Back To Basics: Little Black Pants

A neutral wardrobe capsule built around black knit pants. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

Whether you’ve been “Kondo-ing” your closet, or are rebuilding a wardrobe to accommodate changes in your lifestyle, it’s important to keep wardrobe cohesion in mind. The term “capsule wardrobe” gets thrown around a lot, but to me it just means a foundation of basic pieces that work together.

A Neutral Capsule With Little Black Pants

Left: Earrings | Turtleneck (Plus)| Blazer | Bag | Boots
Middle: Necklace | Tee | Pants (Misses/Petites/Plus)
Right: Scarf | Jacket | Bag | Shoes

If the idea of a capsule of wardrobe basics makes you break out in hives because it feels too limiting, just think of it as a starting point. You can always add more variety. And my basics may not necessarily be your basics. I do well with simple styles but you may prefer more complex pieces. The items of clothing that you reach for most often, find easiest to style, and feel most yourself in…those are your basics.

Versatile Black Pants In A Casual Wardrobe

Click for outfit details: Left | Right

If I’m not wearing jeans, you’ll most often find me in a pair of knit black pants. They’re comfortable, travel-friendly, and a perfect choice for a Polished Casual look.

Ponte Knit

My hands down favorites are the Eileen Fisher slim ponte knit pants. (Available in Misses, Petites and Plus sizes.) No, they’re not inexpensive, but they hold their shape, have just enough structure, and wear like iron. They dress up or down, the fabric is saturated and matte, and they’re machine washable.

For all but the warmest months, I always include a pair of these pants in my travel wardrobes. And they’ve become my preferred pair to wear on the plane.

I almost never see these go on sale, but you may be able to find second-hand…try ThredUp, or ebay.

Stretch Crepe

Also from Eileen Fisher, I consider this a miracle fabric. It’s lightweight but has some structure, comfortable in a range of temperatures, and machine washable. I most often wear the classic slim ankle pants, (Misses/Petites/Plus) and also just picked up a pair of these cropped slouchy pants which should be great for summer travel (love the pockets!). Many of the stretch crepe pants styles are now offered in other colors too, including Midnight (navy).

More styles:
Bootcut | Straight Leg | Pintuck | Wide Leg

Trousers

Black leather look trousers from AG Jeans. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

I’ll admit, I haven’t worn trousers as often since I left my corporate job almost 3 years ago. But they’re nice to have on hand for a change of pace. Two pairs survived my most recent closet purge. First, these coated trousers from AG that look like leather. They’re comfortable and flattering. I haven’t shown them in an outfit post yet, will need to rectify that!

Second, (and a more budget-friendly option), the J.Crew Cameron trousers. Mine are the cropped style, but they’re also available in a full length style as well. (And both styles offered in other colors besides black, including Navy.)

Black Pants Under $100

Looking for budget-friendly options? Here’s a Baker’s Dozen, all under $100!

Stay in touch.

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25 Comments

  1. February 10, 2019 / 11:23 pm

    I went to a ballet recently, and the audience was full of dance-enthusiastic French women, who are even more chic than your usual French women. One look I saw again and again, on all ages, was similar to the your photo here of woman in the white boots: pants cuffed or rolled above low boots, with about two inches of leg (or wild socks) showing. Worn with low boots, especially Chelsea or Doc Marten-adjacent (though sometimes they are worn with athleisure shoes). The trousers almost always are pleated and loose (even baggy) at the top, and either cut straight down for a wide leg or tapered at the bottom. Lots of old man plaids, some pinstripes, and also solid black.

  2. Linda B Kerr
    February 11, 2019 / 3:49 am

    I bought these ponte pants a few years ago, thanks to your recommendation. They’ve been a real joy, and have retained their shape and rich color. Worth every dollar. Cost per wear is excellent!
    I also have her (Fisher’s) black ponte pencil skirt. Just as wonderful. Thanks for the recommendations. While my budget is much, much different from yours, these key pieces are essentials, and I shall continue to be a EF fan….

  3. Cheryl
    February 11, 2019 / 4:36 am

    What size do you take in the EF ponte pants? Should one get petite if they are 5′ 2″?

    • Susan B
      February 11, 2019 / 6:24 am

      Hi Cheryl, I would advise trying the Petite. I take a Petite Small.

    • Isa
      February 11, 2019 / 2:03 pm

      I am 5’5″ and wear petite in EF pants. The rise is the same as in the regular…sometimes 1/2″ less. The inseam is obviously shorter so I didn’t have to hem. But they look really good cuffed. ENJOY !

