“At the time of the French Revolution, the rampaging sansculottes wrecked churches and every sign of monarchal or religious authority.” — From Peter Manseau's 2009 book Rag and Bone
“Anyone who has toyed before a mirror with something as simple as a cap or as exotic as a turban understands the almost mystical power of head coverings to transform us…. Revolutionaries have adopted them, from Che Guevara's beret to the red Phrygian cap worn by the sansculottes as a symbol of allegiance to the French Revolution, while many an aristocratic head rolled.” — From an article by Leslie Carnhi in Vogue, May 2012
At the time of the French Revolution (1787-1799), knee breeches (“culottes” in French) were the height of fashion for aristocratic men. The men of the general populace could not afford such impractical finery and instead wore the “pantaloon” (long trousers). When the poorer classes rose up against the government, members of the Revolutionary army used this difference in dress to distinguish themselves from the aristocracy, calling themselves “soldats sans culottes,” literally, “soldiers without culottes.” Almost immediately, “sansculotte” became a noun in both French and English.
From Merriam-Webster Online at www.Merriam-Webster.com.