Trouser Legs: How Wide is Too Wide?

First- I’m sorry for once again dropping off the radar.  I tend to do that, despite my many avowals not to, but it seems only right to apologize for just disappearing.  It’s all because I said something about blogging “two on, one off.”  Then after weeks of doing just that, I got blogging block.  Jinx.  I’m not depressed, or sick, or disenchanted with blogging or sewing, in fact it’s rather the opposite.  I just don’t know what to write about at the moment because so much is going on in my life.  I’ll have some very cool news to share very soon…

Also the Hack in polar fleece is on its way.  I just had a hiccup with sourcing a separating zipper in the correct color and length.  I’m sorry!

After “cracking” the fit on Colette’s Clovers, I felt I needed to take the concept of pants to the opposite extreme.  I’m not going to lie, I really don’t feel comfortable in skinny-leg pants.  I gave them a good try for a few weeks, but I just don’t reach for them when I need to dress.  I also don’t own many tunic-y tops, and I don’t really want to make a bunch of tops just so I can wear them with one pair of pants I don’t particularly enjoy wearing.  Nothing at all against those who love them, please be my guest, but I don’t love the “skinny leg” cut.  If anyone wants the teal Clovers from no-wale stretch cotton cord, email me and I’ll tell you the dimensions.  If we’re close you can have them for postage with my blessing.

I *do* reach for my wide-leg pants constantly (and the Pinkies, but they’re boot cut).  I have a pair of ancient black linen ones made from Simplicity 4044 as well as a pair inspired by Jean Ross in organic cotton canvas and red linen ones, both made from Wearing History’s Smooth Sailing pattern.  I wanted to try them in denim, and I wanted to make the legs as wide as possible.

So, of course, I made a Pinterest board of “Antidote” Trousers.  The antidote to skinnies.  I found some great modern and vintage inspiration, though “wide” seems to mean one of several types.  There’s “wide”: (as always in photo posts, click for source)


From Pintuck Style blog, great inspiration post.

And then there’s “REALLY WIDE”:

Cool vintage beach photos in this post… Click for source…

Click to see the post at Q’s Daydream, amazing photos.

Click for interesting advice about wearing wide-leg pants well…

And finally, there’s a “Giant Pants of the 30’s” Tumblr.  I kid you not, great photos.

I went with this draft by Harriet Pepin, craving the widest hems possible.  (If you like sharp-tongued drafting instructors, or if you’re interested in vintage pattern drafting, do check out Modern Pattern Drafting.)  My first draft was WIIIIIIDE.  Each hem was wider than my hips.   I “toned it down” for the second draft, with legs slightly narrower than my hip measurement, and I added some cool seaming:

I ask you, stylish and truthful readers- How Wide Is Too Wide?  I like these while I’m wearing them.  I like the way they move, I like the details, I like how they lengthen and balance my figure.  I like the pockets, they’re made like the ones from Chanel’s Eminently Practical Collection.

But then in some pictures, or when I’m standing a certain way, I kind of feel like a teenage Goth kid who blew their allowance on weird pants at Hot Topic.  Or like I’m wearing extra-long culottes.   I haven’t quite finished these jeans because I can’t decide about the width.  Do help me out so I can slap on the buttons!  They’re copper and very, very cute.

What do you think?  How wide is too wide for you?


  1. A long time lurker, feeling compelled to comment on a wonderful, pertinent post. Skinnies have been around for so long now, I don’t question wearing them, yet every time I reach for something to wear on top I’m never quite happy.

    I used to wear wide leg all the time. ALL the time. I’m quite short though, so had to wear heels for them to work and that’s what’s changed for me. I just can’t wear heels. They don’t fit in my life any more.

    So, I’m really looking forward to your explorations on the subject. Are there wide leg trousers out there that fit in with working life and motherhood? If anyone finds them, I ‘m sure you will.

    • I’m a huge fan of wide legged pants, and am SO excited to see you head in this direction. I think one think about the marvelous wide legs of the1930’s is that the fabric is lightweight, allowing them to flow. If these particular jeans seem too wide to you, it may be due to the stiffness of the fabric. The same pattern may be perfect in suiting.

      I’m totally on board for this trouser revolution!

      • I may save this draft and make them up in a super-lightweight linen gauze for summer.. Or some hemp, I love the way hemp softens up… :)

    • Thesewingmiserablist- Thanks for commenting! And thanks for your encouragement. :) I do try to walk the line…

      A lot of what I read about wide legs tells me I “HAVE” to wear heels with them, but I never do. I like wearing flats. My personal style is somewhat eccentric but I’m also practical and heels hurt your feet/legs/spine etc.

