Menswear details, including blazers, vests and button-downs, have been invading women’s fashion trends for a while. Now comes the most obvious of all for fall: pants.
Dresses had been dominant for several seasons — there is appeal in an effortless uniform, after all — but pants are powerful, utilitarian and versatile, and that seems to be what women are craving this style cycle.
"I don’t need to tell the girls in the room how practical pants are. A great black pant goes desk to dinner, morning to evening. It’s easy and you don’t have to think about it too much," says Simon Kneen, creative director at Banana Republic.
"We see pants as the next ‘it’ item," agrees Colin Dyne, CEO of William Rast. "The categories we’re focused on for fall and going into spring are chinos, cargos, pants that utilize silk blends and other fabrications."
And that’s what’s new about pants this go-around: Pretty much anything goes. There’s not a specific skinny silhouette that’s the must-have, nor a tailored trouser. The runways — and now the racks — have wide legs and narrow ones, high waists and low. They are all, however, relatable, not kooky concoctions meant only for the catwalk.
"There’s a return to the idea of a flattering pant," says Mark Holgate, Vogue’s fashion news director. "We were knee deep, no pun intended, in the world of crazy pants … and then what happened was women wore leggings. But now the trend is coming back like the 1990s — a wonderful Helmut Lang pant that’s boyish and womanly, that could be worn with a jacket shirt, evening top, heel, flat or boot."
He also sees a nod to the ’70s, which Holgate calls "the great years of pants."
Susan Cernek, Glamour’s senior online fashion and beauty editor, says she recently was flipping through a book of Yves Saint Laurent’s archival work and had to do a triple take at the date. "There was a 1974 runway look but it looks like so many looks from the runway this year. It was worn with a bow blouse, loose jacket and tailored trousers."
Pants create an image of strength, Cernek says, "not because they are borrowed from the boys but because you have to be committed to this look. You literally suit up from head to toe."
The top you choose, the shoes you wear and the scarf wrapped around the neck all become more important when your outfit is built around pants, Kneen explains.
It’s almost ironic, but wearing pants can be dressier than a dress.
Dyne sees movement toward a more refined look, even for William Rast’s cool, casual customer. Even cargo pants are getting cleaned up, and you’ll see people wearing them with blazers out at night, he says.
Gap’s new black-pant collection is a reaction to consumer demand, says Lexi Tawes, vice president of women’s merchandising. People want a pair of pants that can be worn seven days a week, and, for many women, that’s their black pants. "The challenge for us was, ‘How do you make black pants cool and sexy again?"
Fit might be the key. You’d be surprised what flattering pockets and tailored waistband can do, Tawes says.
At Banana Republic, the design starts in the rear, explains Kneen. "It’s what a woman looks at first in the changing room, and if that fits it means you’re fitting well around the hips."
Finding the best pants for your figure can require a little trial and error, says Glamour’s Cernek. "It’s worth the investment of time to find trousers that fit and flatter you, but you might have to go with your game face on."
She says high heels are trousers’ favorite accessory — and that might mean buying pants longer than your gut first tells you to. "The heel line can change the entire line of the body. You should take shopping your most frequently worn pair of heels."
And, she adds, a sharp, single pleat down the leg creates a strong vertical line and elongates the silhouette.
Kneen advises balancing simple, chic trousers with the other seasonal trends, including frilly feminine tops, layering and embellishment such as bows and ribbons. "The pants are the grounding," he says.
The three go-to pants in Cernek’s closet are tailored black pants, camel-colored trousers — a more work-appropriate version of khakis — and a pair of Katharine Hepburn-inspired gray flannels. "You can keep those for 10 years and be happy."
A great pair of pants don’t have an expiration date in the way that a hemline on a dress, no matter how lovely, might have because of changing tastes.
"Pants are a good investment piece," says Vogue’s Holgate. "It feels like you’re in familiar territory and that your legs are back on steady land."