in praise of: little black pants…

travel wardrobe essentials
left: earrings | top | bracelet (similar) | bracelet | bag | pants | shoes
right: earrings | top | bag | cuff (similar) | pants | shoes

…or little navy pants, if that’s your preference.

If you’re trying to pack light and/or travel with just a carry-on, there are few pieces that are more versatile than a pair of (comfortable) black pants. (I’m a pants wearer…for those of you who prefer skirts, just substitute a simple dark skirt for the pants mentioned.) They dress up or down, and even a knit pair will rise to the occasion of “smart casual” with the right top.

I’m an adherent to the concept of “tabletop dressing” especially when traveling. Keep the bottom half simple, and focus energy (and variety) on the top half and accessories. Why black pants (or navy)? Simple: they don’t show dirt, reducing the need for laundering and/or additional items in the suitcase. Plus, black reads as “dressy” more easily than lighter colors.

For mild-to-warm weather travel, I really like these slim ankle pants from Eileen Fisher. I’ve worn them from temple hopping in Phuket, Thailand (very warm and humid conditions) to fine dining back in the States. They can be hand-washed and will usually line dry overnight. But if something more tailored is your preference, go for a lightweight wool with a little stretch, like these from Vince. (They’ll require dry-cleaning, but often wool can be spot or brush cleaned.) For cooler climates, consider ponte knits. You might even be able to get by with a pair of black denim jeans, but be warned that they will be heavier and not as easily laundered.

I find that slim pants are easier to style and more versatile, but if straight or wide legs fit better with your style silhouette, here’s a good option.

Do you have a favorite Little Black Pant?


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  1. Susan, do you know if Eileen Fisher still makes a straight leg (versus skinny or wide leg) ponte knit pant? I have a pair from about three (or more) years ago and they have been fabulous. They are beginning to wear after countless wearings.

    1. Susan, I’ve seen them as recently as last fall (the ponte knits tend to be a fall/winter item). Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus carry them when available.

  2. I get my black pants from Gap–they are the best fit for my body and never wear out. Good-looking and affordable work horses!

  3. I love The Gap’s LBP and I have a jogger style EF that has served me well on overseas trips. My new fave of the last few years: I buy a pair or two every season of Macy’s Alfani pull on skinny ankle black pant. They have a flattering waist even though they are pull on. They come in petite and regular and are an incredible pant at a great price. I am a curvy 4P and these always fit amazingly and travel well. I will take the ankle pant and the slim fitting capri with me next month on a Med cruise though Spain, France & Italy!

  4. I have so many pairs of black pants…little and otherwise. I’m thinking of packing my black leggings for Paris. They’re heavy, not skin-tight and look great with sneakers and a tee shirt and jacket or sandals with a silk blouse. I also have a new pair of black crepe joggers which can do the same thing. Maybe I’ll ear one and pack the other??? BTW your cropped little black pants looked wonderful in Vegas.

  5. More often than not, my husband and I travel to locations where very relaxed, casual clothing is the norm. For my go-to black pants, I’ve found that L.L.Bean’s “Perfect Fit” knit pants are not just comfortable (and affordable), but can be either laid-back with a pair of running shoes and T-shirt, or spiffed up with jazzy sandals, a pretty top, and a scarf. I prefer the straight-leg style, but they come in boot-cut, as well (and a capri length). They are a substantial weight 100% cotton garment, and therefore not quick-drying, but they come in several basic colors and maintain their shape and color no matter how many times they are washed and tossed into the dryer. I have several pair that I bought for a trip to Germany in 2010, and subsequently have worn them in Puerto Rico, Iceland, and Italy (as well as many places here in the U.S.) and they are still going strong…

  6. Bought several pairs of EF pants this year – love the skinny jeans and could absolutely just LIVE in the jersey slouchy tapered pants. So comfortable and beautiful. My only wish is that EF would make the longer inseams available all year round.

    Sometimes I think it would be nice if women’s pants would all come generously unhemmed, so that – like in men’s clothing – the hem could be put in perfectly to suit each woman’s leg length(s). Not only do I have 2 slightly different leg lengths, but the “ankle” length pants are often too short for me and look more like cropped/capris ….

  7. I suggest the “City Jogger Pant” by Athleta. Yes, it’s an activewear store, owned by the Gap, but the pants fit the bill for me. They are fairly narrow, with a band at the bottom about an inch above the ankle, and made of a light polyester that would be perfect for travel. They also play right into the current trend for all things athletic. The company also offers free shipping and returns. I wear them to teach Pilates in and plan to wear them at night (dressed up with a tank sweater and a pashmina scarf and sandals) and en route during a trip to Hawaii next week.

