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White Breeches Jodhpurs – History of the Famous Pants

Polo Tradition of Whites

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:



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.


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.
Motorcycle Uniform

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