What are Pedal Pushers?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Pedal pushers are pants that are as symbolic of the 1950s as were poodle skirts. They are quite similar in style to the Capri pant that became popular in 1949 and were nearly instantly embraced by movie stars like Audrey Hepburn. Unlike the Capri pant, which is a slim fit, or tight fitting style that ends just below the knee, pedal pushers often have a looser fit and end at mid-calf. They frequently lack the characteristic slit on the bottom side seam of the Capri, and might instead feature cuffs.

Actress Audrey Hepburn wore pedal pusher pants in the 1950s.
Actress Audrey Hepburn wore pedal pusher pants in the 1950s.

The original goal of this type of pant was to allow women to ride a bicycle comfortably, without their entangling clothing in the chain or wheels. Generally, the longer and looser the pant, the more likely a person is to snag it in the chains, which could result in ripped pants or, at the very least, grease stains that are hard to remove. Some bicyclists use elastic bands to keep the pant leg away from the chain, but pedal pushers offered a way to avoid this unfashionable look and keep the clothing protected.

Sometimes, the name is used as a synonym for Capri and a variety of other styles of pant that end at the calf or just below the knee. A few other names that are sometimes used for similar items of clothing include clam diggers, toreador pants, motor scooter slacks, and Calypso or pirate pants. Clam diggers are often cuffed pants and are meant to imitate the way people rolled up their pants when searching for clams in ankle deep water.

The terms motor scooter slacks and pedal pushers are essentially the same thing. Capri pants are quite similar to toreador and Calypso or pirate pants. The main difference with Calypso and pirate pants from the Capris is that they are supposed to look a little worn and might feature a shorter waist, below the natural waistline. All styles of Capri are usually short and tended to be skinny fit or tightly fitting to the body, so they typically aren't suited to a great deal of athletic activity.

This style of pant has gone in and out of fashion. They are often simply called Capri pants, even if they have a looser fit. The pants come in a variety of colors, fabrics, and patterns and are still excellent for use in casual rides on a bicycle.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


@indigomoth - The thing that annoys me is that there is almost no reason for it. They seem to invent clothing prices out of thin air and they have little to do with quality.

That's just one of the many things wrong with the clothing industry. My main pet peeve is that it's so difficult to find decent clothes for larger women. Is it so hard to imagine that cute plus size pedal pushers might have a place in stores?


@irontoenail - I wonder if that's true for the fashions worn by starlets though. I mean, I don't think 1950s pedal pushers were ever that expensive, even when they were the height of fashion.

Whereas these days, if something is highly fashionable, it is almost always extremely expensive. People can talk about finding vintage clothes in thrift shops all they like, but I know of a lot of women who think nothing of spending hundreds or even thousands on a single day's outfit, something that I think would have been almost unthinkable back in the day, no matter who you were.


@anon31334 - They were almost certainly made out of cotton, since I don't think they had all that many synthetic materials back then and cotton was one of the cheaper alternatives.

I was actually talking about this to my grandmother as there had been a news report about how people are starting to move away from clothes that are made with slave labor and she told me that she can't believe how cheap and terrible clothes are these days.

Back in her day they were made to last and they were more expensive, but it balanced out because you would just have a handful of outfits and would take good care of them. Even if fashion seems to cycle around (she can remember pedal pushers being popular more than once), the trend seems to have been for clothes to get cheaper and cheaper in general.


What were the common materials for the pedal pushers to be made out of?

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