The Gurkha trousers: when style meets imperialism.

If you follow my Instagram account you must be familiar with a couple of pairs of trousers I have been wearing a lot lately. These pants feature a unique side closure, which is inspired by the iconic and in my opinion problematic Gurkha trousers.

When I say iconic, I mean it: Gurkha trousers feature a very unique buckling system which sets them apart from other utilitarian designs: typically, a buckle emanates from within the waistband on the left hip and buckles there, and a second buckle is fastened with an extension above the fly piece forming the buckle’s tongue for the right hip, as shown below.

The classic Gurkha buckling. Image credit: The Dons Club.

These pants take their name from Nepal’s elite soldiers of the same name, the Gurkhas, and the Gurkhas themselves in turn derive their name from the Nepalese Kingdom of Gorkha. During their imperialist land grab, the British East India Company came into conflict with the Gorkha military, which gave them a run for their money thanks to unparalleled knowledge of the terrain, stamina, and, you know, not wanting to be colonized and stuff. While the British ultimately prevailed and went on “westernizing” left and right, they were so awed by the combat prowess of the Gurkhas that they negotiated a treaty which still (!) allows the British Army to recruit Gurkhas.

The Gurkha trouser, which, it should be obvious, is far from being what the Gurkhas themselves would have traditionally worn, was borne out of this events.

A painting of the old Gorkhali Army that fought the British East India Company. Image credit: Sir Kukri & Co.

In their most widespread form, Gurkha pants present a double-pleated front and high, cummerbund-style waistband with buckle fastenings on both sides (often called double Gurkha). One side buckle is also common, the aforementioned single Gurkha. I decided to use a single buckle to avoid extra bulkI also made more modifications to the original design: I constructed my trousers with a single pleat (instead of a double pleat) and welt pockets. I also made the tongue quite slender: as fas as I know, the usual waistband is taller than 5 cm/2″, but such a wide waistband overwhelms my frame so I stuck to 5 cm waistband and 2.5 cm tongue. I also wanted to make my tongue extra long and use a double D ring instead of a buckle.

Fighting the temptation of over tightening your buckle is hard, haha.

I made two versions, one in fresco di Lana, pictured above, and one in linen, which you can see at the beginning of this post. Overall I have worn both lots, and often get compliments because they are indeed unique. The pattern is self-drafted and possibly my favorite so far, among my own drafts. However, I cannot shake the feeling that using such a specific name for the style is…problematic at best. This is not the traditional garb of the Gurkha, on the contrary their name has been used by the colonizers to define the garb they imposed. It’s not a “giving credit where credit is due”, which wouldn’t even be true if every classic style aficionade knew the reason behind the name (which I highly doubt). On the contrary, in my opinion it only perpetrates imperialism. In addition, as you all know by now, I am a devotee of descriptive naming and “Gurkha trousers” is not it. Why not call them “extended waistband buckled trousers” instead.

I guess this is just another example of fashion, race, and colonialism being connected in ways which sometimes escape superficial observation. I for one will try to make a conscious effort to come up with a better name while also bring attention to the origin of the style.

That’s all folks


Note: there seem to be controversy on the correct way to call a person from Gorkha. I do recommend reading this fascinating article on the matter. According to my Nepali friend, becoming a Gurkha is still a coveted position to this day, and they personally know people who have achieved this feat. They were also quick to point out that, in their opinion, it’s high time they freed themselves of the vestige of colonialism.

2 thoughts on “The Gurkha trousers: when style meets imperialism.”

  1. Very interesting Emilia! Nepalese fashion is enduring! Your tailoring skills are impressive! Thanks for the history lesson.

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