Comfortable and highly practical, pants are worn by almost all women.

Within most corporate environments tailored pants are now accepted business wear for women and we owe it all to Amelia Bloomer. In 1850, this outspoken and brave feminist encouraged women to follow her lead and abandon their horsehair crinolines and voluminous skirts in favor of more practical knee-length trousers. As expected, she was savagely criticized but by 1890 women had taken up her suggestion with gusto thanks to the advent of bicycle riding becoming an acceptable leisure activity for women.

However, pants can also be one of the most difficult garments for women to find a flattering fit and style in. The female form is more complicated than a male’s having many variations in hip and bottom curve and position, causing finding the right style often a matter of trial and error if you are not aimed with knowledge of what will suit your shape.

Pants and trousers have five important fit criteria:

  1.  A comfortable waist.
  2.  A rise length that is right for your torso and butt depth.
  3.  A length suitable for the wearer’s leg length and shoe.
  4.  The correct width for the wearer’s leg length, height and shoe.
  5.  Sufficient room to move

Key Elements

Signature Features

  • A great style: pants or trousers made with sound design principles and the female form in mind.
  • A great cut: one that is not too tight or shaped to allow the pant/trouser to fit smoothly over the hips and fall neatly to the floor.
  • Good quality fabric: the most classic being, wool, linen and cotton blends.

Pleats or Flat Front?

Without a doubt, flat front pants flatter more women than pleated trousers ever will. While trousers provide extra comfort and freedom of movement it’s at the price of extra bulk that sits in the hip and thigh region.

The most flattering trousers have the following style elements:

  • A single front pleat
  • Double back dart
  • Knife edge crease down the front
  • Side pockets that lay flat and closed

When considering pleats, the main thing to keep in mind is their direction. Inward facing pleats are best for slender to underweight women as they have a tendency to add bulk top the hips and attract attention toward the stomach. Outward facing pleats attract attention away from the stomach while still being flattering to larger hiplines. This advice also is true for skirt and dress pleats.

Pants (no pleats/flat fronted) while being the more flattering of the two choices must fit perfectly as they do not have the extra fabric to hide any fit issues.

Pant group


Fashion trends alter the length and width of pants constantly however, few of us have a classic model’s figure and need to take care that we do not get hooked into wearing a style just because it’s the ‘in’ thing.

As a general rule, you can assume that the wider the pants the shorter and heavier you will appear and it’s always more flattering not to hem anything at the widest area of any part of your body – in this case, your thighs or calf. The adverse effect can be countered by adding high heels to add length to the legs and elongate the overall height to the wearer. High heels will also elevate the look to ‘dressy’.

Pant WidthSource


Each season designers introduce new lengths. No matter what’s ‘in’ only adopt styles that will enhance and flatter your figure. 

Long pants work for all women and all heights while cropped styles need to be slimline or straight to flatter most women. Very few women can successfully carry off wide, short pants regardless of their ‘in-fashion’ status. This is especially true if the wearer has short or heavy legs.

The classic hem length for long pants or trousers is where the upper of the shoe meets the heel. One way to get the most versatility out of long pants is to hem them so they just touch the floor when you are barefooted. This length will then work with low and medium height heels.

For those blessed with long slender legs the world is your oyster as almost any length and width will work for you. For the rest of us, long pants need to be worn at least to the point where our shoe upper meets the heel. Longer is even better when teamed with high heels and will dramatically elongate and slim your legs.

Team width and length and you’ll find the best pants for women who are not blessed with height and/or long legs are widths that are skinny to straight and those that are hemmed at the top of the heel or longer. Cropped wide leg pants are very hard to pull-off successfully.


Pattern, Texture and Surface Interest

Wide checks or plaids, loud patterns, and florals all need to be approached with caution and the same applies to texture.

Fine and/or tight, matte weaves create a smooth texture and are very flattering while pants and trousers made out of fabrics such as wide corduroy, tweed, chintz or satin are best left to slender and thin women.

Excessive texture and shine will always increase the perceived weight of the wearer and should be therefore worn with caution by those who are anything more than moderately over their ideal weight.

Most women will look their best in solid colored, matte, medium-dark to dark pants and/or those that have subtle patterns.



The Trouser Suit

Wearing a trouser suit signals contemporary thinking and in the right shape, and with the right attitude, is far sexier and slimming than a skirt suit. This may be one reason why it was taboo in so many business environments for such a long time. A well-fitting trouser suit in an understated, current style and color will serve you faithfully for years. They’re a far cry from the traditional male suit and the pinstripe suits when in fashion have an appealing and professional appearance while also being incredibly slimming.

Perfect Fit

  • Pleats should lay flat.
  • All closures, pockets, and vents should lay flat.
  • Pant legs should not curve under the buttocks. When viewed sideways the trouser leg should fall vertically from the buttocks to the floor.
  • Lapels should lay flat against the chest.
  • You should be able to pinch 2.5 – 4 cm (1”1½”) of double fabric at your hip-line.
  • Panty lines should not be visible.
  • There should be enough waistband allowance for two fingers to be inserted into the waistband.
  • If the pants have belt loops a belt is required to complete the look.

Key Points to Remember

  • Legs can be made to appear longer and leaner by removing the cuffs from trousers.
  • When purchasing ready-made pants and trousers, assume that you’ll need some form of alteration for a perfect fit.
  • It’s essential to get the crotch depth right. Pants that are excessively baggy or tight in the crotch look hideous!
  • Correct fitting underwear is a must. A visible panty line will ruin even the most expensive outfit’s appearance.
  • Zippers always sit best when placed in the centre back or front. Side zippers do not suit women with a rounded hipline.
  • Iron pleats in wool pants with an ironing cloth to prevent shine.
  • Do not iron creases in jeans or linen pants. In jeans it’s frumpy, and the fibres in linen pants are too fragile to be continually creased.
  • Lined pants give the most flattering appearance as they cause the pant to fall more smoothly over curves and make the pants last a lot longer.
  • To dress up your pants add a shoe with a medium-high to high heel and pointed toe.
  • Wear jeans, leggings, ski pants or jodhpurs with low heels or boots.
  • The material that you choose for your belt and shoes will either dress-up or dress-down your pants. Plaited or punched leather, canvas or cloth will give you a casual look while smooth or shiny leather with a metal buckle will give you a dressed-up look.
  • To hem pants that will be suitable to wear with flat and low heels have the hem pinned at floor level when you are standing in bare feet.

Related Features

  1. This was an excellent and clearly illustrated post…the best I’ve read on pants. Thank you for all the tips and straight talking about not letting fashion and style talk you into unflattering choices. I’ve noticed the wide leg, cropped linen pants with sloppy fit are back in style, but they don’t look well on anyone!

    A slim cropped pant that ends just before your calf begins to flare out, does seem to flatter if you have slender ankles and wear sandals.

  2. Well done! Great article – thank you

Leave a Reply