Style Crisis – Wide-legged trouser trials

Back of wool wide-legged trousers showing welt pockets

Style Crisis backslide

New colleague Kerry has been encouraging me to collect images for her to share on our Instagram account. We have a well-established routine for photographing new fabrics; not so much for other subject matter. My blogs tend to be seasonal (yes I know – that’s a polite way of putting it) so it can be a case of feast or famine. Consequently, we’re busy learning to capture images of works in progress, sights that inspire us, luscious fabric combinations selected by customers, our day-to-day activities and any projects we happen to have on the go.

Last month was all about sustainable sewing and I was prompted to fish out my oldest ‘me-made’ garment; a coat I made back in the early 90s. Inspired by my mother’s 1950s evening coat (which she continues to guard jealously), I fitted a blinder of a lining in my version which obviously had to be displayed on the Instagram post which we were preparing.

I shrugged it on and took some snaps to see how it might look, opening it to display the lining. And oh, the shame. For despite my vows to make an effort in my daily dressing, I realised that along with the amazing lining, I was displaying a dishevelled collection of old black jersey and scabby trainers. 

It hadn’t happened intentionally. It was just a day where I knew I’d be moving rolls of fabric around, dressing the mannequin for photography – lots of physical work. I just thought it would be practical – and practical was *all* I’d considered. 

Just for the picture, I hurriedly changed into a t-shirt dress and crop top that didn’t look as messy – but still didn’t spot the sad trainers until after I’d sent the photos off to Kerry to schedule.

Coat opened to show lining
Joseph eat your heart out…

Style crisis? You could say so…

A lesson learned

Time to remind myself that the best way of finding a personal style is to practice – consciously and constantly. I was shocked at how easy it was to slide back into old habits. How had this happened? 

In hindsight I should have re-worked my wardrobe a weekend or two before, unpacking my autumn-winter clothing to replace the summery selection on the rail. That would have prompted me to consider my options – but time is always at a premium and especially at the end of summer it always seems too soon to bite that particular bullet. That is, until it’s too late. 

Had I done so, I’d have realised I had options for the changeable weather that morning. It’s been two-and-a-half years since I set off on my personal crusade to resolve my style crisis. A quick survey reveals that I have four pairs of trousers, and a handful of tops from which to choose my A/W workwear. However it’s a selection that still leans towards ‘capsule’ in terms of scope and which isn’t without some issues.

Putting things right.

For starters, look – I can do it. Here’s what I’m wearing at the time of starting this post. 

Alice wearing her checked wool trousers in 'Brogue' with a rust t-shirt and green military-style jacket
What I could have been wearing instead

The trousers are in  our ‘Brogue’ checked wool fabric (due back in stock next week!) and based on Style Arc’s Leah Lounge Pant pattern. That’s just a Jigsaw t-shirt on top and a military-style jacket picked up for a song in the Toast archive sale over a decade ago – job done. 

The Leah Lounge Pant pattern is one I re-use because the fitting’s all been done; it’s quick and easy to make. However elegant the simplicity of the design in our triple crepe though, it’s less arresting in wool suiting fabrics which don’t have the same drape. 

I’m obviously comfortable wearing lightweight wool trousers for work – so I thought it time to tackle something with an appropriately-tailored style that would make the most of those fabrics.

Choosing a pattern

I was torn between a tailored ankle-length trouser and something with a longer, wider leg.

First up, I reviewed my existing pattern collection, including a revisit of the Maker’s Atelier ‘Wide-legged Trouser’. It’s a simple design which leans more towards a draping lounge pant rather than a tailored design. I’d found that the cut hung from my waist at the back, skimming over my relatively flat bottom rather than following what shape I have.

It was then that inspiration struck in the shape of an Instagram post in which a stylish trouserista had used one of our summer linens to create a version of Deer & Doe’s ‘Narcisse’ pants. I loved the fit, the cut and the detailing and wasted no time in downloading a copy of the pattern for a closer look. 

