A community-edited travel guide about Colombo (Sri Lanka) has this paragraph:

Most nightclubs may charge admission and smart/casual dress is encouraged with longs/shoes a must.

What does "longs" mean here?

Online dictionaries I tried did not have the term.

  • One thing to note is that Sri Lankan English is more closely related to older, formal British English. Few Sri Lankans have English as their first language, and, as a result, it has some peculiarities not found in modern American English. – Tharpa Aug 14 '18 at 19:39

I've never heard of this either in the US. I was able to find it in the Collins Dictionary online. It appears to be BrE and what we in the US would call "pants". Maybe someone else can speak to how common it is in BrE.

longs in British
(lɒŋz )
plural noun
1. full-length trousers


BrE users are reporting that this might not be BrE and that it might be Indian English. I also have a person saying that they've heard it used a couple of times by the elderly in Britain.

I found an entry in Merriam-Webster ("long trousers"), which leads me to suspect this usage might be dated, obsolete.

In any case, "longs" seems like a reasonable opposite of "shorts". However, as far as learning contemporary, mainstream English is concerned, I recommend sticking to "trousers" or "pants" depending on your audience.

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    I'd bet it's Indian English. It sure isn't British, nor would anyone need to specify "long trousers" for any occasion that said 'smart casual'. Shorts simply wouldn't fall inside that definition. Holiday destinations might need to clarify further, to prevent the hordes of Brits in shorts, sandals, no t-shirt & a large capacity for sangria; but nowhere else. – gone fishin' again. Aug 14 '18 at 8:11
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    Never heard "longs" used like that in British English. I agree that this could be Indian English use. – James K Aug 14 '18 at 8:25
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    I have heard this saying only a couple of times in Britain, though mostly from older members or society (think 65+) – J.Doe Aug 14 '18 at 8:41
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    The usage in British English comes from school uniform codes in the early to mid 20th century. Younger boys would wear short trousers and older ones once they reached secondary school age wore long trousers. Since this stopped being the case in the 1960s no one uses those terms anymore except older people as J.Doe suggests. – Sarriesfan Aug 14 '18 at 10:59
  • I heard both "long trousers" and "short trousers" spoken by older teachers at my school in S.E. England in the late 1980s. It was unusual back then (I initially thought "short trousers" referred to the skinny 'drainpipe' jeans that were in fashion back then!) and I haven't heard anyone use those terms again. – Aaron F Aug 14 '18 at 11:17

Longs are the opposite of shorts.

As to its usage - I am a native British English speaker born in the seventies and I've never heard it in 40+ years. The most common word would be trousers (or, in some regions you may hear the more informal word pants, but in other regions this word is reserved for underwear), and if needed we sometimes clarify that they need to be smart by saying smart trousers. It is generally accepted that "smart" dress excludes shorts.

However, while this word might be in a British English dictionary, I'm not sure your guide is written by someone speaking British English, or any good form of English, as the term "smart/casual" is written with a slash. This makes it look like an "either" option, yet the two are quite different. Surely they mean "smart casual"?

The term "smart casual" is widely misunderstood. What it actually is changes with time and fashion, but generally speaking it means a smart form of dress that is not formal like a mans suit or a woman's cocktail dress. For a man it means trousers (not jeans) with a shirt and shoes. But many think it means combining smart things, like a shirt, with something casual like jeans and trainers/sneakers. This is thought of by some to be a massive fashion mistake.

My point is, whenever you see "smart casual" on an invitation, for the reason given above it is not uncommon to see some kind of clarification such as "no jeans", or even specifying tuxedos or ball gowns / cocktail dresses for formal events. In your example, they are trying to say "no shorts" by specifying that long trousers are expected.

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    This reads as if "pants" is a less formal word for "trousers" in British English. Don't say "smart pants" for a British reader, unless you want him to come in his underwear! I've edited slightly. – James K Aug 14 '18 at 8:28
  • @JamesK I rolled your edit back because in the north of England we do use "pants" to mean trousers, not just underwear. But I have added this as a note. – Astralbee Aug 14 '18 at 11:13
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    Ok. I disagree. Pants is exclusively underwear to me. – James K Aug 14 '18 at 12:56
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    In the very early 70s, when I started school, it was still common practice to refer to short trousers (infant school years) as "shorts" (still is) but also to refer to long trousers (junior school years) as "longs". This was SE England though. Being as old as I am I would still recognize "longs" to mean long trousers, but wouldn't actually expect to ever see (or hear) it in use these days. – Spratty Aug 14 '18 at 13:30
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    @Spratty: I started school in the early 60's, and I don't recall hearing "longs" to mean "long trousers". School in Bromley, Suffolk, and Huntingdonshire. – Martin Bonner supports Monica Aug 14 '18 at 13:35

This is (or was) fairly common in NZ English or Australian English, where we have lengths of trousers as:

  • Short shorts ("Daisy Dukes")
  • Shorts (what we normally wear, because sunshine)
  • 3/4 lengths ("Knickerbockers")
  • Longs (winter clothing in NZ, or to get into fancy nightclubs overseas)

Types of longs include

  • Slacks ("Chinos" in US English I think)
  • Cords ("Corduroy")
  • Leather trousers (for motorcycles) - not "smart casual"
  • Jeans - not "smart casual"

Underwear would be "grundies" "undergruts" "underpants" etc. not "pants", but probably not expected to be on view in "smart casual" parties, i.e. no "calvin klein"/"aussiebum"/"bjorn borg" on display.

  • Needs references - at least in Oz I've never heard someone use 'knickerbockers' or 'longs'. – mikemaccana Aug 14 '18 at 12:30
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    US English has the term "slacks" as well, but after being thoroughly confused by it for years I've come to the conclusion that it means "pants that aren't jeans or shorts". I don't know if that affects your translation or not. – Kamil Drakari Aug 14 '18 at 13:41
  • I've known several Brits who said the phrase "khaki pants" would mean "dirty underwear". "Khaki" after all is a brownish color and "pants" means "underpants". – nurdyguy Aug 14 '18 at 14:05
  • @KamilDrakari I'll guess that the term 'slacks' has something to do with how they hang. When you get pants fitted for length, they check that there's a little 'break' where they lay on the shoes. – JimmyJames Aug 14 '18 at 17:59
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    re US: The term 'slacks' is widely used. It basically means nice pants you wouldn't do yard work in. I'm not really clear on exactly what 'chinos' are. I gather they are some sort of pants (khakis?) that the fashion industry markets at us every 5 years or so. – JimmyJames Aug 14 '18 at 18:02

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