Wednesday, 14 May 2014

On Bombay Bloomers and Plus-Sixes

                A couple of weeks back we had a suddenly hint of summer. My girlfriend phoned me and asked if I wanted to meet her at a nearly riding centre to look at the horses and then walk in the large park nearby. Since it was the first day of weather this year that did not need a jacket to be worn I dug out a pair of shorts. “Shorts” is a fairly loose description for these, since they are about knee length on me. Not quite shorts, not trousers and not quite long enough to be breeches.  My Brazilian girlfriend asked what such trousers were called in English and I was at a loss to give her a satisfactory answer.  Whatever they should be called, they are however incredibly comfortable to wear. My lady was of the opinion that they actually looked quite good worn with my boots.  I ended up telling my girlfriend about “Bombay Bloomers”. While this can be a generic term for the substantial shorts worn by soldiers of the British Empire the most notable sort were these shown worn by this Gurkha. 
 
                As you can see, the shorts have substantial turn ups and in these examples they are secured in place with buttons. The idea was quite ingenious. When the temperature dropped at night and the mosquitos became a nuisance the wearer could roll down the cuffs for more protection. Likewise, if the soldier had to operate where thorns or leaches were a hazard, he rolled the cuffs down. I have seen such shorts/trousers tucked into the tops of socks or gaiters. Some examples were evidently long enough to reach the ankle.
                The famous outdoorsman Horace Kephart in “Camping and Woodcraft” (1917) notes that  
To wear with leggings the ‘foot breeches ‘ of our infantry, which lace or button in front below the knee, fit better than trousers that must be lapped over; but for wilderness wear I prefer common  trousers cut off about six inches below the knee: they are easier to put on and they dry out quicker.”
                “Plus-sixes” have much to recommend them for outdoor use, particularly if they also incorporated the idea behind the Bombay bloomers. This would require the breeches to be quite roomy in the thigh, but there is nothing wrong with that. It lets the air circulate and reduces the tendency of trousers to drag to the knees on a hot day when walking uphill. Many soldiers now use kneepads but the cut of their trousers necessitates them being worn outside, compromising both camouflage and air circulation. Loose Plus-sixes that can be turned up to act as shorts would be far more practical and comfortable.