Les pantalons


The Ultimate Jeans?



Or trousers, for those of you for whom the word “pants” conjures up visions of underthings. “Trousers” just seems like something my grandmother wears—probably polyester with  an elastic waist and permanent-press creases. Ah, the delights of our diverging language. (Side question—d’you think all this internet business will help bring the vernacular slang of the far-flung contingents of English speakers a little closer into alignment? For example, if it weren’t for the internet I might not know that a vest is also a waistcoat or a gilet, OR that it is also a tank-top or a camisole. Likewise the pants as trousers or pants as panties.)

Anyway… some of you have been around to witness the supposed triumphs of my great Jeans Quest. It hasn’t been completely easy, but it hasn’t been as brutally hard as many of the  pants-fitting struggles I’ve read about. I’ve followed the basic mantra, “when in doubt, take it in,” and mostly done alright. You have no idea the feeling of freedom and lightness this brings to me. It means that I can now, for the first time, have the perfect pair of jeans (barring my own technical limitations) on demand. All I need is some good, sturdy stretch denim. Buffalo Jeans, Silver, Pepe, Guess—all you expensive jeans companies that discontinue my favorite styles, or don’t make your inseams quite long enough, or just decide that this year EVERYTHING is going to come with holes in—can go jump in a lake. I’ll make my own jeans, thank you very much.

This is awesome.

But, it has awakened a thought in me. You see, in this world, having conquered the Denim, it occurs to me that there is something else out there. Yes, something that is…

Pants that aren’t jeans.


Pants that aren't jeans...


I know, I have a hard time wrapping my head around this as well. I have owned a few pairs over the years—the leather ones from the vintage store I bought in high school that never really fit (being high-waisted and made for someone with a 24″ waist… not something I had even when I was 17). The army surplus cargo pants, of course, which were my uniform for a while (they went with the shaved head and red plaid jacket…). The mens’ vinyl pants with the lacing all the way up the side… they are fun, but obviously for a very specific usage. Then there was that plain black pair of trousers I bought for that job interview back when I was finishing my Master’s. I didn’t like them, but I didn’t want to wear jeans to the interview, and felt a skirt (my usual go-to when denim is not quite stylish enough) would be too fussy and girly for a preperator’s position interview. This is a job that involves banging up rocks, not answering phones and typing up reports. I should note that the five or so people in the panel interviewing me were all wearing jeans ;). Anyway, I didn’t like them when I bought them, and never wore them again. But there is still that non-jean pants-shaped hole in my wardrobe. And now that I am sewing, perhaps I should be moving to address it.

But I’m still confused. What should pants that aren’t jeans look like? What colours are good? What fabrics? What kind of pockets? I’m a big fan of the patch pockets on jeans because my rather under-sized bottom needs all the ornament it can get. But I have a feeling these wouldn’t look right on… trousers. So what, then? Flap pockets? Welt pockets?

Then there’s the leg. I’m a big fan of tight and skinny in jeans—or at least, not flared. But this is also a very young look, and presumably not what I’m looking for in Grown-Up Pants. So what, then? Straight from thigh down? A subtle boot cut? These things run round and round in my head. And once I start moving away from the skinnies, I start to contemplate…

Pants that aren’t stretch.

I know, it boggles my mind, too. Discovering stretch denim, like low-rise jeans, was a major revolution in my life.


Pants that aren't stretch


My first pair of really awesome, low-rise, stretch-denim jeans (which I think I didn’t get until after Tyo was born, actually) was the moment when I went “Aha! This is my pant. THIS is the item of clothing I have been looking for since I was fourteen!”

But there are a few pairs of pants that aren’t stretch that have crept into my wardrobe over the years. The army cargos, of course, though I now only wear those for fieldwork. Most particularly, there’s a pair of “pseudo army pants,”—ultra-girlified low-rise camo pants with asymmetrical mini cargo-pockets, lots of studs, and a huge embroidery of snakes, skulls, and an eagle on one leg. The’re awesome, in a totally-casual, not-at-all-grown-up way… but the point is that they fit perfectly (and snugly!) in the hip/butt, and then extend seamlessly into a nice wide-leg pant. And they’re still comfy. If I had a fit like that in a less, ah, statement piece, it could really be versatile. As it is, I wear them about four times a year.

