions are two different things. But they do provide a fascinating look at a group who used clothing to celebrate the freedoms brought about by the French revolution, a conflict lasting from approximately 1789 to 1799. It is difficult to describe the social makeup of the sans-culottes, a radical and often violent faction whose most active years were between 1792 and 1794. Ostensibly the faction was filled with members of the labouring and lower middle classes - small shopkeepers, artisans, craftsmen, and those who did heavy manual labour, though their ranks were later swelled by sympathetic small landowners. They idealised a simple existence where all citizens were equal. But the defining feature of the sans-culottes was not the participating social classes or ideology, but their dress."

* Fashion 2018 p639
"Sans-culottes  Name given to the French Revolutionaries or Jacobins to distinguish them from the aristocrats.  The term referred to the fact that these men wore trousers rather than the knee-breeches (culottes) of the nobility."


* Werlin 2017-01-06 online
​"As it had been in the centuries before the French revolution, dress was a potent visual indicator of social status in the late eighteenth century.
    "Fabric was extremely expensive, and an elegance of appearance was associated with an elegance of character. Being well dressed was a significant investment, both financially and socially. Fashionable dress for men was a three-piece suit consisting of a coat, waistcoat, and breeches. A man’s status was shown through both the fineness of fabric and trims as well as the tailoring. This was before the age of fast fashion. Everything was handmade to order. A suit would be sewn to the exact measurements of the customer, ensuring a perfect fit. The ability to afford such tailoring was a show of wealth as well as lifestyle. Well-fitting clothing was restrictive, thus a man in a perfectly tailored suit was a man of leisure.
    "The dress of the working class was different to that of the nobility and bourgeoisie - clothing was looser, allowing for the movement required of manual labour. The basic components of coat and waistcoat remained, but the tight breeches were replaced by loose fitting trousers (le pantalon) to allow for more freedom of movement. It is from this significant difference that the sans[-]culottes took their name. In addition, the typical uniform of the sans-culottes included a short jacket (le carmagnole), wooden shoes, (les sabots), and a red cap of liberty (le bonnet rouge).
    "The dress of the sans-culottes was not new or different, it was the same style of dress which had been worn by the working-class for years, but the context had changed. As author and fashion historian Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell said: 'Their working-class trousers served as shorthand for their radical pride in their humble origins and egalitarian values. In many ways, it was comparable to young people proudly wearing torn, distressed, or sagging pants today: a deliberate and highly visible rejection of authority and polite society in general.'
    "Ironically, the anti-fashion statement of the sans-culottes became a fashion in itself. Some members of the bourgeoisie and the elite adopted the sans-culottes uniform as a way of showing sympathy with the revolutionary cause. Philippe Halbert, a Yale University history of art doctoral student, said: “There was something ‘fashionable’ about the sans-culottes even as they eschewed aristocratic sartorial conventions.” Dressing in the sans-culottes style became a way to express visually loyalty to the revolution, an increasingly important statement during the violence of the reign of terror, when loyalties were constantly questioned and even wearing the wrong colour could lead to imprisonment or execution."

* Wilcox 1958 p221
"The trousers opened in front by means of a panel buttoned to the vest by three buttons and were called pantalon à pont, bridge trousers, the panel operating like a drawbridge.  These trousers, hitherto worn only by British sailors, were accompanied by either a vest or a jacket, named a carmagnole.  The carmagnole was originally worn by Piedmont workers who came from 'Carmagnola,' and the deputies of Marseilles took the garment to Paris, where it was adopted by the Revolutionaries. 
    "Those who wore trousers were called sans-culottes, meaning 'without breeches,' differentiating them from the aristocrat, but eventually the term came to signify the patriot.  The red bonnet or cap, symbol of liberty with its cockade, completed the costume of the patriot or democrat.
    "The red liberty bonnet or cap varied in shape, being of Phrygian origin, or with hanging pointed crown, or just a skullcap with the pointed crown, but always ornamented with the tricolor cockade.  The large felt hat with brim held up in front by the cockade was also seen.  The red was always placed between the blue and the white.
    "The patriot of 1789-1790 wore the frock coat, with high turndown collar and lapels, cut away in front with tail in back.  His breeches were tight, descending below the knees, sometimes finished with ribbon loops.
    "Heels, buckles and rosettes disappeared with the Revolution, leaving a soft, heelless slipper fastened with plain strings, worn with white or striped silk stockings.  The indecision as to the length of the trousers was settled by wearing boots.  They were of soft, highly polished black leather, with light-brown leather turndown cuffs and bootstraps hanging at the sides.  This was the English jockey boot, commonly known as the top boot.  The white or striped stockings showed between boot top and stocking.  Well-fitting gaiters were also the fashion."

* Biggs 2024-02-26 online
"The sans-culottes expressed their new freedoms through their clothing, transforming dress which had been a mark of poverty into a badge of
    "Sans-Culottes translates to “without breeches” and it was meant to help distinguish them from members of the French upper-classes who often wore three-piece suits with breeches — tight-fitting pants that hit just below the knee.
    "The restrictiveness of this clothing signified a status of leisure, a status of being unfamiliar with the dirt and drudgery of hard work. French workers and craftsmen wore loose-fitting clothing which was much more practical for manual labor.
    "Loose-fitting pantaloons contrasted so sharply with the restrictive breeches of the upper-classes that it would become the rebels’ namesake.  
    "During the most radical days of the French Revolution, loose fitting pants became such a symbol of egalitarian principles and Revolutionary virtue, that — at the peak of their influence — even the sans-culottes’ educated, wealthy bourgeois allies adopted the fashion of the lower classes. The red ‘cap of liberty’ also became the normal headgear of the sans-culottes.
    "The dress of the sans-culottes was not new or different, it was the same style of dress which had been worn by the working-class for years, but the context had changed. The celebration of lower-class dress by the sans-culottes was a celebration of the new freedoms of expression, socially, politically, and economically, that the French Revolution promised.

* Barsis 1973 p348
"The red Phrygian cap, once the mark of the sailor, has now become a symbol of the revolutionary, particularly of the members of the Jacobin club, the strongest and most radical influence in the Sections of Paris, and a decisive force both in sporadic uprisings and during the Terror.
    "The long sailors' trousers ... gave these men the name of sansculottes.  In spite of popular misconception, the name did not apply to people who did not wear pants at all, but rather, to people who did not wear culottes, the tight, knee-length breeches associated with upper classes, but sometimes worn by lower-class men, too.  The trousers of the sansculottes were sometimes striped in the colors of the revolution, red, white, and blue, or they were of unbleached linen.  Basically, they are the same trousers worn by men today."

* Fashion 2018 p638
"Phrygian cap, Bonnet phrygien, Bonnet rouge   Ancient Greek soft cap or bonnet of felt or leather with a high crown, forward curving peak, and chin strap, adopted by the French Revolutionaries as an emblem of liberty."