How do I fear thee, wide-legged cropped trousers? Let me count the ways….
If there were a record for the number of potential style crises embodied in a single garment, my wide-legged cropped trousers would win the prize, take the biscuit, have their cake and eat it too.
Some garments present challenges in their making. I’ve been working on a checked blazer on-and-off for months now. It will eventually see the light of day some time in the autumn (note: I’m not committing to a particular year) but when it’s eventually finished, I know that it’ll be the making of any number of outfits. In the meantime it’s the kind of project that deserves time spending on it.
My wide-legged cropped trousers, on the other hand, were a breeze to assemble. True, there was a bit of tweakery required with the fit but they’re a great project if you’re not too confident with your sewing skills. When it comes to wearing and styling them? Another tale entirely. Here we go…
The goal here – a pair of wide-legged trousers, cool and comfortable to wear in the summer – but hopefully up-to-date on the style front. Definitely not on the agenda: cropped cargo pants of the type that featured in many a holiday picture in the 80s and again with the children in the early noughties. I was seeking something with a little more edge and definition. The inspiration? Those disconcertingly dour, minimalist images from the likes of Cos.
I’m a cheerier soul than these models usually appear to be (it wouldn’t be difficult) but I do like a trouser. This cropped and wide-legged style looked like a winner given the current heatwave where wafting = good.
It was at the pattern-choosing stage that I encountered my first crop of potential style crises.
First up – trouser length and width. Here’s where a trip to the John Lewis changing rooms with an armful of cropped trousers, determined resolve, good humour and a frankly-spoken friend were all invaluable. Nope – no pictures. (I mean, seriously?) But I assure you, plenty of cackles and pithy observations. What I learned:
- Too short and not wide enough – Only side pockets and my secateurs required to complete the look.
- Too short and wide enough = culottes. The devil’s garment. Apologies if you’re an aficionado but I made a pair in my needlework class in 1975. I didn’t look like Agnetha then and have no intention of trying now.
- Longer but not wide enough – Ride up my calves when seated. I struggle for elegance at the best of times. These would be a fatal handicap.
- Longer, wider, gathered into a full waistband – Lo, I give you a bedroom valance circa 1981.
- Longer, wider, more fitted around the hip – Bingo. Still a little unsure as to what the difference is between a cropped trouser and an inadvertently-uncool ankleswinger but am prepared to roll with it.
I’d had my eye on the new ‘Fifi’ from Style Arc and knowing that their trouser cuts tend to fit me well, I decided that this would be a good option. My theory was that the relaxed fit would mean that minimal adjustment would be required.
With this pattern however I needed to face up to my next style conundrum.This pattern has an elasticated waist. Cue doom-laden fanfare – the one I hear in my head as I inadvertently stray into The Wrong Bit of our local M&S. The bit that’s badly lit with an endless maze of elbow-height rails of ill-fitting elasticated nether garments. I know I’m perfectly at home in leggings or stretch trousers – but gathered trousers in a woven fabric give me the jitters.
“But Alice – you just made two jumpsuits and they both had elasticated waists”
I know, I know…. But they used much more fluid fabrics and were cut with narrower legs – also jumpsuit tops are an integral part of a garment – no tucking in required. And what if I wore my top untucked over fabric bunched into a gathered waistband? That’s hardly going to give me a line like Victoria Beckham’s, now is it?
The saving grace of this pattern I decided, was that the front panel of the waistband was non-elasticated. I decided to risk all and run with it. The Style Arc size 10 lay somewhere between my waist and hip measurements and one toile later, I realised that the sizing was quite large. The decision to size down was straightforward and easy since Style Arc always provide the patterns for the sizes above and below the one you purchase.
My one adjustment was to add some width to the trouser legs. I took a line from the mid-thigh point as I didn’t want to be swamped by excess fabric around my lower hip. I added on about 3cm to each side of the bottom of each pattern piece which probably added at least 8cm to the overall diameter of each leg once I’d cut them to length. I also added some extra length, just in case I decided to keep them longer or do something fancy with the hem – neither of which turned out to be the case.
Ideally I’d have chosen to make my wide-legged cropped trousers in our ‘Gibson’ finely-woven midnight blue cotton twill fabric but this will have to wait until the weather turns. The current heatwave demands a more loosely-woven fabric and so I decided to go with our ‘Coreopsis’ crisply-woven maroon linen fabric.
I love that the weave of this linen is so textured and the purple-brown colour is perfect for summer. Pre-washed, it retained its structure and crisp drape. As I worked through cutting and assembling my trousers it proved to be a stable fabric and easy to work with.
The inveitable ‘oops’ moment
Once my Fifi trousers were made up (which took only an hour or so) I was eager to try them on and check whether they fitted.