Choosing my fabric

My fabric choice was primarily driven by colour – this winter’s new gloves are burnt orange, as is my new t-shirt (see above) as well as a short-sleeved knit I picked up in the sale at the end of last winter. I waved these around the ClothSpot fabrics and decided without a doubt that our ‘Beaufort’ soft purple wool was the one for this project.

It doesn’t have a single purple thread in it, amazingly – but it does have blues and rusts which add up to the overall purple shade. Which is why my rust accessories worked so well.

Taking the plunge

Previous experience has taught me never to embark on trousers without a toile. Based on my measurements I graded from a size 38 hip to a size 45 waist. This was the result:

First toile of wide-legged trousers
Oops…

Apart from a waist height which felt like being dropped into a potato sack, I obviously had a sizing issue. Some research let me to a blog post by ThriftyStitcher Here, Claire-Louise recommends referring to a finished garment that fits, then comparing that to the finished garment sizes of the pattern you’re working with. Using this direct point of comparison gets around the issue I suspect I share with many, in that I tend to be generous with my measurements in order to avoid cutting a garment too small. 

I should also confess that part of my style crisis arises from wearing clothes that hang far too loosely. Time to stop this habit in its tracks.

Comparing the finished measurements of the Narcisse trousers to my favourite fitted pair showed that I should be sizing from a 35 hip to a 44 waist size. I remade my toile accordingly and attached the waistband. This fitted! However I have a very short torso for my height and the design really did look laughably wrong on me (as evidenced by the laughter of youngest daughter). I cut the waist down to sit at the height of my favourite trousers and this was the result.

Success! By this time it was late on a Saturday and I was keen to have my trousers cut out for the next day. In the gathering gloom I thought I quite liked the reverse side of the fabric and proceeded to snip notches and sew tailor’s tacks accordingly. The next morning I continued with the trousers without giving my decision any further thought. Only when pressing my welt pockets did I begin to wonder what I’d done. For although I do like the weave on the reverse, it doesn’t have the finish of the ‘right’ side of the fabric and I wouldn’t recommend you follow my lead. I’ll be thinking twice before I rebel another time.

Pattern adaptations

Other (minor) tweaks I made were more successful. The front pockets are meant to be cut in the trouser fabric but I replaced part of the pockets with lining, leaving strips of the trouser fabric at the opening edge. 

Front pocket on inside
The inside of my front pockets
Front pockets as seen from outside
Those front pockets as seen from the outside

I also used a trouser hook rather than a button as I didn’t have a fabulous button to hand. 

Based on the instructions, the trousers came together really very well, although I suspect that previous experience in the welt pocket and fly zipper insertion will have helped. 

The trying on

It’s always nerve-wracking when detailed processes like welt pockets have to be completed before a garment is assembled for a final fitting.

Completed welt pockets on trouser back pieces
Completed welt pockets on trouser back pieces

After the problems with my initial measurements, would the fit of my second toile and its adjustments be reflected in the final garment? Or would the care taken with those welt pockets be wasted in the event that the trousers didn’t fit? Those additional side seams might provide some latitude for fitting around the hips and waist, but the crotch curve seemed deeper and more square than I was used to. 

I was almost shaking with anticipation once I’d put the main garment pieces together. I couldn’t wait until the waistband was cut and fitted to find out whether they fit. I did at least force myself to stay-stitch around the waistline before stepping into them gingerly and pinning up the front fly. And – oh! They fitted as beautifully as any pair of trousers I’d had. A deep sign and a little ‘whoop’ of relief. Judy poked her head up over her computer and raised her eyebrows, hardly daring to ask whether the yelp from the cloakroom was a good yelp or a bad yelp – and was as relieved as me to see the results.

One celebratory cuppa later and I was set to crack on down the home stretch. 

The final garment

Here are my completed Narcisse pants.

Completed Narcisse pants
Mission accomplished!