All this is without stepping into the slippery territory of “rise”. I abandoned high-rise jeans as soon as I could, partly because they never fit my figure (I have a big waist relative to my tiny bottom/no hips), and partly because at that point in my life it was pretty much my mission to show off as much abdomen as the weather would allow. Fashion and age have pushed me away from the crop-top, bare-belly look, but I’ve clung to the low-rise. They look right. They feel right. I just can’t let go of that long-ago “aha” moment. Sewing may let me fit high-rise pants to my own (lack of) shape, but it can’t remove my obsession with waist-rolls or the fact that I don’t have that teeny-tiny cinched-in waist. I know plenty of people have their own hate-on for the low rise, with plenty of good reason. I’ll just say that for me, with my body, it works. Will I explore beyond it? maybe I will. We’ll see. I gotta tell you it scares the pants of me.

Also, I need to find some red stretch twill. I saw some awesome red pants on TV the other night—red jeans with white lacing on the inside thighs. SO fun. I’ve been thinking I need red pants… (not in that practical ‘this would be a really useful addition to my wardrobe’ kind of way. More in the OMG that’s so awesome and fun kind of way.)

So what do you think? What are you looking for in the perfect pair of pants? How do you step it up a notch beyond jeans? What on earth should pants that aren’t jeans look like?



Filed under Sewing

30 responses to “Les pantalons

  1. Sue

    Personally I like the boot-cut style but then I do have hips and it sort of balances my shape. Could you go snoop shopping and try on lots of pants in different styles to find those that look the most flattering? I like the ‘slightly below’ waist pants too, the high-rise is too uncomfortable on a short-waisted body!

  2. Have you seen the Jalie trouser?

    It’s on my hitlist for this fall in a babypoop colour (it’s cuter than it sounds…promise!).

    You could also (gasp!) draft your own pants pattern based on your favourite pair… “Threads” had a REALLY excellent article/tute on it a few years ago. I’ll go ‘n find it for you if you decide you might want to go that direction.

  3. That’s a really good question that I ask myself all the time. No answer for you but I think it includes a straight leg – something masculine (like 40s pleated trousers)?

  4. this was really funny to read because apart from jeans i don’t own any trousers (yep that side of the world!) since i threw out all my non me made office appropriate clothing two & a half years ago…

    i’ve plans for a black straight leg crop pair (in the next week or so) as well as more vaguely timelined plans for bright blue trousers and a variety of wool ones hitting just below the knee – in my head they are pantaloons!

    question – what is your vest?
    to me its a camisole type top, and i discovered the whole waistcoat = vest things over at sewaholic but these are both your alternative meanings???

    (sorry about the extra long comment ;))

  5. I gotta ask: how do you keep your jeans up? I know they’re stretch and hit at your hip, but mine would slide down regardless with such a low rise. I can’t stand hiking my jeans up every other minute, all day.

    As for not-jeans, I have a pair of slightly low-rise black trousers. They’re more fitted above the hip then straight legged with wide cuffs. Nice and comfy, dressy, great with heels.

    You could try copying your statement cargo pants for fit, in a basic color that works for you. Maybe a grey wool blend? That could look smashing 🙂

    • I never wear jeans without a belt. It’s a necessity with stretch denim as far as I’m concerned. Also the bulk fills in the muffin top a bit (or so I like to think 😉 )

      • I like the low-rise too, though higher than yours, and a good belt is absolutely a necessity!

        I agree with others that snoop shopping could give ideas but nothing would fit well enough that you’d be tempted to buy. At least that’s what happens to me 😉

  6. I’m a jeans gal too, branching out into corduroys cut like jeans when it’s colder. I’ve looked for a perfect pair of black pants, something that is a little classier than jeans, in which I can still bike and be comfortable, but have had little luck.

    On you, I could see something like a slim fitting cigarette pant, maybe with a side zip instead of fly front to move away from the skinny jean shape just a little. In a decidedly non-denim fabric, I think you could totally rock them! I’m envisioning a slubby silk, like dupion or shantung, or maybe even a subtle tapestry like brocade.

