This novel tells of four young girls, best friends, separated for the summer for the first time. The “traveling pants” are a pair of jeans that in magic-realist fashion fit all four of the different body-types of the girls, and are to be passed from one to the next weekly through the summer. Each girl learns a life lesson associated with the wearing of the pants, but it is as one of the girls says at the end of the summer: the pants do not cause the changes, but are merely witness to the changes. The girls live and learn and grow alone and together, each of them reaching a new maturity at the end of the summer.
There is a rumour that Brashares stole the idea of the pants from a colleague who presented the idea to the publisher for whom Brashares worked. While this is not corroborated, it is true that Ray Bradbury wrote a 1970s short story and play initially called “The Magic White Suit,” but later renamed as the more well-known “The Wonderful Ice-Cream Suit,” about four men who are empowered by wearing a white suit and learn lessons about themselves and life through the experience. Disney produced this as a straight-to-video movie, but it was not received very well.