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How to Find the Best Style of Pants for You

Flattering styles that suit any occasion


spinner image Eloquii Miracle Flawless Flare Leg Pant in Totally Black; J. Jill Pleated Wide Leg Pants in Chestnut; L. L. Bean Women’s Perfect Fit Knit Cords, Straight-Leg in Soft Khaki or Navy
(Left to right) Eloquii Miracle Flawless Flare Leg Pant in Totally Black; J. Jill Pleated Wide Leg Pants in Chestnut; L.L. Bean Women’s Perfect Fit Knit Cords, Straight-Leg in Soft Khaki
Eloquii; J. Jill; L.L. Bean

Does this sound familiar? You see a pair of fabulous new pants on a friend, neighbor or coworker and think, I would look great in those! This is followed by dressing room drama as you flip from size to size, brand to brand, in a frustrating attempt to find a pair of those very pants to flatter you. The truth is this: Trying on pants is a lot like dating. Not every pant with eye appeal is worth a take-home. Here are the new top six styles and how to meet your match:

spinner image Spanx The Perfect Pant, High-Rise Flare in Classic Black; Eloquii Miracle Flawless Flare Leg Pant in Totally Black; A New Day Women’s High-Rise Pull-On Flare Pants in Black
(Left to right) Spanx The Perfect Pant, High-Rise Flare in Classic Black; Eloquii Miracle Flawless Flare Leg Pant in Totally Black; A New Day Women’s High-Rise Pull-On Flare Pants in Black
Spanx; Eloquii; Target

1. Black pull-on ponte pants

I’m a former fashion editor who is a wardrobe stylist/personal shopper, and if I could nominate one pant as the ultimate universal style today for women 50-plus this would be it. The thick knit known as “ponte” is stretchy but has enough “hold” for subtle control and shape. It never fails to look good day or night. Basic black ponte pants look like leggings’ more flattering sister. They follow your body line and offer a slightly straighter lower leg — more like a pant than tights. Since ponte knits can differ in weight, look for a dense fabric (hold it up to the light) and a flat, broad waistband or invisible shaping panels to keep you (and the pants) contoured. If there is any flab over the waistband or a squeezed-in feel, go a size larger or try another brand. Bootcut and flared styles like the Eloquii Miracle Flawless Flare Leg Pant in Totally Black ($45-$75, eloquii.com), Spanx The Perfect Pant, High-Rise Flare in Classic Black ($168, spanx.com) and A New Day Women’s High-Rise Pull-On Flare Pants in Brown or Black ($32, target.com) are the newest look and can help visually balance width at the bust, hips or thighs. The only decision you’ll need to make: how many pairs to buy.

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spinner image Loft Pleated Tapered Pants in Faux Leather in Black; NYDJ Plus Sculpt Her Marilyn Faux Leather Straight Leg Pants in Ripe Olive; Banana Republic Slim Vegan Leather Jogger in Mocha
(Left to right) Loft Pleated Tapered Pants in Faux Leather in Black; NYDJ Plus Sculpt Her Marilyn Faux Leather Straight Leg Pants in Ripe Olive; Banana Republic Slim Vegan Leather Jogger in Mocha
LOFT; Nordstrom; Banana Republic

2. Faux leather pants

What started out as a fashionistas-only look has mushroomed into an endless category of all-seasons pants. Women 50-plus love the edgy vibe leather pants give them and their wardrobe. However, not all faux leather pants are desirable. The ones you want will have a buttery soft texture that’s not shiny or “sticky” (this has to do with each brand’s polyurethane mix of materials), a stretchy feel that makes the pants slip easily on over skin and they won’t “squeak” when you walk, climb stairs or cross your legs. Choose between a body-hugging trouser like the Loft Pleated Tapered Pants in Faux Leather in Black or Fresh Pumpernickel ($54, loft.com) or NYDJ Plus Sculpt Her Marilyn Faux Leather Straight Leg Pants in Ripe Olive ($89, nordstrom.com), and a relaxed jogger style like the Banana Republic Slim Vegan Leather Jogger in Mocha ($105, bananarepublic.gap.com), depending on your taste and lifestyle. While black is the edgiest hue, softer neutrals like tan, brown and olive have a tasteful effect that moves faux leather from sexy to posh.

spinner image Mango Wide Leg Pleated Pants in Off White; J. Jill Pleated Wide Leg Pants in Chestnut; Uniqlo Women Wide-Fit Pleated Pants in 32 Beige or 06 Gray
(Left to right) Mango Wide Leg Pleated Pants in Off White; J. Jill Pleated Wide Leg Pants in Chestnut; Uniqlo Women Wide-Fit Pleated Pants in 32 Beige
Mango; J. Jill; Uniqlo

3. Wide-leg pleated pants

These are the “statement” pants that are making fashionable women ditch their jeans now. Thanks to a nipped waist and generous use of fabric, they’re a figure-perfect option for anyone with a curvy “hourglass” shape, full thighs or a generous derriere. Still, trendy styles with too much volume or length can look sloppy on mature figures so skip extremes and hip-slung versions. You want a higher waist for body definition and its ability to give you the longest possible vertical line (waist to hem) to balance the extra width. For the full swagger effect try gently pleated styles that subtly camouflage bulge like the J. Jill Pleated Wide Leg Pants in Chestnut ($99, jill.com), the Uniqlo Women Wide-Fit Pleated Pants in 32 Beige or 06 Gray ($50, uniqlo.com/us/en) and the Mango Wide Leg Pleated Pants in Off White ($90, mango.com/us). Torn between two sizes? Check for fit at your fullest spots — if pants fit your backside or hips and thighs but are loose at the waist, opt for the larger size and have the waistband tailored. One last style tip: Be aware that wide, tailored pants look best with tucked or semitucked tops and cropped sweaters or jackets to balance the volume below.