      That said, I do wear little heels from time to time. Those are ok for me.

  2. As often as we discuss hem length, pant width is one of Those subjects. While attempting to maintain a sense of style, I think every woman ( and particularly once you are over 30) needs to take a very critical assessment of proportion to achieve their best look. Your wide pants are very nice. I could see them for certain occasions. Personally, my lifestyle (and my age) would likely not support that style except in a festive silk or velvet for the holidays. But on you, very attractive. I have seen several versions of the skinny pants on several body types. On some they look really great, on others not so much.

    That leads back to finding your best look. My sensibilities lead me to straight lines. Minimizing the generous curves, maintaining a proper seat and a comfortable waistband. If I am comfortable in the pants, I will wear them, if not….well out they go!

    • Yes, I think width is an important consideration… I’m always curious when I hear things like “My lifestyle wouldn’t work with x…” Why? I find they work fine for both active and sedentary activities… Nothing fancy about them. Just curious, not trying to be cheeky!

      • I suppose I just prefer trim and simple separates. I work from home now but frequently need to attend appointments where the format is conservative and traditional. I do like a little more edgy fashion for social occasions, but all that fabric rather overwhelms me. Just a personal preference honed over many versions of the wide leg pant. When I think of the “Pallatzo” (spelling?) pants of the past, I must sit down. I looked like a total mistake looking for someone to blame!

  3. I’m loving the pockets and the high waist Stephanie! Oh and the denim is gorgeous too. I love the stitch detail. I can’t believe that the first draft of the pants had the width at the hem greater then your hips!!!! The thought of doing that with my measurements is inconceivable. I like the wide leg and the fact that your pants look quite like a skirt. If you want them to be less like a skirt then perhaps you could taper them in a little but if you like the swooshy skirt look then go for this width! I like the look, but I’m sure you will look gorgeous in your wide leg pants either way. (Oh and I’m glad you’re moving away from the skinny leg look – you looked nice in them but I’m a fan of your wide leg styles more.)

    • No skinnies for me. They make me feel snappish.

      Thanks! I want to get these *done* so I can show some of the detail work… I’m still on the fence about super-wide legs, but I think I may just streamline these slightly and see how it works…

  4. I agree about skinnies. I’ll toss them on in the winter when there’s boots involved, but I’m not going to lie, my bum feels exposed, and covering it on my petite self is not necessarily a good look. But I’ve yet to get into lined wool pants, so skinnies are a good option in winter at this point (and do I need to have dry clean only pants as a Mom?).

    Still, once I cracked the length/proportion issue, I favor bootcuts. True wide legs add too much bulk to my lower half, though I adore how they feel and move. So I guess my answer is several inches less than I think I can pull off is just right and if it looks more like a skirt, it’s definitely too wide.

    • Uhm… I don’t know about dry-clean only pants, but I’m fairly certain it’s possible to wear some cool and stylish pants without having to bow to skinnies/leggings… I you find some stretch wool suiting, chances are it can be machine-washed. Then make a pair of lined pants from them… Often the off-the-rack wool pants say “dry clean only” because it means the pants are less likely to get mangled by someone who doesn’t understand fabric. And because it’s unlikely the fabric was pre-shrunk. I always think of “Dry Clean Only” as a suggestion… But mommies can wear tailored pants, I really don’t see a reason why not….

      I think that bootcuts are probably the most universally flattering leg…

      • I chuck wool suiting in the washing machine, then sew it up. I’ve had it shrink a LOT but only once so it’s all good . Tricky approach however for when shopping for ready to wears…

  5. Really good question. I think that culotte width (gaucho, really, as they widen towards the hem) works best at slightly below knee. Of course, every body is different and looks best in different proportions, but in general I think this is the case. I do love tailored, wide-legged pants a la Katherine Hepburn. I think they are so classic and sexy. But I don’t think they should flare so much as they should just maintain width along the leg.

    • Sensible. :) I think sometimes I have to take something to an extreme before I can judge how far is too far.. If you know what I mean… ;)

  6. I don’t do skinnys, because I really feel as a pear-shaped person, they are not my friend … at all.

    in all fairness though I only wear jeans or trousers in the winter months (May-August), thus I buy a new pair perhaps every 2 years, so I am always hopelessly out of style.

    I am not sure wide legs are for me either though, in general with jeans I favour bootcuts. I have one pair of black trousers that fit really well, but are getting on a bit, so I am keeping those as some that I will attempts to copy next year, or the year after considering my skills :-)

    • Maybe not as wide as these, but medium wide? I like bootcut too… I’m not “pear” shaped but I really don’t think the skinnies do me any favors either. Besides, where’s the grace?