There are some clever touches to this pattern. I think it’s a very well-cut and considered design with more than a touch of class. 

One effect of the side stripe is to enhance the cut of the trousers at hip level. Since the seams are placed in front of and behind the side of the trousers, there are two seams to embrace the hip curve, helping the trousers to hug the body neatly. 

The effect of placing the in-seam side pockets in the front seam of that side-stripe is to draw the pockets forward. That’s not only flattering in terms of their positioning, but the vertical pocket openings also serve to lengthen an area where I’m very short.

Front and back finish of my Narcisse pants
Front of my Narcisse pants showing pocket positioning

Placing this type of pocket on a single side seam of a fitted trouser would have been much less clean and elegant.  

Another cunning touch is the shaping of the waistband. It’s a six-piece waistband with separate pieces inside and out for the back, left front and right front. This means that the individual pattern pieces can be curved slightly to fit the curve of the body over the hips. In addition, the depth of the band is reduced at the sides. helping create a flatter silhouette at the front and back of the trousers but accommodating the angle of the hips at the side of the body. 

Cleverly-shaped waistband
Cleverly-shaped waistband

It’s a subtle effect but one which helps with comfort as well as appearance.

Most of all, I like the overall cut of these trousers. The leg is decidedly a ‘wide’ rather than a ‘straight’ leg – but only just – and not so much so that they flap around when walking. The fit around the waist and hips though, is the winner for me though. The cut hugs my lower lumbar region and follows my buttocks out and round just enough to acknowledge their existence before dropping down to the floor. Here’s the back view.

The back of my Narcisse pants
The back of my Narcisse pants

In short, they make my non-bottom look like a bottom. Which will amaze my swim-buddy Hannah – except I’m certainly not going to be flinging these around the changing rooms!

My next mission? To make one or two shirts that will work for winter. My outdoor photo shoot taught me many things, including the fact that little twinset-style tops are not a look for me.

Outside with wide-legged trousers and pumpkin with burnt orange top.
How not to wear a pumpkin

Love the colour, not so much the way that top sits on my hips and cuts off at my neck. 

So – does anyone know a good shirt pattern that skims the waist without fitting too closely? Also – I’m still on the hunt for the perfect ankle-length tailored trouser design. Perhaps with pleats? Thoughts and comments on my progress gratefully received as ever!

10 thoughts on “Style Crisis – Wide-legged trouser trials

  1. Di says:

    Oh dear Alice–shame about the trainers!! Love the lining though, and your new trousers. which are flattering. The colours are great for you too. The high neck of the short sleeved sweater, I agree, doesn’t do you any favours.
    My ‘go to’ fitted trouser patterns are ones I drafted to my measurments using a DVD by a Don Clark who was a Saville Row tailor. I looked to see if it was still available but couldn’t find any reference to it, and other DVD’s, by Don Clark.. It was produced by Excel Videos. I might have mentioned it before.
    Am about to try the Pietra Trousers from Closet Case Patterns. I like the raised waist, front seaming and pockets. However, it has an elasticated back which I know you’re not fond of.
    Shirt patterns–well, I have two TNT patterns. One a Ralph Lauren (Vogue 2136) and the other a Sandra Betzina (Vogue 1033) which have been OOP for many years.
    I can hear you muttering how really unhelpful that information is.
    However, I have used Style Arc Jenny shirt pattern with reasonable results. My scribblings on the pattern picture says that if/when I sew it again I have to shorten the sleeve length. Then add width to the front body and front neck plus increase the biceps area on the sleeve. I found it very fitted. It has darts front and back. The front dart is an open dart so that had to be redrawn to accommodate a lower bust finishing point. Hip width was wide.
    So, if you have a small to average pert bust, slim neck, long slim arms and wide hips you’ll be OK!