    In Japan pants or “pantsu” also refer to undies.
    Oh, and I think those things your grandmother wears would be called “slacks” . haw haw haw

  7. Celkalee

    My lifestyle requires trousers. No denim, unfortunately, that is casual only. My favorites are a lovely fully lined medium weight wool gabardine darted front and back straight leg pant. These are Talbots and about 10 years old. Would you believe showing no wear! When they start to lose their luster I will disassemble them and copy them. Until then, the search is still on for a pattern that can compare.

  8. bluepnygrl65

    Would you consider doing a video tutorial on the Jalie and your alterations???? I work so much better when I can watch rather than try to visualize myself (my imagination is too wild!!) thanks….love your blog and you have definitely inspired me…I am waiting for my Jalie pattern as I type this.

  9. I was going to suggest snoop shopping as well. It’s usually the best way to explore truly new shapes and styles before putting in the time, effort and money of making something.

    Judging for your pictures, I’d say straight or lightly flared legs could work well for you (about the basic shape of those army cargo trousers). Probably with a slightly higher rise than your jeans, because non-jeans trousers are usually supposed to be a bit less stretchy and fitted at the top.
    As an alternative (but really, try this on in a shop first), you could try the belt pleated trousers with tapered legs which have been creeping back into fashion for a year or so. At the moment, they come in high and low rises and can, depending on the fabric, look quite dressy or rather cool and laid-back. I know this style doesn’t have a lot of fans, but I’m one. It is possible that you, being tall and slender, can make it work.

  10. Haha – I recognize the first part of this post – about the slang and the language. As English is not my first language, I tend to blend all expressions and words into one big giant mess. In school (in Norway) we were taught British-English, but the main influence is US-English, what from all tv-series, movies and all. But then there are Canada, and Australia, New Zealand and South Africa as well. Yikes! I am just using the first word that pops into my mind, and make my own little “dialect”.

    I have a pair of red pants. It´s great to own a pair. I don´t use them very often, but it´s good to have them there in case of a red-pants-day! 🙂

  11. Marilyn

    I’d also recommend the Jalie classic trouser #2909, seeing as you had such success with their jeans.
    The rise on these looks a bit lower too, so may suit your rectangle shape better.
    Although these have a slight bootleg look about them (which I personally think looks great on just about every figure type), they would be fairly easy to alter into a slim leg style if that was your preference….
    So I’d say give them a go first.

    I also like the Simplicity Amazing Fit range, 2700 being my all-time favourite that I have made many times over.
    The first pair I made fitted like a glove, & they’ve been my pants of choice when needing a well fitting smart looking pair of pants for work. (these do sit just on my waist though, but I’m similarly thick waisted & I didn’t need to alter them at all, they fitted comfortably & look nice, no pleated front on these babies!)
    But if you prefer a slimmer cut they have 2860, or for straight leg they have 2562.
    anyway, thats my 2 cents worth, hope it helps!

  12. my go-to pants pattern is Simplicity 3686. i’ve done this pattern 4 times now: dark purple stretch denim, light grey cotton (total wadders, but that was my fault, not the pattern’s), chocolate plaid cotton, and medium/heavy denim. if i could call any pattern a TNT for me, that would be it.

    see pics: http://www.flickr.com/photos/miss_shigatsu/sets/72157606948032570/

    also, i’ve done McCall’s 5142 twice now, in corduroy and stretch denim and both times have been very successful. just note that while they say it’s sized for stretch denim, they’re lying. it’s not.

    see pics: http://www.flickr.com/photos/miss_shigatsu/sets/72157623765196699/

  13. for work, i like boot-cut or wide leg pants in a solid twill (my job isn’t dressy enough for suiting fabrics). i recently bought vogue 1051. it has welt pockets on the front and back. i’m a fan of welt pockets, at least on the back. i’m also thinking about sailorizing this pattern with some navy twill and buttons. because buttons are fun.

  14. I love trousers. I’m tall and have no waist (just cylinder-shaped) so I adore widelegged and bootcut. Anything that would even hint at tapering would make me look like an icecream cone.
    You are slim with an undersized bottom(your words!)so you can do straight-legged and mid-rise to low-rise.
    If you snoop-shop you won’t buy because you’ll get frustrated by the length and fit in the waist but it will give you an idea of what you like.
    Did that help at all?!

