Another Variation on the Same Old Crop

I finally finished reading last month’s edition of US Vogue the other day, after toting it with me hither and yon for the better part of the past three weeks. In my Vogue, was an affirmation of something that I suspect will serve as a sartorial benchmark for future discussions of style as we enter the second decade of the year 2000. The message: the cropped pant is the business. And yes, despite the fact that I live and work in the UK, I continue to use the American term “pants” (which means underpants in the UK, for those who may be wondering), as opposed to the much more properly brought-up term “trousers”. To my British readers, I apologise for my crass American ways, but you simply cannot take the America out of the girl. Especially when the girl is forty. So though I have given-in to my British spell-check software and allowed my spellings to be infiltrated with superfluous u's and e's, my pragmatic heritage dictates that I always use the more economical term. So pants it is then. Pants, pants, pants, pantsity, pantsity, pants.

The Vogue article, which was aptly titled "Pants 101", confirmed my belief that the fashion world has been hanging-on to a certain silhouette for a while now, and that perhaps there is no end in sight: 

“The new thing is a bared ankle and a showcased shoe.”

And it’s true. The next time you are surfing the net, have a look at your favourite street style website, and take stock of how many uber-hip fashionistas are wearing cropped and/or rolled-up pants with a really funky shoe choice.

The rolled hems and swanky sandals of
Natalie Wansbrough-Jones, Elle UK
Senior Fashion Editor

But however fresh this ongoing trend may seem to be, it is not, as Vogue proclaims it to be, “the new thing”. I give you, exhibit A.

Louis XVI of France in his cropped pants
portrait by Louis-Michael Van Loo (public domain)

Of course, you can easily find a historical reference point for just about any fashion trend of any moment, so I will not bore you with my pedantic tendency to point out our lack of originality as artists and aficionados. No, instead, I will horrify you for the second time in a week with another not so new variation on the cropped-pant trend, also forecasted in "Pants 101", and also already being spotted on style-setter websites and fashionistas across the globe. 

They call them all manner of things: cropped wide-leg, short palazzo, flowy capris….I could go on and on. But those of us who rode the cusp of the seventies into our formative years….lets all band together and call them by name (and in your most withering tones, please)…....culottes.

Dear. God.
M. Missoni culottes at ASOS

And for the second time in just under a week, I find myself overcome with the vapours.

Thing is, as much as I am for wearing what makes you comfortable and happy (and I suppose that culottes are indeed comfortable), they are just……so…..unflattering on so many body types. A Great Equaliser of sorts, in a bottom-heavy way that is one-part whirling dervish, with an added dash of Christmas tree-topper angel.  Yes, I concede that on the willow-thin models walking the runway these days the new culottes might look louche and casually-cool. But I think it is a very difficult look for real gals to pull off without looking like you have just broken from the group during the assisted living centre's weekly outing at the local mall. No, from where I sit, if you have the legs to wear a pair of culottes, you definitely have the goods to just lose that extra few inches of superfluous fabric and sport a cute pair of shorts.

J. Crew

Now granted, if you are braver and more willowy than I and want to give this re-emerging trend a shot, be my guest. But this time around, I find culottes even more difficult than they have been in their past, if not preppier incarnations. Perhaps this is due to the volume that is also being shown on top. A very difficult silhouette for most of us to carry-off. But if you are not dissuaded, then go for it. This look by Acne from their Spring/Summer 2012 lineup has a nice touch, and manages to avoid the retro-seventies thing and look modern.

Acne Spring/Summer 2012 - photo courtesy

This look is wearable.  That jacket will go on and on. But keep your scissors sharp and your tailor's number handy, because in a year's time when the "it" silhouette has again changed and you are asking yourself what in God's name were you thinking buying culottes, you can re-invent them easily into something a bit more.....erm.....serviceable.

The Louise short at ASOS
And who knows? I may be completely wrong about this whole culotte thing. (doubt it) Look what we all said about skinny jeans when they first started hitting the scene....and now I have at least four pairs. So time will tell. 


