Culottes are a form of split skirt. They are usually made full or calf length, and consist of a pair of loose, flowing trousers which strongly resemble a skirt until the wearer engages in vigorous physical activity. The shorter version of culottes is a skort, a pair of shorts with a flap of fabric in the front which turns them into a more modest skirt. Many active women who believe in wearing modest clothing for religious reasons wear culottes, as they allow a full range of movement without the potential for exposure.
Originally, the word was used to refer to trousers worn by men. Women’s fashion appears to have appropriated the word in the 1800s, when women started wearing culottes so that they could ride astride instead of sidesaddle. The split skirt configuration of culottes was ideal for riding safely while preserving modesty norms. Culottes were worn by many women of modest families well into the 1900s, and were often sewn in fashionable patterns for a variety of tastes and classes.