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German knickerbockers.
Knickerbockers were a men's or boys' baggy knee trousers particularly popular in the early twentieth century. Golfers' plus twos and plus fours wear trousers of this type. Before World War II, skiers often wore knickerbockers too, usually ankle-length.

Until after World War II, in many anglophone countries, boys customarily wore short pants in summer and knickerbockers or "knickers" (or "knee pants") in winter. At the onset of puberty, they graduated to long trousers. In that era, the transition to "long pants" was a major rite of passage. See, for example, the classic song Blues in the Night by Johnny Mercer: "My mammy done told me, when I was in knee-pants, my mammy done told me, son..."

Baseball players wear a stylized form of knickerbockers, although the pants have become snugger in recent decades and some modern ballplayers opt to pull the trousers close to the ankles.


The name "Knickerbocker" first acquired meaning with Washington Irving's History of New York, featured the fictional author Diedrich Knickerbocker, an old-fashioned Dutch New Yorker in Irving's satire of chatty and officious local history. In fact, Washington Irving had a real friend named Herman Knickerbocker (1779-1855), whose name he borrowed. Herman Knickerbocker, in turn, was of the upstatemarker Knickerbocker clan, which descended from a single immigrant ancestor, Harmen Jansen van Wijhe Knickerbocker. Jansen van Wijhe invented the name upon arriving in New Amsterdam and signed a document with a variant of it in 1682. After Irving's History, by 1831, "Knickerbocker" had become a local bye-word for an imagined old Dutch-descended New York aristocracy, their old-fashioned ways, their long-stemmed pipes, and knee-breeches long after the fashion had turned to trousers. (Such cultural heritage springing almost entirely from Irving's imagination and becoming a well-known example of an invented tradition.) "Knickerbocker" became a byeword for a New York patrician, comparable to a "Boston Brahmin".

Thus the "New York Knickerbockers" were an amateur social and athletic club organized by Alexander Cartwright on Manhattan's (Lower) East Side in 1842, largely to play "base ball" according to written rules, the first organized team in baseball history; on June 19, 1846 the New York Knickerbockers played the first game of "base ball" organized under those rules, in Hoboken, New Jerseymarker, and were trounced 23 - 1. The Knickerbocker name stayed with the team even after it moved its base of operations to Elysian Fields at Hoboken, N.J. in 1846. The baseball link may have prompted Casey Stengel to joyously exclaim, "It's great to be back as the manager of the Knickerbockers!" when he was named pilot of the newborn New York Mets in 1961.

Hence also the locally-brewed "Knickerbocker Beer" brewed by Jacob Ruppert, the first sponsors of the tv show tonight!.; hence the gossip columnist "Cholly Knickerbocker", the pen name of Igor Cassini ; hence the extremely high-toned Knickerbocker Club (still in a neo-Georgian mansion on Fifth Avenuemarker at 62nd Street, which was founded in 1871 when some members of the Union Club became concerned that admission policies weren't strict enough); and hence the New York Knicks, whose corporate name is the "New York Knickerbockers."

The Knickerbocker name was an integral part of the New York scene when the Basketball Association of America granted a charter franchise to the city in the summer of 1946. As can best be determined, the final decision to call the team the "Knickerbockers" was made by the club's founder, Ned Irish. The team is now generally referred to as the Knicks.

Knickerbockers have been popular in other sporting endeavors, particularly golf, rock climbing, cross-country skiing, and bicycling.

Indeed, in cycling they were standard attire for nearly a hundred years, with the majority of archival photos of cyclists in the era before World War I showing men wearing knickerbockers tucked into long socks. They remained fairly popular in England (where they are called "breeks" or "trews") in the years between World War I and World War II, but eventually were eclipsed in popularity by racing tights, even among the vast majority of cyclists who never raced. Invariably referred to as "knickers" in the US, where the British definition is unknown, they lived on as a just-past-the-knee variant of racing tights reserved for colder-weather riding.

With the sudden emergence of bike messenger culture as a significant influence in youth fashion in the late 1990s, as well as the increase in vehicular cycling attributable to a greater awareness of the environmental and social ills deriving from total automobile dependency, non-racing bicycle knickers have been re-emerging as the attire of choice for people who integrate their cycling with everyday activities, and who need passably normal looking clothing that won't catch in the drive chain. Companies such as Rapha, Swrve, Bicycle Fixation, and many others have emerged to serve this market, producing a large variety of designs in materials ranging from high-tech blends to classic wool gabardine.

In Japan

In Japanmarker, knickerbockers called 'tobi trousers' are often worn by public works and construction workers (if not always for the latter), and their popular length has significantly increased over time, lowering the baggy part down the bottom of the leg like plus-fours and plus-sixes, and sometimes to the feet like trousers.

Knickerbockers are often worn in baseball as pants, a custom that has been practiced even since long pants became widely used in the U.S. The traditional knickerbockers of old were more like pants that had been folded back with long socks.


In the United Kingdommarker, Irelandmarker and some Commonwealth nations, the term knickers for women's undergarments owes its origin to Dickens' illustrator, George Cruikshank, who did the illustrations for Washington Irving's droll History of New York when it was published in London. He showed the old-time Knickerbockers in their loose Dutch breeches, and by 1859, short loose ladies undergarments, a kind of abbreviated version of pantalettes or pantaloons, were knickers in England.

See also


  1. Compare transition to "long pants" with "Breeching ."
  2. knickerbocker. Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. retrieved 2008-1-3
  3. Frederic Cople Jaher, "Nineteenth-Century Elites in Boston and New York", Journal of Social History 6.1 (Autumn 1972), pp. 32-77.
  4. "Tonight!" Knickerbocker Beer Show, 1953.

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