The symbolic meaning of a garment (beyond “keeps weather out”) can change greatly across time and space, and it often involves a complicated series of cultural conversations.
Harem pants are a fundamental part of the costume of belly dance, as performed in the American style- a style heavily influenced by early 1900s American and European interpretations of the Orient (or East) for Western audiences. Don’t get me wrong; there is a long history of pants being worn by women in many of these societies, but they aren’t limited to harems.
What is it in the American consciousness that makes harem pants sexier than, say, sweats? They have a similar shape, after all.
Keep in mind that the late 1800s and early 1900s were the Victorian Era, where women’s fashion was still for very restrictive and rigid garments. The comparatively loose clothing of various Middle Eastern cultures was a startling visual contrast- the entire silhouette was different, and it moved differently. It didn’t bustle, it flowed. How free these women must be, how loose, like their clothing! And those words are not simple, in English. Free and loose have very euphemistic meanings- meanings that are, curiously, the precise opposite of what a harem is.
A harem is a prison.
A harem is a place designed around the tight control of women’s sexuality. It is a zoo, a game preserve, where the owner and/or husband of these women keeps them “safe” from any chance of freely expressing their sexuality with anyone else. A harem is a huge symbol of restriction and lack of sexual agency- seduction is difficult if there is no choice in whether or not sex occurs. (Source)
It’s also worth noting that the dialogue about whether or not Middle Eastern clothing is sexy or fashionable is influenced by colonialism; this is a great easy to grasp breakdown of the pattern of wealthy and or powerful folks adapting the fashions of the very groups they oppress. And I don’t mean oppress in a passive, contributing to a culture that doesn’t correct for past mistakes way; I mean oppress as in recently invaded and turned into a colony, making it so that the locals no longer have any self determination kind of way.
So. What the heck does this have to do with your game?
Conflict. Conflict is in your game, and very probably there are groups attacking other groups: invaders, conquerors, enemies. Old invaders, new invaders, conflict of all kinds.
Imagine an Orcish overlord has recently conquered an Elven territory, and along with the war, murder, pillaging and upheval, on top of all of that, the Orcs are all suddenly very fond of wearing Elvish clothes to show how “daring” and “rebellious” they are. Especially the rich, who are basically plundering the wardrobes of the nobility they’ve killed off. Imagine how your PCs, mostly outsiders, would react to the image. What about your Elven PCs? Any of them from this territory? Do any of them recognize the clothing on the Orcish NPC they’ve just met?
Now what about that Orc PC, the one who has had to make do with what he’s had, which sometimes means wearing Elvish gear, if that’s all there is? His motivations haven’t changed, but the Elves who see him will start to make very different assumptions about him.
An entire sub-plot could be sparked over the kind of dagger he carries as a back-up weapon. Clothing, fashion, and decoration are symbols. Use them!