“What’s that?” asked my husband, gesturing discreetly towards a girl walking on the other side of the road. “Are those flared trousers or have long skirts come back into fashion? Is it…,” he paused, wracking his brains for the right words, “…a full-length divided skirt?” I was quite impressed for I never thought my man of books and ideas would have any notion about divided skirts. Holding forth on divide and rule and its impact on society was more in his line.
“That’s a palazzo,” I replied, pleased I knew the answer to that one.
“Palazzo? Italian dish?” He looked puzzled. “Ha, Indian is more like it,” I commented, for the girl striding smartly ahead was very attractive in spite of her incongruous attire.
“Is it the in thing?” he asked, frowning in disapproval. “Looks like a confused tailor came up with this many-in-one.”
I looked at him in wonder. Why, his nonchalant observation might well hold the key to the baffling mystery of the origin of the palazzo pants. “This ‘many-in-one’, a combo of harem pants, trousers, long skirt, divided skirt, salwar, gharara, ghagra, sharara and bell bottoms, was quite likely a smart tailor’s sartorial response to a fickle-minded client’s order,” I observed.
“I think it looks like an underskirt,” he pronounced, rather uncharitably. “You left that one out.” No matter what it looks like, there’s always room in a palazzo for debate and argument.
Palazzo pants became popular in the 1960s when Hollywood actresses favoured them. It is also believed that around the same period, when high-end restaurants denied admission to women in trousers, some enterprising feminists sought a way around this by wearing palazzos that were actually trousers but looked like skirts, thereby pleasing the prim, patriarchal restaurant owners and satisfying their own skirt-shunning instincts.
Very few can carry it off with panache. Not that it has stopped devotees of fashion from…