And there it was. I could indeed get them on and actually they fitted just fine, especially around the bottom and crotch (Thank you Style Arc!) However the point of an elasticated waist, I assumed, was to expand as the garment was pulled on and contract around the point where it landed. Whereas my trousers seemed to expand to the point of no return as they arrived at my upper hips – with barely any subsequent contraction at all. Frankly it was as if I’d tried to make a pair of leggings without spandex. Of course this could have been avoided with just one more toile but what can I say? Just call me reckless.
Easing them off again it was clear that the expansion required to overcome my upper hip had caused near-terminal damage to my waistband. What to do?
One feature of this trouser design that I like, is the way the seams of the front waistband panel run down into the pocket lines. Not wanting to mess with this, I dismantled the waistband then removed the darts in the trouser back. I added on the corresponding amount of ease to a re-make of the elasticated part of the waistband which I then re-attached to the original front panel, thereby preserving the position of the front seams.
Once reassembled I was able to get my trousers on and off without undue stress. I’m not overly happy with the bunching around the back…
…but I suspect that’s the inevitable consequence of an elasticated waist. I’m not sure what else I could have done without a wholesale re-draft and re-make – although suggestions, as always, are welcome.
With my wide-legged cropped trousers complete, I was then presented with my next style crisis. What kind of top to balance a wide leg?
I have a 1980s holiday picture in which I’m wearing a friend’s pair of cropped trousers with an over-large, cropped, round-necked, wide-sleeved white t-shirt which is draped around the top of my hips. No – not sharing – there’s only so much indignity I can take in a single post. It wasn’t a look to shout about – but attempting to learn from my mistakes, I could see that a more fitted top might work better with a wider trouser. However I didn’t have a decent fitted top to hand, nor did I have a jersey of the right weight and colour to work with.
I decided then, to go with a relaxed cotton lawn shirt.
The details on that will be in my next post – but suffice to say although I love the way the colours of the two fabrics work together, I still feel as if I haven’t quite cracked the styling. Wearing the shirt loose over the trousers isn’t a bad look – I suspect that I can just about get away with it as my trousers are fairly fitted around the lower hip but it seems like a cop-out. Tucked in, I can tell you, isn’t happening. I tried, I promise – I look as if I’ve been cut in half. I tried the ‘French tuck’ as promoted relentlessly by Tan on Queer Eye but again, I’m not sure I have the upper body length to get away with that.
In the end I went for a half-hearted untidy tuck which I’m not really happy with. I suspect that I’ll end up wearing my shirt loose; possibly open over a vest top.
I suspect that I should either have used a more fluid fabric for my shirt – or gone for a slightly fitted, shorter style. Perhaps? Please, for the love of all things trouser-related – will someone tell me what I should be doing here?
So, what’s the verdict?
The thing is, I really, really do like these trousers. They feel cool in the heat and airy to wear. The linen feels lovely and although yes, it rumples a bit, there’s real life in the way it moves…
…and I love the texture and the colour. I’m even happy with the width and length. There’s enough fabric here to allow the trouser legs to drape when sitting and they’re are loose enough not to ride up.
I love the fit around the upper thigh, lower hips and bottom. I don’t feel in the least contrived or awkward when I’m wearing them – not a hint of culotte – although I wouldn’t say ‘no’ to a full-length pair. So with my track record, not bad going.
If there’s a deal-breaker here, it’s the fact that for me, a non-stretch, woven fabric in combination with an elasticated waist isn’t a winner. I’d really like to spend a little more time on a properly-fitted pair of wide-legged cropped trousers. There are quite a few patterns to play with.
True / Bias have their popular ‘Lander’ Pants
as well as their ‘Emerson’ Cropped Pants…
I like the lower waistline here – but these would definitely require lengthening to make them work in my wardrobe.
The ‘Persephone’ Pants by Anna Allen are also an option…
…although again these have quite a high waist which might not work with my shorter torso.
A bit of guidance, please…
It’s frustrating to have a garment that I like, and which works in its own right – but not know quite what to do with it. Are my misgivings about elasticated waists justified – or do I just need to stop fretting? Did I get the length right – or might I have gone longer? And most importantly – what kind of top works best with a wide trouser?
All the details on my shirt will be in my next post. I do definitely like it but I’m just not certain it’s the top for these trousers. Is it the wrong design, the wrong fabric choice or the wrong way to wear it – any insights?
Finally – any suggestions you have for wide-legged trouser patterns would be gratefully received – I have a length of our navy cotton twill saved up specially…
Thank you for dropping in – please do let me have your style solutions!
PS – A big ‘thank you’ to Katie for her photographic patience. A cheer too for the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust for creating such a wonderful environment at the Willow Tree Fen reserve which we’re tremendously lucky to have on our doorstep.