If you came of age in the 90s, “Stop! Hammertime!” may make you drop into a semi-crouched position and scuttle laterally on your tiptoes. While those born in this millenium may worry you’re going into convulsions, people of your generation will know instinctively that, no, you can’t touch this. Such are the memories fostered by hammer pants, a style of a bygone era — and they’re matched only in flashback power by their 80s predecessors: parachute pants.
The Origin of Hammer Pants
The original hammer pants were harem pants, a 2,000-year-old fashion style of Western Asian culture that crossed modern-day skinny pants with billowy skirts. After they failed an attempted reinvention in the 1800s as bloomers, French designer Paul Poiret took a stab at making them fashionable in the 1900s. Reception by the fashionably elite was mild at best. It wasn’t until Isaac Mizrahi sent them down the runway in 1990 — to later be branded forever into pop culture by rapper MC Hammer — that harem pants finally “arrived,” reinvented this time as hammer pants.
A Brief History of Parachute Pants — Really Brief
Parachute pants officially entered fashion history in early 1983 through denim company, Bugle Boy, and they were initially a hot commodity for the fashion forward, hip-hop crowd. By late 1984, however, parachute pants had proved to have been only a passing fad — one that financially crippled the Bugle Boy company, whose short-sighted belief in the pants’ longevity motivated them to produce a lot more parachute pants than people wanted to put on.
Main Difference: Hammer Pants Are Twice the Size of Parachute Pants — From the Knees Up
Parachute pants represented an era that moved away from the baggy-legged look of the 70s bell bottom to a tighter-fitting, narrower ankle cut. Their brightly colored, nylon fabric can be compared to the fabric used to make parachutes — thus earning them the name — while multiple zippers and zippered pockets finalize the look. Conversely, hammer pants are characterized by their sheer bagginess, and they were constructed out of almost any fabric except nylon. Unlike bell bottoms, however, hammer pants concentrate their bagginess from waist to knee, tapering off for a narrower fit around the calf.
Hammer Pants — So Popular, They Appropriated the Parachute Pants Name
Parachute pants were adopted almost immediately by the hip-hop crowd as comfortable gear for breakdancing. Their popularity was very short lived, however, making a brief reappearance in a 1990s music video by R&B group TLC. After entering the fashion spotlight in MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” music video, hammer pants became instantly popular, enduring a much longer lifespan than their predecessors. Their popularity so surpassed that of parachute pants that the true origin of the title “parachute pants” — namely, nylon material — was discarded, and the term “parachute pants” came to mean any voluminous, billowy pant in the vein of hammer pants. Parachute pants and hammer pants were never similar in style, but, as the saying goes, history is written by the victors.
References and ResourcesThe Sydney Morning Herald: Harem Pants: A Liberating History
Fashion 101: A Crash Course in Clothing; Erika Stalder
Gold Sea Asian American Daily: Riches from Rags
Mental Floss: 15 Fashions People Were Rocking in 1983