Fencing breeches are a key part of a fencer’s attire and are essential for competition-level fencing.
Read our guide below to learn more about fencing breeches (also called knickers in the US), including the different types of breeches you can buy and when they should be worn.
What are Fencing Breeches?
Fencing breeches are knee-length durable trousers worn by a fencer to protect them while fencing. They are more typically worn when fencing word or electric fencing, and are a requirement when fencing at a competition level.
They are usually form-fitting with enough elasticity to make them flexible to lunge and retreat effectively while fencing. They’re also usually made of breathable material to help cool the fencer during a bout. Fastened with a zip and buttons at the waist, suspenders typically help keep the breeches secure. Breeches usually have a back pocket in which the fencer can keep their unconnected electric wire to prevent it from trailing.
The bottom cuff of the breeches should extend just over the whole knee-cap, with fencing socks pulled up so all skin is covered on the legs. This ensures adequate leg protection while fencing.
What’s the Difference Between Breeches and Knickers?
There is no difference between breeches and knickers, or even fencing pants. These are just different ways of referring to the same piece of clothing. The term breeches is used more in the UK, whereas knickers is more common in the US.
Types of Fencing Breeches
When it comes to fencing breeches, there are many different types, according to product safety level, fastening type and style.
FIE Breeches (800N)
FIE breeches are those which meet the 800 newton requirement of the FIE (Fédération Internationale d'Escrime). This ensures the breeches are of the standard required by the international governing body of Olympic fencing.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that breeches or fencing clothing below this requirement are unsafe. Rather, this is the high standard demanded of the governing body, and should be the standard worn for fencers in competitions under the governance of the FIE.
Non-FIE Breeches (350N)
Non-FIE breeches are those below the standard set by the FIE. These are usually 350N, which is the level required by general health and safety legislation, and will often hold a CEN mark or similar).
This means the material will be less durable and protective than 800N breeches, but nonetheless should provide adequate protection when fencing.
When looking at different types of fencing breeches (or knickers) we can also look at style to understand the variants you can buy.
Most breeches will be waist fastened with a zip and buttons along with suspenders to secure the breeches while fencing.
Some breeches can be bought without suspenders, and these typically compensate by having a stretch waist, which is snug secure to the waist.
Both types of breeches are additionally supported by the leg loop of the fencing jacket, which when the jacket is worn after putting on breeches, provides crotch support, with the loop secured at the back of the jacket to prevent breeches slipping down, should they be oversized.
When Should I Wear Breeches?
Most fencers will wear breeches when wired or electric fencing, or when fencing in competition. If you are just starting out, it is uncommon to need to wear or bring your own breeches, as most clubs will be fine with you wearing joggers or sweatpants that you can move comfortable in.
This is both to speed up the ‘gearing up’ process for beginner fencers, but also because when using non-electric, dry fencing swords with a rubber tip, the protection is actually minimal, especially when doing set exercises or technique demonstrations.
Wearing breeches as part of usual club training is more common amongst adult fencers who regularly engage in free electric fencing.
Using Club Breeches
If you need to use club breeches, it is important you choose breeches that are the right size. If you choose breeches that are too tight, you will find it hard to move easily, whereas breeches that are too loose will mean you may concede touches on the bunched/excess material - let alone risking them coming down during a bout.
It is always best to purchase your own breeches if you find yourself needing to wear them regularly. These are often excluded from fencing starter kits, so try to find a pair that are right for you, visiting a shop in person if at all possible.
How Much Do Fencing Breeches Cost?
Fencing breeches can cost between £50 and £200. The price for your breeches will primarily depend on sizing (junior vs adult), quality (FIE vs Non-FIE) and manufacturer. Whichever you end up choosing, it is important to ensure the breeches you buy meet the minimum safety requirement of 350N to provide you with adequate protection.
Want to learn more? Take a look at our beginner fencing tips for more fencing advice.
Are Breeches the Same as Knickers?
Yes, breeches and knickers are the same thing. Breeches are what they are referred to in the UK, whereas they are known as knickers in the US.
Are Oversized Breeches a Problem?
Not necessarily, this is ultimately down to the individual. Provided they stay up and are secure, and extend over the knee (but not hugely), the only other concern is how stylish they look to you.
Are There Alternatives to Fencing Breeches?
In a fencing competition, the only option is to wear breeches, there is no alternative. If you are training however, you can wear joggers or sweatpants.
Do You Need Fencing Breeches for Training?
Not always. This comes down to personal preference. If you are new to fencing, you can hold off on buying breeches. However, you may feel that you fence better in breeches or are more comfortable, in which case you should feel free to wear them during training.
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