  4. Ainsivalavie
    February 11, 2019 / 4:49 am

    I have seen EF ponte pants go on sale at Nordstrom ( Canada) Not sure if that was a happy accident or a regular sale. They were still $$ but within reach for a wardrobe staple. In Canada Nygard makes an excellent ponte knit pant. It is a pull on but has a wide set in waist band that gives them a great fit. Wear like iron, no pilling between the legs and wash well. I own them in many styles including the amazing leggings.
    As a petite (read shorter) woman what do you think of the high rise look?. Personally I can’t stand it! I remember ‘mom’ jeans and how unflattering they were to my 5’1″ curvy short waisted frame. Even in petites many rises are too high I am finding mid rise is harder to find especially in jeans. The AG photo shows my preferred rise. I just don’t like my waist band under my bust line!!

    • Susan B
      February 11, 2019 / 6:50 am

      Hi Ainsivalavie, I can’t do high-waisted either. They just feel too constricting. I have a short waist and large bust, and prefer a mid-rise cut that hits just below my navel. Some petite women are long-waisted, and may find they like how a higher rise works for them. It’s really about proportions, even more than height or size, IMO.

    • Peg
      February 12, 2019 / 5:03 am

      I have the same problem. I’d love to wear some quality black pants from EF. I spent over an hour with Nordstrom sales person, and none of this brand fit me.
      I’m petite and curvy. If the pants fit in the hips, I have at least Three inches too much in the waist. Altering helps, but still aren’t fitting well. Very frustrating….I’m usually a size eight.
      When I inquire about curvy fit, i am usually referred to larger sizes. I’d love to know what brands other women are wearing who are shaped the same.
      I’m liking….curvy fit from: AnnTaylor, Talbots five pocket stretch, Syle & Co.from Macy’s.

      • Texas Aggie Mom
        February 12, 2019 / 7:29 am

        Peg, I’m tall but curvy, with hips a size larger than my waist. Ann Taylor LOFT has a curvy fit in their jeans and pants (I think it’s called “Julie”) that might work for you, and I believe they have petites. They have very few “Julie” fit items in the store, but I find them on line easily and stalk them until there’s a sale or coupon. Even in the curvy fit I sometimes have to have the waist altered, but my tailor does an amazing job of taking off the waistband, reducing the waist size and putting it back (none of those uncomfortable darts taken in the back) which is worth the $20 she charges on items I wear a lot. I share your appreciation for the Style & Co. jeans from Macy’s, but have you noticed that different colors fit differently in the same size? I have black and grey ones that are absolutely perfect with no alterations, but all the other colors I’ve ordered fit very differently.

  5. Caroline
    February 11, 2019 / 5:07 am

    I have a couple of pairs of EF slouchy black pants as well as the AG coated trousers (agree they are very flattering) – love them all!

    I recently came across these by Everlane in my local consignment store (never worn – my lucky day!) : https://www.everlane.com/products/womens-italian-goweave-easy-pant-surplus
    I’m so impressed with these pants – very lightweight wool that drapes beautifully, slouchy, pockets, cropped just enough (I’m 5’3”). Highly recommend!

  6. Jude
    February 11, 2019 / 5:47 am

    I love most all of your suggestions over the years Susan. I did buy the EF slim pointe knit and slim ankle pants and found them on sale. They are comfortable especially for travel but I do feel a bit
    frumpy in them. I think because I am so use to skinny jeans, which make me feel slim and with wedge heels or boots…taller. …I am short…about your size.
    The first time I wore the ankle pants, my husband commented that his mother use to wear pants like that….he touched the material. I can’t get over that. I assume my husband meant the old stretch pants. He is always complimentary, so this was odd for him to say.
    I wear the pants for traveling but rately wear them for a night out. I hope to get beyond the feeling that the EF pants make me seem or feel old. I am 59.

    • Rondi
      February 11, 2019 / 10:07 am

      I agree with Elena that perhaps this was a positive comment from your husband. I am just a couple years older then you and was concerned that stretch type pants would look “old”. I remember my mother wearing them when she was older. But if you google stretch pants from the 60’s they were quite popular and youthful. I assume she wore them when she was younger too. So he may have been remembering a younger mother.

  7. Laurel
    February 11, 2019 / 6:08 am

    I have three pairs of the ponte knit from my work days, and they wear like iron. Also bought the stretch crepe for travel after reading about them here, and they are my summer go to when it’s too warm for the ponte. I did find them on sale via Garnet Hill when they had a site wide sale. They’re pricey, but the cost per wear is small. They last virtually forever.

