Jodhpurs, in their modern form, are tight-fitting trousers that reach to the ankle, where they end in a snug cuff, and are worn primarily for horse riding. The term is also used as slang for a type of short riding boot, also called a paddock boot or a jodhpur boot, because they are worn with jodhpurs. Originally, jodhpurs were snug-fitting only from just below the knee to the ankle and were flared at the hip; modern stretch fabrics have allowed jodhpurs to remove the flare and yet remain supportive and flexible.1
Jodhpurs originally were long pants, reaching to the ankle, snug from the calf to the ankle, with reinforced fabric protecting the inner calf and knee from rubbing. The thighs and hips were flared, a traditional oriental style possibly to help with bodily cooling in a hot climate,citation needed but which, in an era before the invention of stretch fabrics, also allowed free movement of the hip and thigh while riding.
They originate from an ancient style of Indian trouser called the Churidar, which is tight around the calf and baggy at the hips, still worn at traditional Jodhpury weddings.2 This is a special traditional style of clothing in Northern India, especially in what is today the modern state of Rajasthan, which has its capital at the city of Jaipur. Sir Pratap Singh, a younger son of the Maharaja of Jodhpur, popularised in England the style of riding-trousers worn in Jodhpur, a design that he apparently improved and perfected by himself and first tailored in India about 1890.34
Singh was an avid polo player, and when he visited Queen Victoria in England during her Diamond Jubilee celebrations of 1897, bringing with him his entire polo team, they caused a sensation among the fashionable circles of the United Kingdom, with their reputation enhanced by the fact that they won many polo matches.5 His jodhpur style with flared thigh and hip was rapidly taken up by the British polo playing community, who adapted it to existing designs of English breeches that ended at mid-calf, worn with tall riding boots.citation needed Thus the full-legged design of the true Jodhpur was not adopted as British polo apparel, and all early photographs of European polo teams show the use of tall boots. Though the term "jodhpurs" was applied colloquially to this style of breeches, they were not true jodhpurs and are more accurately termed "flared-hip breeches". This British version was soon being produced by Savile Row tailors in London. The use of the Indian-style, ankle-length Jodhpurs avoided the need for tall, expensive riding boots, as the calf of the leg was protected by the reinforced design and snug.
Special adaptations for riding include a pattern cut with the leg seams on the outside of the leg; a patch on the inside of the knee, sometimes of a hard-wearing material such as leather; and in some cases similar leather or leather-like panel on the seat that helps the rider stay still in the saddle. Classic jodhpurs are beige or white, but for working purposes come in a variety of colours.1 They are particularly well-suited for fast-growing children as shorter paddock boots cost less than tall boots to replace as a child's feet grow.
The word "jodhpurs" is often used interchangeably with riding breeches, though this is technically incorrect, as breeches are riding apparel that come down to only about mid-calf, designed to be worn with long stockings and tall boots. Jodhpurs are ankle length and worn with short, ankle-high Jodhpur boots, also known as Paddock Boots, sometimes with knee-length half-chaps or leggings.1
Jodhpurs are sometimes worn as fashion clothing, not only for riding. In popular culture, jodhpur-style breeches worn with tall boots became particularly associated with military staff officers who wore uniforms based on riding apparel, often derived from the cavalry tradition from which many nations historically drew their corps of top commanders. The style thus came to be associated with authority figures in general and was copied by certain Hollywood movie directors. Flared-hip breeches formed part of the military uniform of staff officers in Nazi Germany and many Soviet Bloc countries, including the former USSR and East Germany,citation needed although the motor-car had by then long replaced the officer's horse. They also were adopted as the uniform for some forces of motorcycle police.citation needed Early 20th century African big game hunters are also associated with the look, due in part to early traditions of riding on horseback in search of quarry.
Ladies began wearing jodhpurs during the 1920s, as they shifted away from riding horses sidesaddle. One of the first high-profile women to adopt the wearing of jodhpurs was Coco Chanel. She was inspired to copy the breeches as worn by a friend's groom.6
As part of the 20th century trend of crossover fashions moving from sportswear to streetwear, various designers have incorporated equestrian styles into their clothing, including jodhpurs. Ralph Lauren is the most well-known of these designers, as equestrian styles and motifs are the basis of the Ralph Lauren Polo line. (Polo/Ralph Lauren presented "Man and the Horse", an exhibit of riding clothing and accoutrements from three centuries at the Metropolitan Museum of New York Costume Institute in 1984, curated by Diana Vreeland.)7
Kentucky Jodhpurs are full-length riding pants used exclusively in Saddle seat riding. Like Hunt Seat jodhpurs, they are close-fitting from waist to ankle, but differ in that they are noticeably longer, ending with a flared bell bottom that fits over a jodhpur boot, usually extending below the heel of the boot in back, and covering the arch of the foot (but not the toe) in front. The overall look gives the impression of a rider with a long leg and heel lower than the toe, a desired equitation standard. Like the hunt seat jodhpur, they have elastic straps that run under the boot to help hold the pant leg in place.1 Saddle seat riders, whose riding clothing styles derived from men's business suits, wear Kentucky Jodhpurs in dark colors, usually black, navy blue, or a shade that matches the riding coat.8
- Price, Steven D. (ed.) The Whole Horse Catalog: Revised and Updated New York:Fireside 1998 ISBN 0-684-83995-4 p. 215
- Photographs exist of Sir Pratap Singh mounted on a horse, apparently in England, wearing his tight-calfed riding trousers with traditional Indian riding footwear rather than tall boots, dated 1917 & 1918.  Images, Hulton Archives: 7 March 1917, Sir Pratap Singh on Horseback, Editorial Image #3096959; & gettyimages.co.uk image # 104416011, 1 Jan 1918
- Goodman, Wendy (26 November 1984). "New York Magazine". p. 72.
- Goodman, Wendy (26 November 1984). "New York Magazine". p. 67.
- Crabtree, Helen K. Saddle Seat Equitation: The Definitive Guide Revised Edition New York:Doubleday 1982 ISBN 0-385-17217-6 p. 92-100
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