Whether you’re travelling on a long-distance bus or just hanging out in your kitchen, every traveller agrees that harem pants (AKA elephant pants or hippie pants) are legs-down THE comfiest trews on the planet! That’s why we backpackers just love ’em…
These bold bohemian slacks have long been a staple of the Southeast Asia backpacker’s wardrobe, but many former backpackers continue to wear them long after they get back home! What can we say? Once you put them on, it can be hard to take any other trousers seriously again… (or yourself seriously for that matter).
Coming in a variety of colourful and vibrant patterns, harem pants are sure to bring that cheerful spark of adventure to your wardrobe – and your life!
Perfect for travel, yoga, lounging around the house or relaxing outside on hot summer days, they’re great for staying cool, comfortable and also keeping the sun/insects off your legs. Let’s face it – it’s hard to be in a bad mood when you’re wearing a pair of elephant pants!
In this article we delve into the interesting history of harem pants, find out why they are so popular among travellers and yogis and tell you where you can pick up a pair right now! Feeling nostalgic for backpacking? So are we!
Read Next (Opens in New Tab)
Where can you buy elephant pants online?
While you may not be able to stroll down Khao San Road at the moment and pick up three pairs of funky elephant pants for 200 THB, you can get some pretty good deals for decent quality fair-trade harem pants online. (They also make the perfect gift for the travel-sick backpacker in your life… Nudge, nudge, wink, wink!)
Check out our quick links on the best harem pants below and scroll down for more in-depth reviews of each brand.
The links to online stores (like Amazon) on this page are affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate South East Asia Backpacker earns from qualifying purchases. We always write our reviews before checking whether affiliate links are available.
Harem pants vs elephant pants vs fisherman pants vs parachute pants
People often clump together all of the above items of clothing and label them ‘hippie pants’, however, if we really delve into the nitty-gritty, there are subtle differences between each pair of kecks! What they all have in common, however, is that they are baggy, airy, often come in bold prints and are super comfy…
Harem pants – Think Aladdin. This type of hippie pants tends to have a dropped crotch that sometimes hangs right down to the floor! When it comes to making a fashion statement, harem pants are the trews to choose! The material used for harem pants is sometimes thicker than other types of hippie pants. Like elephant pants, they often draw in at the ankle giving the leg more volume.
Elephant pants – So-called because of the material which is printed with an elephant design, these are the most popular hippie pants for backpackers, coming in a range of colours and sizes. They are light, loose-fitting and airy with an elasticated waist and ankles, and not so baggy that they droop on the floor. They are great for yoga, hiking, sightseeing, dancing, walking and any other type of activity whilst backpacking! They look fabulous on travellers young and old and are figure-flattering for all!
Fisherman pants – These pants are distinguished by their large waistline which is wrapped over and tied on the side of the hip with a string. This nifty design means that one size fits all. They were originally worn by fishermen (yep you guessed it!) in Asia and were adopted by laid-back backpackers looking for the perfect pair of ‘everything pants’.
Parachute pants – Also known as ‘hammer pants’, these kecks were made famous by rapper MC Hammer in the 80s. Everyone who is old enough will remember his music video “Can’t touch this” where MC and his dancers prance around the stage in these cool baggy trousers. Soon after that, the pants became popular with hip-hop dancers and rappers.
Palazzo pants – These unique pants are the sexiest of all the hippie trews as they often have a slit up the side allowing the leg to peek out. Unlike other types of hippie pants, they are slim fitting around the waist and the bum and wide around the ankle giving you that light and airy feel. They are reminiscent of 30s and 40s fashion worn by famous female stars such as Katherine Hepburn and Greta Garbo and became very popular amongst women in the 60s and 70s.
A Short History of Hippie Pants
Loose-fitting trousers have been used in the name of comfort and style for centuries. The design is derived from the traditional ‘dhoti’ worn by men in Asia and the Middle East and was adopted as a unisex fashion statement by men and women in the Western world. The style is believed to flatter a woman’s shape and denote modesty as the loose material disguises the hips and legs and leaves more to the imagination.
Harem pants are believed to have been introduced to the West by French fashion designer Paul Poiret who was inspired by the exotic ambience of the Sultan’s Harem. With his wife as his model, he designed ‘harem pants’ and ‘sultana skirts’ which blended both East and West and male and female styles. They were a daring innovation in fashion at the beginning of the 20th century. His signature trend was called ‘Style Sultane’ and he often incorporated silk, satin, beads and intricate embroidery into the designs.
Earlier than that, however, English fashion pioneer ‘Amelia Bloomer’ had introduced ‘bloomers’ to the world in the mid-1800s. This was a time when women were challenging gender roles and wearing trousers was seen as a political fashion statement. They were originally worn as an undergarment under large puffed up dresses, but became a symbol of women’s rights when some ladies started to wear bloomers long enough that they would peep out under their long dresses!
Fast track to the 1960s and to the beginning of the hippie trail. New age travellers began to embrace the item of clothing as a statement of their laid-back, carefree lifestyle. The pants seem to symbolize an anti-establishment, anti-capitalist attitude as they are a far cry from the global work uniform of the neat-fitting shirt, tie and suit. Their bold patterns and bright colours suggest a sense of playfulness, freedom and confidence.
This fashion statement seems to have continued today as backpackers to Southeast Asia adopt the style as part of their rejection of stiff Western culture and celebration of the free and easy backpacking culture. When you’re wearing a pair of elephant pants, anything goes…
Why are Harem Pants So Popular amongst Travellers?