  1. You are so funny!!

    My rule is, whatever makes a model look fat does not belong on my body. I think even she looks awful in the orange pants above. Yes, pants. My mother and sister say trousers and (apologies to the UK) in the US that just sounds pretentious.

    I believe it is just like the midriff more instance of Vogue, et al, not really caring what the average woman wants.

  2. This is always the way with the industry. Thank goodness for the Michael Kors'es and Isaac Mizrahis of the world who know how us real gals wear clothes. I think this season in particular, the trends seem to be grasping at some of the more taste-challenging anecdotes from the past.

  3. I thought they were gauchos. And they went with the wrap sweater and the Farrah haircut. None of which I had, as I was adorned in the clothes my mother had sewn for me, the bulk of which were the elastic-waist double-knit polyester pants made from the remnants she had bought for 25 cents apiece.

    And the seam of one pair that split while I was at the blackboard:

    1. Yes! Gauchos. I completely forgot they used to be called that as well! And that piece is pure gold, by the way. Brings me back to a photo of my grandparents, my sister, and me at the Milwaukee botanical gardens. I am in a pair of plaid pants and a matching waistcoat, as is my sister (in a different plaid), and grandpa is in plaid pants and a totally different plaid shirt. Mixing prints in that way that comes with retirement! Classic.

  4. Gauchos! Yes! That's what we called them, and I hated them then.

  5. And we haven't even started on how culottes look from the back... They end up both tight and baggy in all the wrong places if you sit down in them. Seem to recall that back in the Eighties there was a big fanfare when one Constabulary (I think it was Surrey) introduced a uniform culotte for their women police officers - trousers were a step too far. Cue photograph of policewoman demonstrating how she could now exit a police car without flashihg her knickers. How the criminal fraternity must have quailed...

    1. There is always the added advantage that the criminals saw the policewomen in their culottes, and laughed so hard at the ridiculous silhouette that they were unable to run away. Funny how times have changed, isn't it? Can you imagine scaling a fence after a perp or patrolling the high street in January in culottes!?!? It would be a little like insisting that female astronauts wear a silver, flame-retardant short just so we could tell them from the boys....sheesh...

  6. What a fun article! Cullotes, gauchos, stovepipe jeans, stirrups (unless you are skiing), and {gag} tapered, high-waisted jeans are/were all a sartorial nightmare.

    That said, I adore crops, and I know I should not. At only 5/4" with a 29" inseam, I am borderline petite and all my height is in my torso! So anything cropped, especially cuffed, visually shortens me. But just try shopping in a sea of 32-34" inseams! I dislike many petite pants offered, and tailoring regular pants to fit my inseam makes the whole line of the pants (yes, pants) lose proportion. Looks like the crotch is at my knees. Not a good look on anyone besides babies.

    Cropped pants on me are almost normal length, especially the longer crops, like 27+ inches. Because they hit my leg right at the ankle bone, I don't think they make me look too dumpy, though they certainly don't elongate anything the way a long, bootleg, dark-rinsed trouser over a 2-inch heel would.

    To wear my beloved crops, I find it helps if I wear skin-colored shoes, like bone, stone, putty, cool beige/greige, or very light taupe. I used to think such colored shoes were ugly until I started seeing them on models/celebrities wearing short skirts or pants.

    My fashion rule #1 for crops: Skip them if you're having a cankle day.

    1. You know, its funny, but we were always told (in the magazines of our youth) that one should avoid crops if you are short. Although that may have been true back in the 80s when crops were fuller (culottes again!), I think that the slimmer, cigarette crops that are ankle length can be quite elongating with a heel, like you describe. Crops can also be tricky for tall gals...I am 5'11'' and find that crops often don't "crop" at the right place on me, and it makes for a tight calf (probably the part that was meant for the ankle on someone 5'6'' to 5'8''), and the added effect of every time you bend down to do something you risk those tight calves pulling your pants down. Which would actually be kind of funny....if it happened to someone else.


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