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spinner image L.L. Bean Women’s Perfect Fit Knit Cords, Straight-Leg in Soft Khaki; Gap Mid Rise Loose Corduroy Pants in Brazen Brown; Maeve The Colette Cropped Wide-Leg Corduroy Pants in Ivory
(Left to right) L.L. Bean Women’s Perfect Fit Knit Cords, Straight-Leg in Soft Khaki; Gap Mid Rise Loose Corduroy Pants in Brazen Brown; Maeve The Colette Cropped Wide-Leg Corduroy Pants in Ivory
L.L. Bean; Gap; Anthropologie

4. Relaxed corduroys

Corduroy pants once had a purely preppy rep, but they’ve been reinvented and deconstructed as the newest hybrid pant mix of classic and casual. (Please don’t say no until you’ve tried them.) Cords now come in a variety of colors, but pale shades like ivory and beige are part of the “quiet luxury” trend. Choose contemporary styles like the L.L. Bean Women’s Perfect Fit Knit Cords, Straight-Leg in Soft Khaki or Navy ($60, llbean.com) elastic waist pull-ons, the Gap Mid Rise Loose Corduroy Pants in Brazen Brown, Chino Beige or Black ($80, gap.com), a relaxed wide-leg version, and the Maeve The Colette Cropped Wide-Leg Corduroy Pants in Ivory or Violet ($138, anthropologie.com), an A-line ankle crop. Softness is essential and the cotton in these new styles often has a hint of stretch or silky modal to achieve it. Pair them with ballet flats and relaxed sweaters for a feminine look, add sneakers and a leather jacket for a cool touch.

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spinner image Talbots Tribeca Pants in Camel; Ann Taylor The Eva Ankle Pant in Cappuccino Tan; Boden Chelsea Bi-Stretch Pants in Navy
(Left to right) Talbots Tribeca Pants in Camel; Ann Taylor The Eva Ankle Pant in Cappuccino Tan; Boden Chelsea Bi-Stretch Pants in Navy
Talbots; Ann Taylor; Boden

5. Tailored ankle pants

Aside from the crush of wide legs and flares, many women still love trim-tailored ankle pants. It’s a narrower silhouette than many new pant styles but still provides a refined base for classic sweaters and blazers and flats. These pants are slim through the hip and thigh, and typically fall straight from the knee to the hem, although kick-flare styles are an option. One of the newest updates is in the rise. They’re higher (even medium rises are higher), which keeps excess midriff flab (a.k.a. muffin tops) tucked in and enables the pants to stay put too so you won’t be hiking up the waistband all day (a common former issue). When trying a new pair, check the fit to be sure the pants are not too snug at the crotch — if they are, the rise is too short … move on. Look for styles like the Talbots Tribeca Pants in Camel ($129, talbots.com) with a front tuck pleat for extra tummy room, or the Ann Taylor The Eva Ankle Pant in Cappuccino Tan ($98, anntaylor.com), which comes in a variety of inseam lengths, and the Boden Chelsea Bi-Stretch Pants in Navy ($98, bodenusa.com/en-us), a kick-flare style. 

spinner image Quince Cotton Twill Girlfriend Chino Pants in Olive; Lands’ End Women’s High Rise Knockabout Chino Utility Pants in Forest Moss; Banana Republic Mid-Rise Slim Cargo Pant in New British Khaki
(Left to right) Quince Cotton Twill Girlfriend Chino Pants in Olive; Lands’ End Women’s High Rise Knockabout Chino Utility Pants in Forest Moss; Banana Republic Mid-Rise Slim Cargo Pant in New British Khaki
Quince; Lands' End; Banana Republic

6. Weekend pants

Every woman has a pair of Saturday/Sunday cotton pants that partner with hoodies, sweatshirts and layers of tees and sweaters. Yours might be a pair of chinos or khakis (same thing these days) or even cargos. They defy the seasons and often team up with loafers and a blazer for a more pulled-together look. The newest versions, though, no longer resemble dupes of the stiff, boxy mens’ khakis and chinos. They’ve been fashion-ized with some stretch, softer fabric blends that have a “lived-in” feel and cuts that are runway chic. They don’t even have to necessarily be tan — black and mossy greens are available too. Check out the Quince Cotton Twill Girlfriend Chino Pants in Olive or Black ($50, quince.com), the Lands’ End Women’s High Rise Knockabout Chino Utility Pants in Forest Moss or Desert Tan ($70, landsend.com) and the Banana Republic Mid-Rise Slim Cargo Pant in New British Khaki ($75, bananarepublic.gap.com). Now here’s where it gets tricky — ignore cargos with patch pockets on thighs and calves. Sorry, they are trendy and may seem appealing on others, but few grownup women need the extra bulk of patch pockets on their thighs, hips and calves. You can do better!

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