From the mid 19th century to about the mid 20th century, there were a lot of advertisements in newspapers and magazines for something called odd pants. Judging from context, I suspect they were not just "unusual," which is what one would likely infer from "odd pants" in casual English today.

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  • The Galveston Daily News (Galveston, Texas) 1 Feb. 1923

It almost seems as if "odd pants" was as common a term as "work shoes" or "dress pants" are today.

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  • The Wichita Daily Eagle (Wichita, Kansas) 02 Apr 1915

The term is not in the OED or other dictionaries I consulted, and most of the instances I've found "in the wild" are from this time period ranging from about 1850 to 1950, mostly in advertisements that don't provide a lot of context for understanding what "odd pants" are.

So what exactly are "odd pants?" Why are they called this? Is there a reason the term grew into and then fell out of favor so quickly? Is the term or any of its variations still used today, and I've simply been missing out?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Commented Mar 29, 2018 at 14:23
  • This term, or the British variation "odd trousers", is still used within the world of bespoke tailoring. lbf's answer is correct about the meaning. Commented Mar 29, 2018 at 14:45

2 Answers 2


odd pants, in that they were not part of a suit (coat pants with or without vest)

Growing Up: Childhood in English Canada from the Great War to the Age of Television (Themes in Canadian Social History)Aug 16, 1997 by Neil Sutherland google books

"For Hugh Palmer's 'Sunday best,' his father 'bought me a pair of black Oxfords to go with my blue serge suit. How I hated that suit. The short trousers, or "stovepipes," were unlined, and the serge was a particularly rough sort - no doubt designed to cause maximum chafing just above a boy's knees.'11 In Cedar Cottage, one man explained, boys' Sunday outfits 'weren't suits, you know ... odd pants and some gloves, a shirt or something ... but they weren't too fancy clothes at that..."

It appears that after the great war, clothing factories sprung up specializing in just [odd] pants, to the chagrin of complete suit manufacturers.

"One of the most popular styles of the odd pants was the very loose white flannel trousers. They were worn by men who were extremely class conscious and wanted to visually remove themselves from the less financially fortunate. In The Great Gatsby, Nick describes that for the lawn party he “dressed up in white flannels....” The two other kinds of odd pants worn by men were the trousers called Oxford Bags and knickers." Google books: Fashion in the Time of the Great Gatsby

And now ... just pants. Whereas men would own many suits, they now own a suit or 2, 5 or so sport jackets and numerous pants with odd and varied patterns, colors etc. And ... definitely a number of pair of khakis.

  • The last definition of "odd" at ODO and dictionary.com both refer to an item that's would usually be considered part of a set, but is found by itself. That's presumably where this phrase comes from.
    – Barmar
    Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 20:22

Fashion in the Time of the Great Gatsby by LaLonnie Lehman indicates that "odd clothing" was a trend in the development of more casual fashions that arose in the 1920s of having suits consisting of "pants, coats, and vests that did not all match in color and fabric." Your example is from a few years earlier, and you say you've come across the term in ads going back to 1850, so I don't know if earlier uses of the phrase meant something else, or whether the the trend actually wasn't new--perhaps it was a revival--in the 1920s but Lehman was unaware of that.

What I can only surmise, between your ad and my source, is that these were pants of the type worn with vests and jackets, but sold on their own rather than as part of a matched set.

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