  7. I really want to like skinnies. I have a pair and skinny RTW capris that look great with the top I’ve made from 1950s patterns but every pair of long skinnies that I’ve either tried on or made have felt wrong or uncomfortable. Yesterday, I chopped off my latest pair into bermuda shorts and I like them much better. I had always thought I was more of a straight leg, Hepburn style gal until I really studied your pintrest post. I realize I much prefer the wider leg. As for yours, I’m torn. I like them as is but think they might work better as a culotte as calf or knee length. If they were is a softer, drapeier fabric, the length and width would be fine.

    • Yeah, I want to like them too… But what’re you going to do, right? :) I think I’ll tone these down a bit, put on some buttons and then we’ll have a nice Finished Objects post…

  8. These look great on you! I like the seaming and waistband construction, too– really interesting. I don’t think I would wear pants that are this much of a statement just because I’m not fashionable enough to build outfits around unusual pieces, but if anyone can pull these off, it’s you! Oh, and the Smooth Sailing trousers look great on you!

    • Thanks, Ginger… I did read a few websites that suggested keeping everything else very simple and minimalistic when wearing wide-legs… That does seem to work. :)

  9. I like the wide leg, but I am not sure that the fabric is the best choice. I believe that a fabric with more flow and drape would look a bit more feminine and mature then the goth kid jeans from hot topic.

  10. I love the skirt-like appearance of these, and if you can move around and get done what needs to get done without your pants getting in the way, I say they are the perfect width.

  11. Do you think fabric has anything to do with how much you like certain widths (wide vs extra-wide)? It seems that the wider the pant leg the lighter the fabric weight should be to make them move well. Nothing too floaty, but a mid/light weight linen for example.

    Also, I like the skinny Clovers on you, but think they’re too long! The ‘high water look’ is in right now, but I’d bet you could push them more into 50’s/60’s territory by taking them up 2 or 3 inches… not to capris, but they seem in limbo-land re: their length. No need to wear big top to go with; Audrey, Sophia and Elizabeth wore quite fitted tops with pegged cigarette pants and looked divine!

    • Yes, I think you may be right… The denim I used is actually quite light… but the weave is twill and therefore a bit stiff I suppose. A plain weave might be nicer…

      Aw thanks… Funny you should say they’re too long, I’ve had several people tell me they’re too short! They’re dead to me, I’m really not going to try to make them work. I tried for weeks. :)

  12. Personally I can’t stand wide-leg pants, but to each her own. I’m a pretty small girl, although I do have some pudge here and there, but overall my presence is pretty underwhelming, so I go with stuff that won’t swallow me up. Also, my legs are one of my favorite parts of my body. Therefore: skinnies for me! However, I despise pants, so most of the time I wear dresses. If I have to do something active… well, that’s what layering little black shorts under dresses is for!

    • Yes, to each her own! :) Have you seen the new shorts out from Wearing History? They look like a pleated mini-skirt… I’m thinking I’ll be trying those come summer…

  13. I think part of the reason you are questioning these is the stiffness is causing the front pleat to jut out in front of you, something that’s not evident in the photos above. Might be causing some of the issues. I think I might consider taking them in a bit, but only because the fabric doesn’t have good collapse. If you made these in linen, I’d probably keep them this wide.

    • Well, the photo isn’t a “finished object” quality photo cause it’s not finished… But there’s no pleat. It kind of looks like it! There’s a front faux-flat-fell seam, that does rather make the CF stand out… The denim is pretty drapey, too… Not jersey-drapey, but chambray-drapey….

      I think I may just shave off some of the excess from the inseam and the outseam, but I can’t take off the flare I built into it at CF and CB… We’ll see what happens!

      • Yeah, pardon my mis-speak there…it’s tough to describe, but I guess I could say more clearly, that bit in the center front of each leg that’s jutting out ( and may be more a reflection of your stance, or the hands-in-pockets, IDK) gives them a stiffer, wider appearance to my eye than the photo inspiration pieces, I think. Could be that after a few washings they will be more fluid-y and not do that, or it’s just the way your standing. But I’m a big fan of the wide leg myself. I do NOT do skinny jeans, at all.

  14. How cool are those trousers? I love the width on them and I love the conversation they’ve sparked. I’m firmly in the skinnies camp! I’m a classic apple shape and with a longline tunic top skinnies are great on me.
    But….I used to wear wider leg trousers (think Katharine Hepburn) when I worked in corporate land, and also love a wider leg for evening trousers. I was wearing wide legged trousers when I met my husband, so they do work for me. Just as a mother of two preschool children, skinnies and leggings really work for my lifestyle.