    • aliceclothspot says:

      Hello Di – Shame indeed! But thank you – I’m glad you approve of the trousers on me 🙂

      Yes – you’ve mentioned your DVD before – and I have located it online too. I have also picked up a copy of Helen Joseph Armstrong’s Patternmaking for Fashion Design, having been pointed there by @sewbrooke on Instagram, who used a 1970s edition to explain creating your own crotch curve template. From which I understand I have a very short waist (knew that) and a forward-tilting pubic bone (didn’t know that). I managed to find a copy online – it’s a fabulous volume which also explains the difference between jeans, slacks, trousers and culottes. And there was me thinking that ‘slacks’ were something invented by M&S to sell crimplene in 1966… The challenge for me is being able to make a specific pattern design fit, without fitting it so much that I lose the ‘spirit’ of the cut of the pattern design, if that makes sense? I was relieved that I managed to do that here.

      You’re quite correct – the elasticated waist was exactly why I didn’t pick up the Pietra trousers – I do like the cut of the front for a wide-legged trouser but I know that it wouldn’t work for me in the rear. I can’t find a pic of the Ralph Lauren pattern but I have seen the Sandra Betzina – love that ‘Western’ cut yoke at the front – I hadn’t thought of that as an option and the rest of the cut is about right as well. But the Style Arc ‘Jenny’ does have a nice shape to it. I worry about the darts but they can always be adjusted – but the great thing is that it’s not cut with volume at the back, which I think is what I’m looking for. So thanks very much for that Di – and the ‘Jenny’ fitting tips too – that’s really helpful!

      • Di says:

        I forgot to say what wonderful welt pockets on your trousers. A professional job all round.
        I’m not familiar with Helen Joseph Armstrong’s book. Looked it up and yes, I think it would be a useful addition to my sewing library. I have Metric Pattern Cutting by Winifred Aldrich which has been useful but not definitive. It helps to know about body irregularities and how to fix them on a pattern. I’ve ever heard of a forward-tilting pubic bone either. Not a subject you bring up in polite conversation, or on a date!!
        I’ll email you the front & back cover of the Ralph Lauren shirt pattern. It’s a female version of a mans shirt, so there is some volume in the back, which could be folded out before cutting. I then found another shirt pattern lurking in my collection. A Vogue Basic Design No 2634, described as loose fitting. There’s everything from long sleeved to sleeveless with/without side vents etc. This has bust darts, no yoke, only a forward shoulder seam. It must be OK as my notation’s don’t mention fitting problems. I know it had less fabric in the back than the R.L.
        Yes, the western yoke on the Sandra Betzina pattern is very attractive. Lends itself to various design features.
        I have yet to cut out the Pietra trousers. Whilst I don’t mind a slight elasticated waist this, when I checked out the pattern, is a bit too much. I need to remove some of the fabric in the rear, at the flat pattern stage, without changing the overall design. I’m small waisted at the back which makes for problems.
        Chalk and Notch crew shorts and trouser pattern looks a possible. It has front pleats, pockets etc — described as fitted.
        Having read everyone’s contribution to your blog I’ll have a look at the GBSB patterns.
        It never occurs to me to view what they offer.
        Look forward to see what you end up making in the way of tops Alice.

        • aliceclothspot says:

          Hello Di – high praise indeed (re: my welt pockets) coming from you – thank you very much! I ordered the HJA book not realising what a tome it is – and indeed it’s incredibly comprehensive. In terms of authoritative content it definitely sits alongside my Cabrera tailoring bible. Thank you very much for the pattern emails – it is tricky trying to find something which retains some movement in a drapier fabric, without being swamped by too much fabric in the design.
          You’re the second person to recommend Chalk and Notch to me (thank you Jan!). My latest top is now under way (although this particular one will be a dressier number for evening wear) so watch this space!