    1. I looooove these pants…alas, they have been discontinued!!!!! Their new style do not fit the same way at all:-( I bought my last pair in August of 2017 in anticipation of shoulder surgery. I’ve been searching the internet high and low for used, size 4 Athleta City Jogger…I’ll take any color!

  8. Black pants aren’t really a staple in my wardrobe so I do’t usually build travel outfits around them, but like Alison I travel in my workout pants, No matter where I go I always take clothes to wear when working out, or at a minimum take a fitness walk. I like them on planes because they’re stretchy and if something spills I haven’t messed up my central vacation wear. We’re going to Hawaii this summer so maybe I’ll take a look at the Athleta site myself 🙂

  9. Love the EF collection. Although I appreciate the high quality, they are quite pricey and with the postage and taxes to Europe, I am afraid it is too much…
    Black slim stretch trousers are my basics while travelling!

    Annette | Lady of Style

  10. I’m planning on wearing my Eileen Fisher black pants on the plane…taking a black skirt and an LBD.
    Black just makes good sense to me…adding a few dashes of colour with scarves.
    Your packing tips are wonderful!

  11. Because of this blog, I bought my first pairs of EF pants yesterday: the straight crepe with yoke and a pair of skinny jeans…I am totally a convert to EF!! Great fit and I can tell they will last a very long time. I also purchased the dotted blouse you show (ivory with black dots) from Madewell – it arrived this week and sadly I have to return it – it’s a beautiful material but it is also very boxy and a bit short for me (I’m tall and large busted so this just didn’t work).. Just thought I’d let everyone know. I really appreciate your style suggestions and enjoy your travel stories!

    1. Hi Jill, thanks! I think it’s a matter of personal preference. I was fine with the black pants in Phuket, but if we traveled regularly to tropical locations, I might invest in the same pant in white here:

  12. Yay for the black pant! I have so many pairs, but each one is unique and no, as my husband wonders, I do not have trouble picking out just the right one for that day! I’ve never had these Eileen Fisher slim pants, so am going to try them. Anyone….if I am usually a pretty true size 8, I would order the small, right?

    1. I can’t speak to the regular sizing, but I’m usually a Petite 6 or regular size 4, and take the Petite Small. I find that with Eileen Fisher, the bottoms tend to run smaller than the tops, relatively.

  13. I second the wish for different lengths in women’s pants. I am not a huge fan of ankle pants, so I have, on occasion, bought the long length online (at Banana Republic). So I was able to get the ankle jeans to be regular length on me. (I’m 5’7″).
    Re the Athleta City Jogger pants, I don’t have them but bought them for both my girls for Christmas. They love them!

  14. It may sound odd, but my favorite black pants for travel and, well, everything, are the Bust a Move pants from Lululemon. I liked them so much I duplicated them in navy, and it’s a good thing because it seems they’re sold out and discontinued. They’re cut a little slim through the hip and thigh so I had to size up and belt, but I don’t mind that for such a flattering, versatile pant. They go everywhere from hiking to a nice dinner, full length or rolled up for a slight cropped effect, and with everything from hiking shoes to sandals to boots to dressy footwear. And they wash well and dry quickly.

  15. I don’t even own a pair of black pants, well unless black faux leather counts. In fact I don’t own a pair of dress pants at all. So many people other wear them and they just aren’t me. I can see where it would be helpful when travelling though.


  16. I just bought these EF slim ankle pants (Yes, a size 8 = small in these pants) and wondered if you could show some other styling options at some point. I personally don’t favor the flowy, asymmetrical tops, tho they look great on you! I’d like a more tailored look, but these pants definitely need a top that covers the waist. I also wonder about styling them for more tropical/resort type vacations. I am so comfortable in all black, but everyone else seems to be wearing festive colors.

  17. I will take three pairs of black pants to Paris in a week or so; two are narrow cut in techno fabric (cotton takes too long to dry) by Lole, and Anne Klein, and one pair is silk jersey by Lida Baday. (On the plane, I’ll sleep in those and they look good for evenings.) And no skirts; that way all shoes work. I’m tall; EF does not fit me in the inseam.

  18. Hello again – I have just written you a note about meeting up in Paris. At the moment I am having trouble with letting you have my Eaddress without including the whole world and his “scammer”. Please use the address as given in your comment box.

  19. Susan- I love all of your advice and outfits! And, so appreciate the comments of your loyal readers. I’m seeking advice on the EF Slim ankles. At 5’4″ (short waist/long legs) the regular size hits right at my ankle, not a few inches above. I’m not unhappy with the look, but wondering if Petite might give a shorter look and a little more “Audrey-esque” ala the Minnie from J. Crew. Any thoughts?

      1. Thanks Susan! Will click through to order and give them a try. Upcoming trip to D.C. and will be going in style thanks to you (and some serious shopping on my part)! Merci!