Chap my hide! A brief history of biker chaps

by on March 25, 2007
in Commentary

pink biker chapsIn the “Just In Case You’re Curious” department, here’s a brief bit about a popular bit of biker leather – chaps! We can all guess that biker chaps have evolved from what the cowboys out on the range historically wore (and still wear), and we’d be right. But, the style bikers like – the kind that zip up the side and cover the entire leg – are only part of the historical picture.Wikipedia says, “The word is recorded in English since 1844, as an abbreviation of chaparajos, from Mexican or Spanish chaparreras. Words with similar background include chaparro or chaparral, the evergreen scrub vegetation that can tear at a rider’s legs and gave rise to the need for chaps.” Styles of chaps include:

  • Batwing, which are cut wide with a flare at the bottom and have only with two or three fasteners around the thigh. This gives plenty of room for movement for the lower leg.
  • Shotgun, are the type bikers wear. They fit snugly and completely around each leg, and the two legs are joined by a built-in belt at the waist. So-named because the legs resemble the double-barrel of a shotgun.
  • Chinks are a half-length chap that usually come to just below the knee, with a couple of fasteners up around the thigh.
  • Half chaps protect the lower portion of the leg only and are usually worn by English-style riders in place of tall boots.

Of particular interest to bikers, this little bit about shotgun-style chaps appeared recently on a Harley owners’ newsgroup.

The early Texans (mexicans and Anglos) of 1830-40’s designed the first full length leather britches, that completely encircled the legs and by the early 1870’s were called SHOTGUNS, because these seatless pants resembled a double barrel shotgun. The plain variety which were not adorned with fringe or conchos were called CLOSED LEGS. For big legged cowboys they fit snuggly around the legs and for some were difficult to remove with your boots and spurs on. The waistband is the defining characteristic of the period it came from. The early pairs had a belt that went all the way around the waist and buckled in the back. Most of these chaps were made of lightweight leather, doe, kid, calf, even shaved seal was offered in this style. By the 1880’s some chap makers were making two pieced chaps that were lased up the front, with a square waistband, up until the turn of the century when the curved or contoured waistband was introduced. Although these were the most popular style until the turn of the century, there were still many working cowboys that preferred this style. The 1900’s also added another feature, zippers. Most modern shotguns include zippers for a tighter tailored fit and are popular with cowboys and motorcycle enthusiasts.

Just thought you’d like to know!

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