True story: Once upon a time we all had a pair of black tailored pants. They weren’t particularly stylish but did the job when we needed to look polished, work-worthy or dressed up … which was pretty often. Sometimes we even bought a backup pair. As our lifestyles became more casual, jeans pushed those pants to closet “Siberia.” But fashion is cyclical, and pants are back as the key basics to own. From sleek flares to stretchy work pants and retro-thinking culottes, they’ve returned to give denim the boot — or at least shared hanger space. Which ones are worth it for you? Here are 10 you should consider this year.
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PHOTO BY: Spanx; JCPenney; Athleta; Lane Bryant
1. Ponte knit pants
If you buy only one new pair of pants, this is the ideal basic that pivots from work to weekend, day to night. Ponte, FYI, is a type of knit that’s thick and opaque. It provides the perfect blend of structure and stretch for a sleeker-looking silhouette without the need for shapewear. It’s a hero fabric for any pull-on pant style. Choose a straight leg like the Lane Bryant Pull-On Textured Ponte Twill Straight Pant in Black ($60, lanebryant.com), the Athleta Venice Heathered Pintuck Pant in Navy Heather ($119, athleta.gap.com) or the Worthington-Plus Womens High Rise Slim Pull-On Pants in Black ($35, jcpenney.com); or a legging hybrid like the Spanx The Perfect Pant, Ankle 4-Pocket in Classic Black or Classic Navy ($110, spanx.com).
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PHOTO BY: Old Navy; J.Jill; Ann Taylor; Lane Bryant
2. The unstuffy work pant
Our tailored work pants used to be uncomfortable. They were itchy, scratchy, cinched and pinched; sagged at the bottom area; gave us tummy and muffin bulges; and looked like leftovers from a pantsuit (and many times they were!). Some of the newest variations are pared down, streamlined (no belt loops! no linings!) in sensible, feel-good, stretch-infused fabrics with a high waist that tucks all in. Style preference will vary depending on your work dress code, but try a pair of “travel” pants in a wrinkle-resistant performance fabric like the Lane Bryant On-The-Go Straight Pant in Dark Water ($80, lanebryant.com) if you commute; tailored flares like the Old Navy High-Waisted Pixie Full-Length Flare Pants for Women in Black Jack, Raisin Arizona ($40, old navy.gap.com) or stretch flares like the J.Jill Fit Performance Boot-Cut Pants in Black or Dark Grey Heather ($99, jjill.com) if you live in ankle boots; and flat-fronts like the Ann Taylor The Side Zip Straight Pant in Silver Lake Grey ($98, anntaylor.com) if you prefer untucked tops.
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PHOTO BY: Catherines; Ann Taylor; Everlane
3. The work-from-home/computer pant
It looks like a work pant, feels like a sweat pant. Some of us never want to wear anything too dressed up again, and zippers are definitely not in the plan. And yet, we still need a pant that pulls together a slouchy sweater or tunic-top for a finished effect on Zoom, over a countertop or in a cubicle. One of the best solutions is a sophisticated knit pant like the Catherines Anywear Classic Pant in Charcoal Heather Grey or Black ($55, catherines.com), Everlane The Dream Pant in Dark Forest ($78, everlane.com) or the Ann Taylor The Easy Ankle Pant in Double Knit in Lazy Grey Melange ($90, anntaylor.com).
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PHOTO BY: Old Navy; Gap; Catherines; LOFT
4. Light color pants
Most of the time we choose dark pants. They simplify the “What goes with what?” process and get us quickly dressed. However, the usual year-round neutral palette of black, gray and navy now has lightened up with the addition of taupe, tan and beige shades. It’s wise to have one pair in your lineup — like the Old Navy High-Waisted Pixie Straight-Leg Ankle Pants for Women in Mocha Taffy ($40, oldnavy.gap.com), Loft Tie Waist Straight Pants in Natural Teak ($80, loft.com), the Catherines Everyday Pant in Sycamore Tan ($50, catherines.com) or Gap Off Duty Khakis with Washwell in Birch Beige or Beige Wicker ($70, gap.com) — to team with white and light-color tops and shoes for an elegant monochromatic effect.
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PHOTO BY: Macy's; Old Navy; Macy's
5. Comfy 'hanging out' pants
Whether you call them athleisure, workout, lounge or gym pants, every woman needs one pair of super-casual comfy pants that give your tees a fashionable look. It’ll keep you from falling back into your old, stained sweatpants or PJs and make walking the dog and unexpected company feel like a well-dressed event. One style rules: flared-leg yoga pants like the Old Navy Extra High-Waisted PowerChill Cropped Wide-Leg Yoga Pants for Women in Inkwell and Play Clay ($30, oldnavy.gap.com) or the Hanes ComfortFlex Flare Leggings in Black ($22, macys.com) and Skechers Gowalk Pants in Blue Iris and Charcoal Grey ($49, macys.com). For those who ask, “What about leggings?” The subtle bootcut hem is soothing and easier on ankles, calves and feet that tend to swell. If that’s you, try these game changers.