  2. Jan says:

    Hi Alice. Loving the position of the pockets on your new trousers and they sit much flatter than I had anticipated when you mentioned this pattern a few weeks ago. The colour and texture of the fabric (inside or out) has suggested a trouser of these tones would be a good addition to my wardrobe and far less boring than navy/black/brown. I have also looked at the Pietra trouser pattern (more than once) but cannot overcome my dislike of elasticated waists. You ask about perfect ankle length trouser patterns – perfect – well I wouldn’t put our house on it but my turn to trouser pattern comes from the Great British Sewing Bee, Fashion with Fabric book – the one with the bright green spine. Page 55 Capri Trousers. Personally I don’t feel the bold floral fabric shows this pattern to its best and finding its various pieces and tracing the shapes off is a migraine trigger. However I have now made them up many times in a variety of lengths, ankle, cut off, shorts and knee length shorts also having added pockets to the front and, on a pair of shorts, two on the rear. It’s a quick sew and having tweaked and twiddled the shape I am now guaranteed a decent outcome most times. Strangely I also like the side zip especially in a wool blend fabric. The pattern has no pleats though strangely I was considering trying a pair in a heavy draping silky type fabric with a narrow front pleat for Christmas.

    Shirts!!!!!!! Oh boy. It is only since retiring that I have started to make the majority of my clothes and through the process I have started to adopt a personal filter process. Raglan sleeves don’t suit my full bust, grown on sleeves are good when short though if used as a drop shoulder seam for a long sleeved garment it doesn’t work on me. A V neck is excellent, a scoop neck not so, turtle necks make me look like a tortoise! I repeat, shirts!!!! I am at the opposite end of the bust spectrum to you Alice so more consideration is required when choosing a shirt pattern. If I say I have only one such garment hanging in my wardrobe and it is hardly ever worn it is easy to work out that my success rate hasn’t been that high. The collar band and then collar shortens my neck to such an extent that my double chin tends to merge into my broad shoulders then into my bust apex. Shirts with chest darts tend to be too baggy around the waist when an FBA is worked. This leads me towards princess seams, especially if they fall from the shoulder but not those coming from mid arm hole. Searching the web I came across the Novelista shirt by Blank Slate Patterns. I haven’t made it yet but it has many style elements I like in a garment including the ability to tweak the front panels to allow for my bust then to curve in at my waist, also the back offers two styles traditional shirt and overlapping back panels. Again I don’t feel the plaid fabric allows all the elements of the pattern to shine through and I wouldn’t include the chest pockets. All the images shown on line appear to be of crisper and thicker fabrics I would like to see it in a more flowing fabric. Not very helpful I know Alice. Typing this I have started to question if one of my problems with shirts is due to the fabric I have used. Perhaps I need to use a softer material not the crisp texture of my one and only effort!

    • aliceclothspot says:

      Hello Jan – I’m delighted you approve – thank you! I have a pair of OTS trousers with similarly-placed pockets (though not so neatly placed in the seams) so I was hopeful that they would sit neatly providing my skills permitted. I am glad I opted to line the main part of the pocket with lining fabric though. Also I think the fly front helps with breaking up any possible pocket outline. I have that GBSB book and it’s good to know that the pattern works – thank you! Ordinarily I’d be keen to try it (and might yet) but I think I’m looking for something a little less closely fitted, and with a bit more ‘substance’ to the design. I saw some fabulous trousers in a shop at the weekend – they’re Isabel Marant (oh well, of course…) https://www.irisfashion.co.uk/collections/isabel-marant-etoile/products/noah-trousers?variant=23340571885653 which have the look but still a fraction too closely-fitted for my liking. Also the high waist is a little high and the crop a little too cropped. (Am I beginning to sound like Goldilocks??)

      But ooh! Blank Slate are new to me and the Novelista shirt looks like a possible winner – thank you! I completely agree with you about the plaid fabric they’ve used – and I think you’re quite right too – fabric choice is so key with a shirt. I find poplin too stiff (though I have a vintage poplin dress as one fabric source – in which the poplin is very softened). Lawn is fabulous for summer – and I think you’re spot-on with the idea of using a more draping fabric. Suitable choices are absolutely at the top of my list when I’m seeing suppliers in the next week or two – so watch this space!! Thank you again for the ideas – much appreciated!