  8. February 11, 2019 / 6:11 am

    Dear Jude. I had to smile at the remark your husband made. I have a feeling that it was meant to be a compliment, and that his mother looked great in stretch pants. I’m 82 and like to think I looked good in them then and not bad in them now. It’s all about keeping to a good size I guess.

  9. Susan D.
    February 11, 2019 / 7:51 am

    I have both the black ponte pants (in fact I have TWO pairs of them) and the black stretch crepe pants. Both styles are workhorses in my wardrobe. My only complaint is length. They are a bit short and I am NOT that tall! I do wish Eileen Fisher would make a TALL pant. J. Jill makes a Tall and it makes a huge difference for those of us taller than 5’6″. (However the J. Jill knit pants are not an option for me.)

    One of my pairs of black EF ponte pants is at least ten years old! I bought a second pair because I feared they would wear out. That hasn’t really happened, but I am glad to have two pairs. If one is in the wash, I always have the other pair. I always pack them when I travel. And, like Susan B., take the crepe pants in warmer weather. I don’t care for the other colors of the crepe pants as the fabric is not that attractive. It works for black pants, but, in my opinion, not for the other colors.

  10. Jill Ann
    February 11, 2019 / 7:52 am

    I too have the EF ponte knit slim pants, and while I do like them, I find that they bag out in the knees after a wear or two, which is why I don’t wear them on the plane when traveling. Do you not have this problem?

    Have seen other commenters in the past, wishing EF would make their full length pants a bit longer. Agreed! I have the stretch crepe straight leg pants, and while I like the fabric, the pants are just a little short on me. Doesn’t make them unwearable, but I never feel quite right in them.

    • Susan B
      February 11, 2019 / 10:52 am

      Hi Jill Ann, pretty much ANY pants with stretch will loosen in the knees somewhat after sitting a long time. But I find these pants do so to a far lesser degree than others I’ve tried. I’ve also discovered that if I hang in a steamy bathroom, they recover considerably in an hour or two. Or if you have a steamer on hand, that will also revive as they dry.

  11. Lyn
    February 11, 2019 / 11:29 am

    The main drawback to the EF slim leg ankle pants and ponte pants is the lack of pockets. The wide-leg style has room for them, but my whole wardrobe has now gone slim-leg. Are wide legs coming back? I’m not ready to recalibrate!

    • Susan B
      February 11, 2019 / 1:43 pm

      I don’t think you need to recalibrate. 😉 Both wide and slim legs seem to be “in” concurrently. I agree about pockets, which is one of the reasons I really like the stretch crepe slouchy style.

  12. Isa
    February 11, 2019 / 1:59 pm

    I have found that most ponte pants wear well. I bought my first pair 30 years ago…when they were a novelty. I just wanted a pair of travel pants ( for work ) that look good and were easy to care for.

    As far as the EF washable slim pant : AMEN ! I bought them per your recommendation. I bought a grey pair on sale, then a dark red pair. They are FANTASTIC. I also bought my 85 year old mom and my disabled sister a pair each. They LOVE them. Now I am saving for the slouchy pair ( also for summer travel like you)…they will be black. Though these pants are lightweight, they work really well with tights or even pantyhose underneath for colder weather. I live in the NE and have worn them that way too.

  13. February 12, 2019 / 11:01 am

    I have many black trousers haha. How many pairs does one need?
    Greetje

    • Susan B
      February 12, 2019 / 2:50 pm

      Good question! 😉

  14. MaryInMD
    February 12, 2019 / 8:20 pm

    Has anyone tried the ponte pants from Uniqlo? I see both a high-waisted, cropped wider leg version and a slimmer version. I would love to hear of actual experiences with these pants—fit, quality, endurance, etc. Of course, black would be my color of choice . . . .

  15. February 18, 2019 / 9:33 am

    At this time of year, I live in black pants or black jeans. Both casual and smart outfit are lovely, Susan.

  16. February 25, 2019 / 5:47 am

    I can’t wear EF either, too short in inseam and rise. Am ardent wearer of black slim-cut jeans or techno-fabric trousers. A shout out here for Talbot’s “Never Fade Black” jeans, and for their sizes, which are usually Misses, Petite, Plus and Plus Petite— and in a few styles, also Tall. While I find 85% of Talbot’s too girly or garish, the jeans fit me well. They also make some black matte jersey separates that are good for travel.

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