Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Pondering Pants: The Right Fit

My all-time favorite Chinese cookie fortune was bestowed upon by my brother-in-law many years ago. The fortune read: Face facts with dignity. Wise advice. Personally, I must face the fact I have lousy legs—thunder thighs, tree trunks, marina pilings, redwood stumps. You get the idea. Consequently, I'm not a big fan of pants. I read somewhere that British actress Helen Mirren is anti-pants. Apparently, she avoids pants because she has a big bottom. If it weren’t for the fact that I live in the Northeast, I might avoid pants, too. But it’s difficult to ‘just say no’ to pants when there’s ice on the windshield.

We’ve already had a few chilly days in metro New York, so I know I’ve got to plan a pants shopping excursion soon. But what pants should I look for? Ones that make my short, stocky legs look long and slim, of course. It’s all about long legs, isn’t it? My youngest son, who is a sophomore at a design school in New York City, is taking a fashion illustration course this semester. (Maybe he’ll give me some pointers.) The one thing I learned in 7th grade art class is that the average person’s height is roughly 8 times the length of his/her head. According to my son, however, fashion illustrators draw models that are 9 times the length of their heads—a full head taller than the average person. “Illustrators make the model’s neck and legs a little longer,” he reports, “so that the clothes look better.” If only I could just stretch my body another head’s length.

In lieu of spending time on the potro (better known as the rack), there are two things you can do to make legs look better in pants:
--A good fit
--The right accessories

Here are a few things I’ve learned about finding the right fit…

1) Find a comfortable waistband. I can still remember the day I tried on my first pair of dress pants that had a below-the-waist waistband. Oh, to be liberated from “mommy pants” (high-waist trousers)! Today, women have lots of waistband choices. It’s easy to find pants with a lower waistband without having to resort to the super low, hip-hugging pants (the ones that show off the top of your panty thong—-not a recommended look for most 50+ women). And you can be comfortable without resorting to elastic waists. (Elastic Waist Days may be ahead of us, but other than exercise pants, it’s not necessary to go there yet, thanks to all the stretch in fabrics these days.)

However, with so many waistband choices, it’s sometimes hard to know where the waistband is supposed to fall on the pants you’re trying on at the store. Did the designer intend for the waistband to be one inch below your waist, two inches, more?
--Hint: Look at where the pants fall at the crotch. If the pants material at the crotch falls too far below your crotch, your legs will look shorter and heavier.

By the by, high-waistband trousers are in fashion again. And yes, they do make your legs look longer. I’ve included a drawing of a mom in high-waist (I guess they aren’t “mommy pants” anymore, since they’re now in vogue). You can see how they elongate the legs. But I find high-waist pants uncomfortable, cutting me in two when I sit at my office desk all day. When I perused the fall fashion magazines and saw the models wearing them, I actually gasped. And then I remembered: I’m over 50—I don’t have to be a slave to the latest trends anymore. I can stick with what looks and feels good. Phew!

2) Find the right amount of fabric. If you are tall (9 times the height of your head, for instance) and love high heels, you probably can wear huge, bellowing pants. Otherwise, lots of extra pants fabric may make you look heavier. Pants makers seem to be putting a little stretch into most pants, so you don’t have to resort to bellowing pants to be comfortable. Thanks, pants makers! Still, if you haven’t been blessed with trim hips and legs, you might be tempted to go up a pants size for a little breathing room in the bottom and legs. Beware: the larger size will also have a larger waist, which will lower the pants on your belly and around your crotch. You’ll end up with a hanging crotch look again, which is bad news.

I know this from personal experience. I’ve included a pair of drawings. On the left, the pants are too full and sagging. Without the sag and a little less material (right), the fit is better on the same set of legs. Is the difference huge? Of course not—I still have short, stocky legs. But I think it helps. I can live with fashions that don’t accentuate my flaws.

–Hint: Check out the crotch sag when you try the pants on in the store. If the crotch hangs down because you’ve gone up a size to get room in the bottom and thighs, plan to take the pants to the tailor. The tailor can pull the waist in, raising the crotch, without affecting the bottom or thigh’s roominess. If I know I’m going to need a tailor, I consider that when I’m deciding whether the pants are a good buy. Believe me: the alteration is worth every penny.

3) Check out waistbands, zippers and pockets. The best fitting trousers I’ve ever own were from Anne Taylor. The slacks didn’t have an actual waistband (just turned over with facing), fell an inch or so below my actual waist, had a back zipper, no pockets, were roomy enough in the hips and thighs, and didn’t have a sagging crotch. I had to give them the heave-ho several years ago and I haven’t found a replacement yet. What I learned from those pants: If you eliminate bulky elements—a thick, bulging waistband, pockets, and front zipper—the pants will probably make you look less bulky.
--Hint: Since it may be impossible to find a pair of pants that eliminates all the bulky elements and fits well in the hips and thighs, plan to compromise. That is, look for pants with a turned down waist instead of a bulky waistband…or pants with a side or back zipper…or pants without pockets. One or more can really help you look slimmer.

I don’t want to make this blog entry any longer by going into the right accessories for pants. Obviously, next to finding pants that fit well, high heels are the best way to create the illusion of longer, slimmer legs. But I’ll plan a chat about shoes, boots and other pants accessories later.