“The comfiest pants for travelling on flights and long-distance buses. These are my favourite travel trousers!” – Abby, UK
“These pants are great for yoga and lounging around at home too! Whenever I put them on they remind me of my travels in Southeast Asia.” – Natalie, US
“Best. Pants. Ever. Light, easy to wash and dry. Wrap up really small so don’t take up much room in your backpack. Functional and fashionable!” – Luis, Spain
“I usually wear leggings for travel but it is just too hot in SE Asia! Elephant pants keep you cool in the humid climate and are also great for entering temples where you need to keep your legs covered.” – Sheree, UK
Buy Harem Pants Online – Top 5 Brands
You can take the guy/girl out of Southeast Asia, but you can’t take Southeast Asia out of the guy/girl. If you’re missing backpacking as much as we are, why not relight that travel flame and treat yourself to a pair of every backpacker’s favourite slacks! Here are the best harem pants we’ve found available online…
1. Hippie Pants
- Made in: Bangkok, Thailand
- Average cost: $30 US
- Buy directly from hippie-pants.com (affiliate link)
- Use code: SEABACKPACKER to get 10% off all purchases!
Handmade in Thailand, this online store has a wide range of hippie pants from your original elephant style trews to fisherman kecks and very wide-legged ‘palazzo’ pants. Based in Bangkok, all of the pants are designed by local Thai artisans and handmade in Thailand. They have a fair-trade declaration on their website which promises fair pay for their workers, equal pay for both men and women and guarantee no child labour.
Their pants are made of 100% cotton or bamboo rayon and claim to be totally vegan. Their prices are average with a pair of pants costing around $30 USD with free worldwide shipping. While you can definitely pick up a pair of hippie pants much cheaper than this, especially if you’re actually in Thailand, the quality is much higher than you would expect. They also have a good range of plus-size pants and they produce lovely kimonos too.
- Made in: Thailand
- Average cost: $20 US
A British family obsessed with elephants and elephant pants set up this ethical company after their travels in Asia. On a trip to Sri Lanka whilst stocking up on some elephant-print harem pants at a local market, they had the idea to source local harem pants to sell back in the UK at the same time as supporting elephant conservation in Asia. Their idea took them to Thailand where they first supported Bird, his family and elephants at Baan Chang Elephant Paradise. They now also support the wildlife charity, Born Free, in the Amboseli National Park in Kenya.
With every pair of pants sold, a donation is made to the charity to support the protection of elephants and other wild animals. Their pants are made from 100% bamboo rayon and sustainable cotton and they try their utmost to keep plastic out of the delivery process. They have a wide range of patterns and sizes and a great range for kids. They also sell dresses, palazzo pants, jumpsuits, bags and sarongs.
3. Bohemian Island
- Made in: Phuket, Thailand
- Average cost: $29.50 US
- Buy direct from Bohemian Island (affiliate link)
- Use code: BACKPACKER for a 5% discount at checkout.
Bohemian Island’s pants are 100% cotton and hand-stitched at their factory in Phuket, Thailand. Workers at Bohemian Island enjoy comfortable working conditions, above-average pay and insurance. They even show off the factory in this behind the scenes video so you can actually meet the ladies who made your pants!
They have a wide variety of harem pants, as well as shorts, dresses and tops and an extensive kids section too. A few of their most popular designs are the peacock, aztec, rainforest, mandala and, of course, the elephant print pants. Loose, breathable and lightweight, Bohemian Island say their pants are ‘the comfiest pants on the planet’, great for yoga, travel, nightwear, oh and even maternity pants! Bohemian Island also donates 10% of their profits to the Soi Dog Foundation in Phuket, who look after thousands of stray dogs and cats that live rough on Thailand’s streets. So, with every purchase you make, you’ll know that you’re helping to make a difference in the local area.
4. Lanna Clothes Design
- Made in: Chiang Mai, Thailand
- Average cost: $17 US
- Buy from Amazon.
Also based in Chiang Mai, Thailand, this brand offers a range of hippie clothing for men, women and children. From harem pants, to gypsy skirts and fisherman pants, they have a variety of bohemian infused clothing made from light and airy rayon. A regular pair of elephant pants is priced at $17.95 and shipping costs a couple of dollars on top of that.
All of the products that are made by Lanna Clothes Design are uniquely designed and handmade in the North of Thailand by local Thai artisans. They are a small family business that have a workshop employing 15 staff, as well as 20 sewing staff who work from their homes. They are advocates for fair trade manufacturing and due to the success of their small business, they have been able to pay higher wages and expand their business. Check out more about Lanna Clothes Design in the video below… Their products are available on Amazon or directly through their website.
5. B Bangkok Pants
- Made in: Chiang Mai, Thailand
- Average cost: $20 US
- Buy from Amazon.
Despite their name, this company is actually based in Chiang Mai in the North of Thailand. Their online store has a wide variety of patterns and styles and all pairs of pants are priced under $20 USD. They also have maxi skirts, wrap skirts, dresses and sarongs.
All of the products are handmade and they offer worldwide shipping. If you order online, you can expect delivery within 1-2 weeks. They also offer product giveaways on a regular basis which involve you following their Instagram pages and sharing pics/tagging your friends etc. The question is – what would you do for a free pair of elephant pants?
Join Over 20,000 Happy Backpackers in Our Facebook Group!
Find travel buddies. Get advice. Have all your questions answered by travellers on the ground in Southeast Asia right now.