  3. Marion George says:

    Gosh, what hasn’t already been said. your new trousers are very ‘you’ and I am just so impressed with your pockets. I am a bit of a lazy sewer so a six part waist band? You know the expression ‘ life is too short to stuff a mushroom’? A six part waist band gives me that feeling. back in the day, in the mid eighties, I had a very similar pair of trousers that were a similar colour an had a rather fancy black leather fly. I adored them until one autumn day, after I had unpacked them from summer, I put them on and couldn’t do them up. I never wore them again, shame.

    Well I’m glad I’m not the only one to use the Sewing Bee patterns, For some reason I feel a little embarrassed to admit it. However there in a Breton Top pattern from the Sewing Bee that I have made over and over, hacked about. but the slightly boxy shape of the body might look good with those fancy pants of yours. Cut to just below the waistband so that it sits just on top of your hip bone and in a fairly crisp jersey that doesn’t drape over much. Be warned, though, the sleeves are very loooong.

    I’ll look at the Sewing Bee cigarette pants pattern, thanks for the tip. I have looked a Vintage Vogue pattern, 9189 it is still available, which looks promising. It is for tall, medium and short folks so might not need too much adjustment. I wait for the next instalment, both the tailored trousers and the top.

    • aliceclothspot says:

      Well Marion – as ever it’s just as well I hadn’t yet made coffee when I reached your comment. I shan’t ask who the mushroom is in your analogy 🤣 but I do promise that the waistband was worth the effort (no, really! I’d have gladly stuffed a marrow for it!) I’d love to know what you were doing with a black leather fly on your 80s trousers. Where did that little touch come from? Actually while we’re on the subject of flies, one of the benefits of using a French pattern was that I acquired some additional vocabulary – always a bonus. I discovered that the French for the ‘Fly shield’ pattern piece that sits behind the zip is the ‘Sous-patte braguette’. Somewhere down the line, the translation of ‘fly’ as ‘braguette’ had passed me by. I find it pleasing on a number of levels 😁

      Don’t be ashamed of using the GBSB patterns! I have made a couple up over time and I think they’re very adaptable and well-thought through. I like that Breton top idea – I think you’re right – a non-draping jersey and cut to the right height – could be a winner. And VV9189? Excellent – thank you. My comments to Jan below still stand – but I hadn’t clocked the cut of those trousers and the darting takes them to another level of elegance I think. As Jan suggested, in a wool fabric they could be very classy.

      Thank you as always for the encouragement!

  4. Fiona says:

    O Alice I do love your posts, they make me laugh but I always learn a sewing tip or two along the way! These trousers are absolutely gorgeous, love the colour and cut. You’ve made me look twice at this pattern now as I hand’t noticed a lot of those clever details before. I must remember to look at line drawings!
    I’m tempted by the Paper Theory Olya Shirt which may be a little more roomy in style than what you are after but has some very clever cutting involved. I’m not much of a shirt wearer so can’t think of any other patterns to recommend. I just made a pair of Closet Case Patterns Pietra Pants in wool and love them, they have a flat front, and elasticated rear waistband and some lovely pockets

    • aliceclothspot says:

      Always delighted to bring a grin to anyone’s day, Fiona! I love line drawings – I remember when I was working at the V&A they had a lady from one of the pattern houses in on a regular basis to do line drawings for garments in the collections. It was a real education to watch her draw – there’s a language in those technical drawings that we don’t always realise we’re interpreting when we’re assessing a design but of course we are.

      I completely agree with you about the Olya Shirt – I’m not sure it’s necessarily what I’m looking for but it’s been put together with real cunning I think and I’m itching to have a go at it regardless. I definitely want to see what it looks like in a drapey fabric as opposed to lawn or linen – watch this space! And thank you for the encouragement as ever 🙂

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