"Who wears the trousers?" is a literal and metaphorical question as well as an elegant expression of gender struggle. A reminder that while a British woman in breeks is unremarkable now, it wasn't always thus. Byzantine pottery shows Amazon women wearing trousers, but barring notable exceptions (such as the fully excellent Dr Mary Walker, who eventually took to giving lectures in a tuxedo with her Medal of Honour pinned to the lapel) it wasn't until the 20th century that the first western women got into their strides.
When they did, it was considered scandalous. There were two acts of Parliament calling for a ban on Wigan's coal-mining "pit brow lasses" on the grounds of their unfeminine garb (and the resultant presumed moral turpitude). One of them wore her trousers to Westminster to voice their collective protest. French fashion designer and professional outrage-merchant Paul Poiret shocked Parisian society with his "harem pantaloons" in 1911, but the idea's time had come and fashion gravity did the rest.
The trews trend trickled down via a selection of righteous, ostentatiously biped starlets such as Katharine Hepburn and became commonplace during the Second World War, when women wore their husbands' trousers to take on war work (partly for reasons of practicality, but also to save on clothing rations).
Perhaps a similarly pragmatic, can-do spirit in the face of turbulent times was at work among the fashion elite as they contrived this spring/summer's collections. Perhaps they just wanted an excuse to employ the "fashion singular" part of speech and say "a trouser" rather than "trousers" a lot. Whatever the reason, trousers are a major trend – the perfect canvas for 2012's dominant look: print.
There were polka-dot pyjama pants at Stella McCartney, digi-print florals at Erdem, brocade at Balmain and scarf-print strides at D&G, and Ferragamo sent bold animal-print harems down the runway.
Perhaps harems are the last truly controversial trouser (singular, you see), particularly in the eyes of men. As a gentleman of my acquaintance commented recently: "Them harem trousers you lasses like don't half make you look like you've shit yourself." Perhaps not quite the reaction Paul Poiret had in mind as he sketched the first paradigm-shifting pair, but testament to the remaining power of pants. On that note, above are a few of my favourite pairs...
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