  15. Sz

    Pants that aren’t jeans should allow you to:
    1. Go out to dinner, with dessert, and not make you feel like a sausage afterwards.
    2. Help you feel attractive and professional if that’s required.
    3. Be able to withstand multiple launderings (dry cleaning is out of the picture for me)
    4. Show minimal pet fur (regardless of the color of the pet – though I have one that will show up on every color, so am out of luck there)
    5. Make you happy!

  16. Heh, I think we have very different ideas about style. I definitely had to gasp a few times during that post. For what it’s worth, my favorite pair of pants are from Simplicity 4044, made up in black linen. I have other similar pairs of flowing, high-waisted trousers a la Katherine Hepburn and they are insanely comfortable. To me. We have different body types.

    Watch out with the low-rise; I think with a little time those will be the new “mom-jeans.” Just sayin’. Though if you’re a smokin hot mom, you can wear whatever you want.

  17. Joy

    Ah, you reminded me of something I’d completely forgotten – a pair of thrifted army green pants I had in high school. They were actual (men’s) army pants, too! A perfectly straight fit, which was nice in the 90’s when all the pants I could buy were tight in the waist and huge everywhere else.

    My opinion? Try anything and everything – because you can! Also, regarding your shape, skinny jeans are the hardest to get away with. So if you can do skinny jeans, you can pretty much do any style.

  18. I’ve been very aware of my use of the word “pants” since I’ve learned that across the pond they are- well, underpants.
    I just linked to your cardi wrap you made a while ago. Hope that’s okay. I liked yours and made something similar, though it didn’t turn out as nice as yours.

    • It is tricky. Likewise the Australian thongs (I remember when thongs up here were footwear too… and when it started feeling icky to call them that, so we all switched to flip-flops). Thanks for the link—always welcome 🙂

  19. hahahahaha!! i love this post, and i must say you are smoking in those lace up vinyls! i only own 1 pair of pants that aren’t jeans and they do have stretch in them (they were a “omg i need pants for this conference in a cold city” purchase from h&m)! i too have only branched out from my beloved skinnies (who needs track pants when skinnies are so comfy?) i actually went the complete opposite way and bought a pair of vintage 1940s jeans that are highwaisted (a first since i was able to find low waisted pants) and wide legged….so they are narrow thru the hip and thigh skimming then extend a-line-ish. i thought i’d hate them and tried them on for a lark, but i really liked them (disclosure, i have a smaller waist and larger hips). so i’m not sure…..the “big” pants seem like an awful lot of material and i like the denim ones but they don’t get any closer the “grownup job” pants.

    i’m really glad we’re in science and can be “eccentrically” dressed!

    • I love how the highwaisted pants look on people with wide hips/narrow waist (you, Laurianna, and Steph all come to mind). I just can’t quite appreciate them on me. Even the Kasia skirt, I find I am comfortable wearing it only with shirts that cover several inches of the top (too bad because the top is the coolest part, really). Yeah, if it weren’t for the endless “pleasures” of grad school I’d’ve had to start dressing like a grown-up long ago.

  20. I like having a variety of pants and jeans in my wardrobe; but I’m partial to slightly flared jeans with a mid-rise waistband as I think this suits my figure better, and I’ve decided skinny jeans only look good on me when I’ve got a good solid pair of boots on the bottom, to balance out the look. Skinnies and ballet flats – *shudder*
    I can’t wait to see your red pants with lacing, sounds really cool and edgy!

    btw; regarding your comment on my blog (and thanks for visiting!);
    The fabric needed for tights and leggings is (as you said) a two way stretch knit, according to current standard terminology. The Vogue pattern company describes two way stretch as being fabric that stretches crosswise and lengthwise.
    It sounds like some fabric outlets are starting to call this type of fabric four way stretch; well this is just going to end up confusing people, imo. A personal bee-in-my-bonnet is when companies ignore current terminology and try to introduce new terms, especially when it is contradictory to the existing and well-established terminology, as in this case.

    • Yeah… I don’t know if it’s the fabric companies or just different people (possibly in different areas) using different (incorrect) terminology :P… but definitely perfect for muddying the waters of understanding. I just know I have seen both usages floating around. /sigh.

      I think I’m going to have to break down and look up red stretch twill online… the odds of me finding it locally are vanishingly slim, methinks.

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