10 Pants You Need in Your Wardrobe
Straight, flare, cropped — get a leg up on all the trendiest looks
We're having an haute flash of nostalgia: After decades of jeans, leggings and dresses, real pants are back. And guess what's leading the rack pack? Look for trendy track pants, flares, high-waist straights and wide-leg trousers. How well we remember those! Before you pull out the plastic and hit buy, let's get realistic. We need everyday pants, work pants, dressy pants, comfy emergency pants (in two sizes) and weekend pants to hang out in — not sit-in-the-closet pants. Here are the top 10 celeb-approved styles. Choose or lose.
1. The new slim-ankle pants
Like most of us, if you've been living in ankle pants you'll want this update. The fit is narrow through the leg, but not skinny tight (yay!), and the rise is higher so the pants sit at your waist or just below it. The trim to the ankle bone or just-above length and curve-skimming proportion make a sleek polished base for any top and heel height — from Lauren Hutton's (below left) untucked shirt, blazer and flats to Jaclyn Smith's (below center left) classic sweater and low nude pumps. Opt for pants in a cool gray — it’s a neutral that works with everything and looks fresh.
2. The cropped flares
If you wear jeans a lot and like looking a little more hip without getting too trendy, this narrow ankle crop with a subtle outward flick at the hem is your jam. Think of it as a mini bootcut. Then add ballet flats and a relaxed swingy sweater like Sharon Stone (above center right) or ankle boots and a biker jacket like Susan Sarandon (above right). And between us, you can always tailor the flare down to a narrow fit like No.1 when you tire of it.
3. The straight pleated pants
If you prefer tailored conservative clothes, these classic pants now come with built-in control technology to keep the waist-to-shoes line sleek and the creases sharp. They pair well with silk blouses, low heels or booties. You could buy black, but why not choose unexpected colors to dial up your style like Jane Fonda (below left) in winter white or Kyra Sedgwick (below center left) in orange? If the waistband has loops, tone a narrow belt to the pants for the longest, leggiest effect.
4. The athleisure track pants
If you obsessed over Juicy Couture velour tracksuits in the early 2000s and are into sneakers in a big way, swap your ordinary black runaround leggings for track pants. Look for the distinctive contrasting stripe down the side of the leg. Stick to black or black and white like Lisa Rinna (above center right) and Cate Blanchett (above right) for the easiest tonal mix with all your other sporty and casual basics. Don't be afraid to wear tracks with nonsporty clothes like sweaters and leather jackets or even a blazer — but keep the kicks.
5. The soft flow pants
If you wish dressing up was as comfy as pajamas, you'll love these supple drapey pants. Worn with a matching top like Martha Stewart's (below left) navy tunic-and-pant duo, Stephanie Mills’ (below center left) black boatneck and pants or Julianne Moore's (below center right) black pants and dolman sleeve top, it's an elegant modern evening look. Of course, you can also break up the pieces and wear the pants with a crisp white shirt or a long sweater for day, too.
6. The flared pants
If you loved bell-bottom jeans, you'll want these pants. Those of us with heavy calves, major curves from the waist down or thick ankles will sigh at the full-cover leg. Pair them with mules now, soft low-cut chunky heel booties later. Star Jones (above right) opts for red with a white blouse and cropped faux fur.
7. The new pantsuits
If pants with a matching jacket always gave you a confidence boost, you're ready for this new version that has nothing to do with the vintage boxy and shapeless duos you donated to Goodwill. This time around choose ankle pants and a fitted jacket like Jamie Lee Curtis (above left), Nicole Kidman (above center) and Maria Bello (above right). Make a statement in white or lipstick red, and add your choice of extras — a tank or tee beneath (no bulky shirts needed) — and loafers, oxfords, low heels or sneakers as the bottom line.
8. The wide-leg crops
If you were a fan of culottes in the ’60s or more recently the full proportions of midi skirts, you'll want these pants. Worn a couple of inches above the ankle in fabrics from silky to sturdy, they work best with waist definition to keep the A-line shape — like Andrea Savage (above left) in black wide crops with a tucked-in white shirt and red heels; Kate Winslet's (above center) silky wide crops worn with a black blouse, pumps and ladylike bag; or SuChin Pak's (above right) sportier wide-leg crops, waist-cropped jeans jacket and sandals.
If you fondly recall sweatpants, these take the idea up a notch. Slouchy joggers have clingy ribbed or elasticized ankles that riff on the old gym model, but are super chic in a range of light silky fabrics. They look great off-duty with sneakers and a T-shirt or sweater like Regina King (below left), or polished with a jacket and booties like Claudia Schiffer (below center left). Buy them in black to mix easily with low-key or sophisticated pieces.
10. The wide-leg long pants
If wedges or heels are your go-to shoes and you are above average height — like Jennifer Lopez (above center right), who is 5 foot 5, and Alana Stuart (above right), at 5 foot 9 — you are a match for these wide long pants. The fit is extreme — super roomy from thighs to just above the floor — and they do look appealing online, on store mannequins and, yes, on celebrities. The extra shoe height is essential to maintain enough leg length to balance all that extra width. The high waist elongates the effect even more with a rise of 13 or 14 inches. Buy at your own risk or choose wide crops, flares or crop flares instead.
For more beauty and style tips for women age 50-plus, check out The Woman's Wakeup: How to Shake Up Your Looks, Life, and Love After 50 by Lois Joy Johnson and AARP's Beauty & Style issue.