    • Heheh. Corporate Land. I’m picturing a gray version of Disney Land, full of dark suits and expensive watches and briefcases…. Roller coasters that shift with the markets… heh

      I don’t understand- are wide-legs not good for mommies? No one told me! Here I’ve been chasing around after Lila and playing on the floor and in the park in my wide legs… ;) ;)

      • You’ve got Corporate Land nailed! No fun.
        It seems it was me that missed the memo about wide legs…and I think I need to rectify the situation. Look at you influencing global mommy fashion! ;-)

  15. I like them in a look like a long skirt way, but have to admit that my all time favorite wide leg pant style is the Oxford bag. I love the deep cuff and menswear look. With my body shape long and skirt-like makes me feel a little conservative in a dowdy way, the only fix is a skimpy and body revealing top to balance the bulk …. and that is not something I want to do in my daily life.

    • I get that. Maybe I’m used to something closer fitting on top so it feels normal to me, whereas something close-fitting down below makes me feel uncomfortable. :) Oxford bags are definitely very very cool.

  16. Palazzo pants were very “hip” in several decades — most recent one I remember was the 1980s. They had to be fairly fitted at the waist and hip to work, but they could be yards around at the hem. Love me some wide-legged pants — preferably without a side seam. Easy to take a pajama pant w/o side seam and add lot of room around the side — pleat or gather onto a waist yoke, or give in and gather them tightly into a waistband or on an elastic waistband.

  17. For me, my comfort level with wide leg pants is somewhere near the top to middle of your photo examples, mainly because I’m small of stature but cuddly of girth ;-)
    Anything much wider, or where you have yours currently would swamp me in fabric, but you seem to have the height to pull them off, so if you like them as is, have at it!

    As to the “pants for Mum’s” question that seems to be floating through the comments, I can’t imagine feeling comfortable in skinnies chasing my boys about – I’m all about jeans or trousers.

    • Heheh. No one’s ever accused me of being tall at 5’4″.. ;)

      Yes… Hmm… Maybe a straight leg, or with a little bit of bootcut action would be just right for active “mommies” and others.. .Without going into dreaded “mom jeans” territory… Hmmm… :)

  18. I like them. They are pants that want to be a skirt. They remind me of victorian split skirts that were made for riding a bicycle. That shape would be more complimentary on me than skinny jeans are. Skinny jeans make me look small in the ankle therefore I look huge in the can and gut area (like an upside down triangle). The upside down triangle only looks good if you are a long narrow upside down triange. But if you are huge in the ankle you look small in the waist…like the bell skirt of the 1850s and 60s. The right side up triangle looks good on most shapes IMHO. That is why the A line skirt looks good on most people.

    • Yeah for sure! And if I cut these off 4″ below the knee and gathered them into a band, I bet they’d make AMAZING knickerbockers… :)

  19. Haha! It’s soo difficult to find the perfect balance (for me, anyway) between trendy skinnies, gutter Goths drowning in fabric, and lame mom jeans. I like skinny jeans and wear them, but to be perfectly honest, am more comfortable in boot cut or wide legs. Maybe because I like my tees snug. Though I just made a billowy tunic, which is a major departure for me. I’ve never felt lanky enough for all that fabric. Anyway, wide is fab! But not too wide to walk, or fear that if I jumped into a lake, I’d immediately drown. (I’ll never show you the old photos of me in Jnco’s!) I’m plugging away at drafting a pants block, too, and just realized what you’ve got going on over here :)

    • Sigh… Avoiding lame mom jeans at all costs… ;)

      Yep, I draft pants blocks and fit via email. Usually works out pretty decently, too. :)

  20. I love wide legged pants. I don’t know if there is such a thing as too wide for me, but if I can fit my entire body through the pant leg, perhaps I might consider that too wide. I bought the Clover pattern, but I’m a bit nervous to attempt it. Wide legged pants hide my cankles; tight pants tend to accent my cankles and make me look a bit more knock-kneed than I like. Give me a wide leg and snug tee or sweater any day!

    • Heheheh! I could probably fit my whole body through these… And yes, wide legs do sort of glamorously gloss over plenty of niggling little issues… And so comfy…

  21. Oh, I’m sorry I missed this post. These are all sheer awesomeness! No wide is too wide for me. I love a slimmer or skimpier top with super wides, as so many of these examples show. I love your draft, too–I had a pattern like this in college that went on repeat many times. It was wonderful in a rayon challis. i wonder if I still have it…

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