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PHOTO BY: Gap; Banana Republic; Target
6. Utility pants
Elevated and upgraded, these former tough guys may be your alternative to leggings and jeans. With a roomier fit and a relaxed look, they also deal effectively with weight fluctuations and “bloat” days when a snug fit isn’t wanted. What makes the look so flattering is the tapered leg with cinched or knit hem for subtle body definition. Try practical versions like the multipocketed Banana Republic Slim Utility Pant in Dusty Olive, Green Olive or Maverick Tan ($99, bananarepublic.gap.com) or Gap Ribbed Pull-On Joggers with Washwell in Desert Cactus Green ($70, gap.com), both in cotton twill; or the All In Motion Women’s Stretch Woven Cargo Pants in Olive ($30, target.com) in a moisture-wicking fabric. They make a modern alternative to traditional khakis and chinos and are excellent for hiking, gardening and household chores — thanks to all those pockets.
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PHOTO BY: Eloquii; Old Navy; JCPenney
7. Paperbag pants
The have a hint of déjà vu for us, but cinched waist-belted pants are perfect for grownup women who still have a defined waist or those with a softer middle who would like to create an hourglass illusion. The major consideration here is whether you’re OK with tucking in your tops or wearing bodysuits as a base layer. It’s a must to pulling this pant style off. Try the Stylus Paperbag Waist Loose Fit Tapered Trouser in Classic Mushroom, Navy Platoon or Black ($49, jcpenney.com), the Old Navy High-Waisted Cropped Belted Straight-Leg Pants for Women in Panther or Peppercorn ($40, oldnavy.gap.com) or the Eloquii Paperbag Waist Faux Leather Pant in Friar Brown ($55, eloquii.com). As a bonus: This pant has a dressier look due to the shapely lines and tie-belt, making it ideal for work or evenings out.
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PHOTO BY: Target; LOFT; J.Jill
8. Streetworthy leggings
A gentle heads-up here: The black leggings you wear to the gym may very well not be the best ones for work and streetwear. Somewhere around 2008 women age 50-plus started wearing leggings as pants. Like Sandy in Grease leaving her preppy look behind for shiny black leggings, they made us feel sexy and svelte — even paired with a blazer. The problem is most leggings are too thin and sheer at stress points where the body is wide or full, like your derriere and thighs. Choose classic leg-huggers — such as the J.Jill Smoothing-Ponte Leggings in Black or Navy Blue ($69, jjill.com) or Loft Seamed Ponte Leggings in Forever Navy or Black ($50, loft.com) — or try a legging-like pant hybrid like the Ava & Viv Plus Size Mid-Rise Pull-On Ponte Pants in Black, Navy or Heather Gray ($25, target.com), all in thick stretch knits that cover and sculpt.
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PHOTO BY: Eileen Fisher; Nordstrom (2)
9. Wide-leg pants
Loose pants that swish and swagger are big on social media, but they’re tricky to wear. The full-length pleated versions of these pants with an appealing runway look require heels and long legs for that proportion to be flattering. You can still get the drapey benefits of a loose leg by opting for softer ankle-length styles that flow over full thighs and calves, such as the Open Edit Plus Twill Wide Leg Trousers in Grey Charcoal ($69, nordstrom.com), the Eileen Fisher Flex Ponte Wide-Leg Pant in Black ($198, eileenfisher.com) or the Treasure & Bond Washed Wide Leg Pants ($59, nordstrom.com).
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PHOTO BY: Macy's; Ann Taylor; Macy's; Anthropologie
10. Cropped 'midi' pants
Pants that display a few inches of ankle go by many names. Some retailers call them cropped (as opposed to “ankle pants," which end just above the ankle bone), others categorize them as capris or culottes. They can be slim and straight, flared at the hem or roomy in a distinct A-line shape. What makes these shorter pants appealing is the display of our ankles — one of our trimmest body zones, which creates the illusion of a slimmer silhouette. And of course, they show off our shoes and boots! Though slim styles like the Lauren Ralph Lauren Stretch Ponte Straight-Leg Pants in Lauren Navy ($100, macys.com) are always a good choice, wide-leg crops — like the Ann Taylor The Belted Culotte Pant in Black ($109, anntaylor.com), the DKNY Cropped Wide-Leg Pants in Black ($109, macys.com) and the Anthropologie Maeve Plus-Size The Colette Cropped Wide-Leg Pants in Black ($120, anthropologie.com) — with similar proportions to A-line midi skirts offer extra benefits. They are comfy to sit and move in, and they pair with any boot or shoe from knee-high riding boots to slingback kitten heels. These pants are definitely worth the splurge.
Lois Joy Johnson is a beauty and style editor who focuses on women 50 and older. She was the beauty and style editor at Ladies’ Home Journal and a founding editor of More magazine. She has written three books: The Makeup Wakeup, The Wardrobe Wakeup and The Woman's Wakeup.
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