What Pants Are Right For You

May 23, 2012

Do you ever walk into a store, try on loads of pants, end up feeling frustrated, and leave with an empty shopping bag? Well, you’re not alone!

Lots of pant options are a double-edged sword.

And trying to find a great pair, especially for the office, can be a daunting task.

There are actually several features to pay attention to when choosing your best fit…rise, shape, material, waistband, pocket placement, length and more.

To ease the process, I have highlighted two of the most important.

In the above guide, I categorize common pant styles for you and then follow up with the best lengths to wear for each pant. I get questions about both of these all the time!

Some pants will be appropriate for work and others for recreation.

First, let’s tackle…


  • Skinny (aka. slim, cigarette) – A snug fit through the legs and end in a small leg opening. Skinny jeans are the most popular and are the most flattering. Denim is a forgiving fabric. This style is not just for skinny women. Body proportion is more relevant – skip this style if you have both short legs and a long torso.
  • Tapered (aka. peg-leg) – Pant legs that narrow toward the ankle. Snug fit and loose fit options are both available in this pant style. Once again, body type is the determining flattery factor rather than weight. Looks best if you’ve got long legs; add heels if you don’t.
  • Straight (aka. tailored) – Pants with a straight narrow leg. Flatters all body types. Got thick thighs? Look for a wider leg circumference in this style.
  • Bootcut – Pants that skim over the thigh and have a slight, gradual flare at the lower leg. Universally flattering, especially if you’ve got full hips.
  • Flared (aka. bell bottoms) – Pants that narrow at the knee and have an exaggerated wide flare at the lower leg. Looks best if you’ve got long legs; add apropos 70’s inspired platform heels if you don’t.
  • Wide (aka. palazzo) – Pant legs that are relaxed and full from hips to hemline. Opt for structured pant fabrics for your work style. To avoid pant legs resembling a gown, select a moderately wide leg circumference.

Note, pant leg descriptions and fit vary among brands. One brands straight-leg is another brands wide-leg and one brands skinny-leg is another brands straight-leg, etcetera. The solution is to initially try a bunch of different brands and then once you find some winners, stick with those brands for your classic, staple pieces. I recommend trying this process again every few years, because today’s brands frequently change designers, fit models and fabrications, plus your body and fashion taste change as well.

Now, let’s clarify…


  • Floor – A pants hemline that ends anywhere from ¼-inch to ½-inch from the floor. Best length for straight, bootcut, flared and wide leg pants. Alter accordingly for both flats and high heels. The leg circumference varies on straight leg pants; alter as long as possible allowing for a slight break on the front of shoe.
  • Capri – A pants hemline that ends anywhere between the knee and mid-calf. Pant leg circumference varies from skinny to wide. A fitted or slightly relaxed pair at mid-calf length is the most flattering. Add heels to elongate the leg line.
  • Cropped – A pants hemline that ends at any length from the mid-calf to the ankle. I prefer this style over capris. Skinny, tapered and straight pant legs are most commonly available. Ideal length is any spot in this region that elongates your leg line. Add heels when necessary.

Just as with pant leg shapes, so it is with pant leg lengths. One brands capri pant is another brands cropped. Also note, a popular way to achieve your desired cropped length for a casual look is to roll up the hemline. No alterations necessary. Works best on tapered pants. Some are pre-sold this way already!

Did you find my pants guideline to be helpful? Are there other classic garments you would like to have me filter through, categorize and clarify for you?

Image credit, top left to bottom right: SKINNY, Roland Mouret Mortimer Stretch Cotton Skinny Pants $675, available at Net-A-Porter; TAPERED, D&G Classic Stretch Trousers $247.50, available at My-Wardrobe; STRAIGHT, Reed Krakoff Silk Trimmed Wool Straight-Leg Pants $990, available at Net-A-Porter; BOOTCUT, Joseph Marine Rocker Bootcut Trousers $268.13, available at My-Wardrobe; FLARED, Burberry London Flared Stretch Trousers $416, available at MyTheresa; WIDE, Jil Sander Loris Silk Trousers $776, available at MyTheresa; FLOOR, Proenza Schouler Straight Leg Trousers $859, available at MyTheresa; CAPRI, Dockers Metro Cropped Straight Leg Capri $48, available at Macy’s; CROPPED, The Row Keshman Scuba-Twill Skinny Pants $780, available at Net-A-Porter.

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