Fashion with a history rooted in war is nothing new. Availability in military surplus stores and a certain Robert DeNiro movie led the army jacket to become popular as civilian garb, and standard military issue turned into everyday practicality (even for the flak it catches) in the form of the cargo pant. But no singular piece comes with such a captivating story as the Gurkha Trouser.
The Gurkha Trouser’s name comes directly from Nepal’s highest-order soldiers, who first came to prominence fighting British East India invaders in the early 1800’s. Native to the region of Central Nepal, the Gurkha’s had incredible stamina, borne of living at high altitude. This combined with their fearless demeanour and knowledge of their home terrain led them to stun their invaders, who took much longer than they had anticipated to defeat them in the Anglo-Nepalese war.
Since then, they have went on to fight for their previous aggressors, the British, in miliary campaigns across the globe. If you visit Whitehall Road while in London, outside the Ministry of Defense, you can find the World War I Gurkha Memorial, a solier standing proud and resolute with an inscription reading “Bravest of the brave” at his feet. Although it is hard to tell whether he is wearing the distinctive style of buckle under his army jacket, one can dare to dream. Now they have crossed the final frontier – menswear – as the Gurkha trouser has become favoured by Instagram style icons, seen in Florence’s Pitti Uomo and even New York City.
The Gurkha Trouser’s design is defined by its double-pleated cummerbund style waistband with buckle fastenings to allow the wearer to adjust the fit if they fluctuate in weight. It’s not uncommon to see curious adaptations, like in a short or featuring ticket pockets. The overall effect is an increase in attention towards the legs, perhaps seen best without a jacket at all to defer any wandering eyes.
Admittedly, it’s difficult for me to make a stance on these pants. On one hand they are clearly functional and are a nod to some of the most badass John Rambo-types the world has ever known. But one part of me wants to view it as a tactless repurposing of a traditional garment, verging on a fad and so far-removed from sartorial standards that it could easily fall into disuse. Like anything else you see for the first time on Instagram, it is at the danger of falling victim to the next trend , and ending up in the dark end of well-curated closets.
But at the same time, sometimes we have to look back in time for inspiration, and the important thing is that the Gurkha trouser doesn’t feel stolen from the Gurkha’s themselves, who still occupy highly coveted positions in the British military (albeit with standard issue cargo pants). Although far from the battlefield, its presence prompts casual menswear fans to look into the fascinating history of its original wearers, and it seems too esoteric to ever be taken up by fast fashion.
So buckle up with a range of retailers who are capitalizing on this phenomenon like Rubinacci (best seen on @thedonsclub) running at a higher price point ($500 CAD), and PiniParma and Cordone 1956 ($350 CAD) offering middle range options. But keep in mind if you have at least a few months of winter before you can pull it off like this: