thinking about: fashion shifts and signature style

There’s little doubt that we’re in the full throes of a major Silhouette Shift. It began bubbling a few seasons ago, and now seems to have hit full boil. For the last decade or so, narrow bottoms (slim pants, pencil skirts) and longer/fuller tops were the dominant silhouette. Now, we seem to have hit a tipping point where fuller leg styles offered outnumber the slims. Rather than panic 😉 I’ve decided to keep an open mind. Remember that it took some time for our eyes to adjust to skinny jeans too (and yes, I hear some of you saying you never adjusted to or liked them) and what we find “flattering” may also shift as we get accustomed to a certain style or silhouette.

I’ve long maintained that “trends” are merely opportunities to find a greater selection in the styles you’d wear anyway, and this one is no different. If wide leg pants (and fuller skirts) are your thing, the pendulum has fully swung your way. Enjoy! And if not, there are still plenty of slimmer silhouettes on offer. Shifts in fashion are no longer as absolute and universal as they once were. Retailers and the fashion industry seem to be getting the hint that we no longer want to be dictated to, but rather enjoy having some options from season to season to freshen our wardrobes.

I’ve written on occasion about the idea of a signature style, of knowing what works and sticking to it. While still applicable, I find that my concept of a signature style can also shift over time: there’s always a bit of balancing between the “knowing what works” aspect, and keeping my style modern and current (not trendy), as well as allowing for expressing different moods and facets of myself.

If you’ve built your look and wardrobe around a long-over-lean silhouette, it can be hard to fathom how a cropped, wider leg style can be incorporated, should you want to. For those of us who are not tall and slender, look for styles that are slightly less full and/or made in a more fluid, drapey fabric. I actually find slightly cropped styles easier to style and wear. That bit of ankle showing creates some structure and I don’t feel as “swallowed” by fabric. I’ve also found that a longer third piece on top, like a vest or duster (see middle image above), creates a vertical line and breaks up some of the fullness on the upper leg. Shoes with a bit more visual volume, like a wedge or block heel will also help balance the wider leg styles.

How do you feel about wider leg pants? Will you be wearing them?

(A bit of housekeeping: I’m planning to do some updating of the blog format over the weekend, so thank you in advance for your patience while I adjust.)

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53 Comments

  1. April 29, 2016 / 2:47 am

    I saw a few DIYs online for taking in wide-legged pants, and the pictures showed real women–not models. They always looked thinner with the slimmer pant legs, despite what everybody says about a flare offsetting wide hips.
    The photos here offer great guidance: A fitted waist looks far better than elastic. Ties at the bottom ruin the line and the fluidity. The plus-size model in khaki looks better than the model third from the top on the right–the drawstring waist makes those look like sweatpants.
    I still have higher-waist, flared trousers from before the skinny craze, so I’ll have to dig them out.

  2. April 29, 2016 / 2:52 am

    Love wider trousers when they are to the ground but not so keen on cropped – not got the slim ankles I think these deserve. Just got some fab trousers from Zara which are wider legged and zip on side for flattering fit.

  3. Michelle
    April 29, 2016 / 3:19 am

    I have come very late to the skinny jeans party – bought two pairs this season (one black, one dark blue) and they are the most comfortable, and surprisingly flattering, pants I’ve ever owned. Long over lean is the basis of my wardrobe. So, now I am struggling with taking on board the new silhouette. Being on the shorter, rounder part of the spectrum, I fear the visual outcome. Agree that a bit of ankle is probably going to help, and not going too wide. I’m not certain what tops to wear, especially to cover a middle region that would be better not seen!! – maybe a post on this?

    • Janice Ray
      May 3, 2016 / 10:07 am

      I also adopted skinny jeans very late – just in the last year, and have an ever-rounding figure at 5’4″. I’ve modified my wardrobe a lot now in my mid-fifties and it seems a large volume of fabric is not my friend. Younger, with less bust and a more sharply defined waist, I could wear full-length wide leg pants and feel great. Now I’m not sure I can pull off any wide leg pants look. Totally with Michelle on needing a “tops to wear” with the new pants post, especially for those of us who are short-waisted and large breasted. Otherwise I may have to be hopelessly out of fashion for the next decade!

  4. rukshanaafia
    April 29, 2016 / 3:20 am

    I dislike any cropped leg styles – especially on me . The ‘new’ silhouette means that with luck I may be able to get trousers which I do not have to take up – in the UK there is very little for petites !

  5. Linda Boardman Kerr
    April 29, 2016 / 3:42 am

    I am not blown away by any of these looks. I think you have to have a Katharine Hepburn body to carry it off well. Definitely not for anyone under 5’5″, unless willing to wear a significant heel. I refuse to jump on the trend bandwagon just because it’s a trend. I will continue to wear what looks good on ME.

  6. Susan D.
    April 29, 2016 / 3:53 am

    I have purchased both the EF wide leg (cropped) pant and the EF “skirt pant” and wear the shorter tops with both. I LIKE the look. It is easy to wear and versatile. I went out to dinner last night wearing the skirt pant and the short black shell that goes with it. It’s a simple look that can look a bit dressy with heels.

  7. GingerR
    April 29, 2016 / 4:13 am

    I have never thought skinny jeans flattered me so I’m ready to accept wide legs.

  8. April 29, 2016 / 5:24 am

    They had better not take my skinny jeans and ponte pants away! I even wore a pair of very black “skinny jeans” in very nice material under a fabulous tunic top for an autumn cruise formal night. They are very flattering to me, and the new silhouette just looks completely off. The pant length is unflattering on any size model, and the width of the trousers seems sloppy to me after enjoying the minimalist style of closely fitted, comfortable pants. Perhaps in a floor length and in an super luxurious fabric, wide leg pants are elegant. Anyway, I’m rushing out now to buy up the clearance racks before the style disappears!

  9. April 29, 2016 / 5:30 am

    I adore wide leg pants! They are so comfortable and fluid, and they sing to my inner Flower Child! And yes, I am a draft pony – short, broad shouldered and a little bit of roundness in the middle. I simply cut and hem, cut and hem.

    • Lori
      April 29, 2016 / 6:58 am

      I had to laugh when you described your body type as a draft pony! I love it that you wear what you want anyway and modify things. I, too, love flowing pants and skirts even though they are not the best look for me. Damn the torpedoes.

  10. Pink Azalea
    April 29, 2016 / 6:02 am

    Yes! I think it comes down to finding the right pair for my body. I tried on some wider leg jeans in January. Didn’t buy. I figure by the fall, there will be plenty of things to try. Bought one pair of yellow skinnies this spring and will be phasing the rest of mine out. I’m not buying jeans in the future and will be looking for slacks and skirts/dresses.

  11. Dianne
    April 29, 2016 / 6:11 am

    I like wide-legged pants with a slim shoe (to lengthen the leg) but think that a cropped length is very difficult to pull off unless one is tall and slim and young. When I see a mature woman wearing wider cropped pants along with “solid” shoes, I can’t help but think of elderly women who (wisely) wear shorter pants to avoid tripping. Now in my seventh decade, I know that in 10 or 15 years I will be past caring about such things, but at this moment, I know that this trending pant style will probably just look aging on me. I figure that since we’ve had a decade of slim and skinny pants and now wider ones, surely the next cycle will be straight pants of regular length. I live in hope.

    • Susan
      April 29, 2016 / 7:39 am

      I think you never lose your interest in clothes no matter how old you are. My mother is 89 and still cares about colours, styles and fabrics, choosing her outfits, accessories and shoes (always Ferragamo) with great care. She will totter out to lunch wrapped in her cashmere pashmina, perfectly coiffed hair and for Melbourne Cup Lunches a beautiful hat. As for wide legged trousers – I so agree with your feelings about them.

  12. April 29, 2016 / 6:41 am

    Styles come and go. It is fun to try a new look and there is choice. At 60+, I will never be taller (maybe thinner) but I am not going to be limited by my shorter stature. Since I am not purchasing much these days, the point is moot anyway.

  13. Jen
    April 29, 2016 / 6:51 am

    I love the new trend. I look best in a wide legged pant and I love the duster vests too. I just ordered a wide legged crop pant to wear to work. I’m 5’10 and a ‘plus’ size so it’s tough to find the right look. I don’t like linen (sloppy) pants on me but give me a flare jean and I’m happy!

  14. Lori
    April 29, 2016 / 7:04 am

    I commented above under AngelaPea’s comment, but wanted to add that, for me, the hardest part of the whole cropped, flowing bottom look is finding the correct shoe look. Also, having very straight hips with this look is not a gift! I end up having very little shape at all unless there is a defined waist and some generous pleating just under the waistband. Most of the time I just don’t care and wear them anyway, the more flowy they are the more romantic and feminine I feel.

    • Laurrie
      April 29, 2016 / 7:44 am

      I agree — this look hinges on proportional footwear. And on an older woman anything chunkier or with some visual volume starts to look dowdy and like grandma shoes. The sandals on the long-legged young models look nice enough, but I want closed toe. Shoes make or break this — I like the trend but struggle to find flat, closed toe, non-clumpy shoes that aren’t ballet flats!

  15. April 29, 2016 / 7:49 am

    I’ve been loving my wide-legged cropped jeans (C of H), even though my height and, um, sturdiness of build might not immediately suggest that silhouette as best for me. Not giving away my slim jeans yet, though. . . Still such a wide variety on the streets, and I like to reflect streetwear at least as much as what the Runways, Magazines, and Blogs tell us is trending. . . As you say, there’s no longer the pressure to adopt a silhouette to the exclusion of our longer-established preferences. With any luck, our greater environmental awareness will keep us from chucking our wardrobes and replacing them with new shapes…

  16. April 29, 2016 / 8:50 am

    I have definitely tried this style recently and currently have two pairs I am playing with, one in a firmer fabric one in a more fluid one. They are growing on me although from the comments I am getting my readers are not so sure. Finding the right shoes are important and I am still experimenting with this.

  17. Linda
    April 29, 2016 / 10:02 am

    I am 5’1″. Horizontal volume is not a good look for me. I will need to wait out this particular trend.

  18. Dianne
    April 29, 2016 / 11:10 am

    Two more observations: I think that the size of one’s feet and the shape of one’s ankles are critical factors in whether or not a wide-legged cropped pant will flatter. They do no favors to those who have thick ankles or long feet.

  19. April 29, 2016 / 11:26 am

    I cannot help it Susan, I think these cropped fuller/wider trousers are the most hideous of things, right up there with the culotte. And no, it did not take me any time to accept the skinnies. I practically jumped on them. I know that I might not avoid this new style but I am dreading it. It doesn’t make me look better. Quite the contrary. And I am even tall…. Mind you, that first, left photo of the J Crew outfit isn’t half bad. Whether it would look like that on me…. hmmm I doubt it.
    Greetje

  20. Nicole Kowalski
    April 29, 2016 / 11:34 am

    Well, like everything, it’s all about fit and proportion as you’ve so wisely pointed out in your styling ideas. I’m 5’4″ and found the slimmer Patio pant at J Crew to look much better than I thought. I look better in the structured crop rather than the free flowing styles. But tough for us shorter/rounder types I think. Heels definitely improve the whole look, but can’t do that daily. I know at some point if it persists, I will give in because I can’t stand being “out of style” but hoping the long over lean remains for a few more seasons.

  21. April 29, 2016 / 11:45 am

    I believe a person needs to know what will work for them rather than trying to force it. Wide legs are tricky for the petite frame. Balance is key, as well as the shoe. For mysrlf, I find fluidity in wider trousers less appealing. If there is somewhat of a firmer feel it works better.

  22. Penny
    April 29, 2016 / 12:22 pm

    Petite. Hate wide pants. Rarely wear pants anyway. Jeans for riding the motorcycle, with narrow legs so they don’t catch on anything. Love: Skirts! Always fluid, always flattering, always comfortable.

  23. April 29, 2016 / 1:26 pm

    I still remember getting my bell bottoms caught in my bicycle chain (despite a chainguard) and in the winter, them dragging in wet, dirty snow. I’m more of a skirt person too, but the only trousers I wear are those that are tapered at the ankle.

  24. Joanna
    April 29, 2016 / 1:54 pm

    I do have one pair of wide leg dress pants and have always been a fan of the wide, flowy pants for evening wear but for the most part, I think I’m going to stick to my straight leg pant, as it is the most flattering on me. I pray that skinnies don’t go out of style because they look great with boots and a tunic top. For those of us that suffer through winter, boots are not only a must, but our fashion statement.

  25. Ellen
    April 29, 2016 / 2:13 pm

    I am 70 years old, 5’3″, and not slim. I have been through all these silhouettes before, and I know how to do this; its not a worry, and I actually bought some wide length pants last fall and have lived in them ever since. Its all proportion. I have very thin ankles, and skinny legs. If the pant leg stops above my ankle, but not at the mid calf level, I’m fine. If I wear a full leg, it is more stove pipe than flared, then I am satisfied with this. If the top reaches to your knees, and the pant legs are full, you will feel like you are wearing pajamas, so a shorter top looks better. If that makes you uncomfortable, wear a close to the body tank underneath (lift your arms in the cropped top; if skin shows, you need another layer). I can’t wear heels, and I don’t see that as a problem. In the summers I wear sandals, flats, slim sneakers in the winter, I wore short boots that met the pant leg above the ankle. No one has to throw out their clothes, but add a little of the new, and try it out. Remember, clothes are supposed to be fun, and change is good.

  26. Cathy D.
    April 29, 2016 / 2:40 pm

    Susan, when I look at a picture of you on your blog, I cannot tell whether you are short or tall. I don’t think petite women necessarily need to avoid this look, but simply (simply???) have to get their proportions right, as you always do. I’m 5’2″ and may try some slightly wider legged pants with a shorter than usual top. Perhaps I’ll try one if the Eileen Fisher shorter tops I’ve been avoiding because I thought they would reveal too much with skinny pants. Thanks for another interesting and useful post.

  27. April 29, 2016 / 3:48 pm

    I won’t wear cropped and wide, but long and wide, I can do that;). Of course, I never went full-on skinny, so, I’m pretty sure I’m in the camp of wearing what works for me, tweaked for trends.

  28. StellaA
    April 29, 2016 / 3:57 pm

    I’m warming up to this silhouette. I purchased a pair of kick crop jeans and have been wearing them often. I haven’t seen many others wearing them and wonder if people think my jeans shrunk in the dryer. I am 64, 5’5″, normal weight. Through years for painful trial and error I’ve found my style and know what flatters my shape. However I like your approach to trying and accepting new trends even if they aren’t initially appealing. I also remember saying I would never wear skinny jeans. Eventually they became a mainstay of my wardrobe.

  29. Jill Ann
    April 29, 2016 / 4:27 pm

    I think it’s great to have choices in fashion! But this look will definitely ***not*** be one of my choices. I like wide legged pants if they are nearly to the floor, but I find cropped wide trousers extremely unflattering on just about everybody. Maybe my eye will adjust, as I am not an early adopter….but I doubt it!

    • Judy
      April 29, 2016 / 6:11 pm

      I echo everything you said.

    • Mary
      April 30, 2016 / 11:42 pm

      I am there with you avoiding the look

  30. Karen
    April 29, 2016 / 8:03 pm

    They can call it what they will, but to me cropped, wide legged pants will always be gauchos! I didn’t like it when they tried to foist them on us in the 70s, and I don’t like them now.

    That said, I do like long flared or wider legged jeans and pants, but I no longer like heels or even wedges, which I think these pants need for balance.

    My big issue with the wider bottom/shorter top is that my middle has grown since my 30s and I now want to cover it, so the slim bottom/tunic top style was a godsend! If I could figure out what to wear on top (since magazines only seem to show crop tops with this silhouette ) I would be more on board.

    I don’t really think this look will catch on widely, though, so I’m not too worried.

  31. Mary F.
    April 29, 2016 / 8:04 pm

    Several months ago I purchased a lovely pair of gray, tweed fully lined and very full slacks for Banana Republic. Since I sew, hemming these very long slacks was not a problem, and they were a steal at $17.00. Several weeks after that I caught a glance of myself in a full length mirror in the lovely slacks. Not so good. I usually wear flats or oxfords which was what I had on. I have donated the lovely slacks because they were so obviously a “miss”. At least not too big a splurge. I am also on the shorter side at 5’3″. Since I really could not see the look in the unhemmed slacks, I learned or re-learned a valuable lesson: start with the shoes you will wear with a dress pant or slacks or get caught looking dumpy or feeling very uncomfortable in shoes you don’t usually wear.
    P.S. My Mother recently passed. She was 92 and loved fashion to the very end. She looked fabulous on her 92nd birthday and wanted to go shopping after lunch. Love this blog. Thank you! Mary F.

  32. Christina Spada
    April 30, 2016 / 4:31 am

    I am running full force toward this trend. I have purchased 3 pair of new pants this spring – cropped flared, cropped wide leg, and full length wide. Prior to this shopping spree, I only owned 5 pairs of pants (all skinny). I am 5’5 with an hour-glass shape. I find this new silhouette totally FUN! I’m digging out my shorter, leaner tops to wear with these new pants as fluid over fluid is not a good look for me. Yesterday I attended a casual, after work event with about 30 women. I was the only person there who did not sport the long over lean silhouette.

  33. bellsonme
    April 30, 2016 / 8:23 am

    Like every other fashion, I think how things look depends on your body and how you carry yourself when you wear them. Cropped pants aren’t for me! I have curvy hips, so long over lean doesn’t quite work, either. For me, wearing moderately wide leg slacks with a moderately cropped, tailored jacket is a nice professional look (and don’t forget the column of color!). You can lighten up your wide legs by wearing shoes with visible heels, even low heels, as opposed to wedge heels. For a summer alternative to jeans, I find myself drawn to those beautiful drapey patterned pants in indigo colors, but I haven’t tried them on yet. Yet.

    I remember one very fashionable girl from my high school days who wore those gaucho pants with clunky knee-high boots and a cropped jacket, and it was memorable enough (in a good way) that when I see gauchos today I think of her. Again, it’s not for me, but for those of you who can wear those pants, I salute you!

  34. rose
    April 30, 2016 / 9:10 am

    Thanks for addressing this subject, and posting a variety of options, as every fashion magazine shows the wide leg pant as THE current look.

    The only wide leg pants I wear are evening pants, and not often.
    I am 5’4″ with long legs and a short waist It’s not a good look for me, generally, because to balance the wide pants I would require a more fitted top. That will not work.

    In my opinion the look is just not flattering for the majority of women.
    As my wardrobe adviser reminds me each time I meet with her, the salient question to each clothing item tried on is “Can I do better?”

    Reluctantly, there is agreement that women our age would most likely want to avoid our attire being described as “dated.” Too bad, it seems many of us feel good and look better in slim bottoms and longer tops.

    What to do what to do~!

  35. Rhonda Strong Gilmour
    April 30, 2016 / 1:04 pm

    Blech. No thanks. I did recently buy a pair of wrap pants, wide and flowing, but floor-length. They are very flattering, appearing at first glance to be a long skirt. But cropped and wide is a trend I will not ride.

  36. April 30, 2016 / 2:45 pm

    I bought a pair of wide leg pants last summer and they were actually ok on me. I’m 5’3″ and an apple shape so really clothes are never made for my shape but with the right top they worked. I do still love and wear my skinnies so we’ll see where this goes!

  37. sandypatti
    May 1, 2016 / 5:01 am

    I was just reading about this over at Not Dressed as Lamb – the wider, shorter trousers are not just for tall willowy women. I think you can own this look, style it like you, and rock it. I like wearing flats, so my eyes have to get used to a wider, shorter leg with no heels below. xox

    -Patti
    http://notdeadyetstyle.com

  38. May 1, 2016 / 6:16 am

    Well, if the eye does shift, that also means I’ll have an easier time finding fuller skirts. Unlike full trousers, a somewhat full, gored skirt is great on the bicycle! I’m still a flower child as well…

  39. Cathy D.
    May 1, 2016 / 8:51 pm

    Susan, where is the “Outfits” option? I love being able to browse through all of your wonderful outfit posts.

    • Susan B
      May 2, 2016 / 5:10 am

      Hi Cathy D., it’s now at the top of the page, on the navigation bar.

  40. May 2, 2016 / 12:27 am

    I’m a fan of wider pants so this will be a refreshing update.

  41. Liana Yates
    May 3, 2016 / 8:48 pm

    I’m 52, 5’8″ and 140 lbs. So I’m fairly tall, but I find that I do best with very light, flowing, drapey wider pants. The pairs I usually buy are a heavier silk, a wool jersey, or in linen for summer. Worst look ever on me is a firmly structured wider straight leg pant to just above the ankle bone EWWWW! They just remind me of ‘floods’ and with a 35″ inseam, I’ve seen my share of those….
    Most flattering for me is a midwaisted, trouser cut straight down from the cheek, or even slightly bootcut without an obvious tight knee & flare. They aren’t always easy to find.

  42. Nicole
    May 3, 2016 / 11:26 pm

    I like this look when it works. I wish I had the shape that could work it to my liking (too short and wide). It’d be fun to have a pair and wear with low heels and a crisp white blouse and longer sweater or jacket. I have a pair of flowy wide-leg pants but I decided against hemming them for a trend. Who knows how long this will last. Skinny jeans seem to be here to stay. How about normal pants. 😉 j/k having a premature senior moment.

  43. Stephanie Anderson
    May 6, 2016 / 1:09 am

    I’m fairly tall 5’8″ with what I kindly refer to as Russian peasant legs, and I am sick to death of skinny pants! They only look good if you have slim legs, and it’s ridiculous to see them in the plus-size section. I have held onto all my EF straight or slightly flared rayon knit trousers over the last 15 years. I do love culottes, flood pants, cropped wide-leg trousers etc. I love Bryn Walker clothes, which appeal to my quirky side, and they always have a wide-leg slightly cropped wide trouser in summer linen. I certainly understand the appeal of skinny pants for slim or short women, but thank God there are going to be choices. After all, you can always alter a pant leg to be slimmer, but you can’t make a skinny leg wider!

  44. Paula
    May 11, 2016 / 9:08 pm

    I have to confess, I have always had a secret crush for culottes. Especially for fall with a pair of great boots. I bought a new pair last winter, black, great drape, such a modern update to my wardrobe. I was able to wear them moto boots, wedge heels, flats. And the tops were just as versatile, long flowing tops with shorter sweater (didn’t make things too full), cropped jackets, denim, leather. I was reaching for them over and over, and I felt a just a little hip without being too “young”.

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