They’re the look of the season, with a bewildering number of styles to choose from. And if confirmed dress addict Frankie Graddon can find a trouser style to love, maybe there’s hope for us all.
Strolling down Oxford Street with a sizeable wedgie, I’m wondering if I can covertly fish my pants out from where they have disappeared. Not that there’s much to fish out, mind, for I am wearing a thong. I’m not in the habit of wearing such awkward undies, but today it was necessary. Why? Because, for the first time in years, I’m going trouser shopping.
After seasons of throw-on dresses dominating the fashion scene, this autumn it’s all about the trouser. ‘We’ve seen a real rise in their popularity,’ says Jo Bennett, head of buying for womenswear at John Lewis & Partners, which has increased its new season styles to meet demand. Moving away from the romance of a dress, tailored trousers chime with the current power-dressing vibe. But whereas once such trousers tended to stick to mannish shapes and shades, for autumn/winter 19 anything goes: from hot pink oxford bags at Chanel to utility styles at Lanvin; 70s flares at Chloé and culottes at Céline, the latter teamed with leather knee-high boots. Speaking of leather, it came in trouser form at Isabel Marant, Louis Vuitton and Hermès, in spray-on, tailored, biker and – eek – baggy silhouettes.
The trouser trend is also part of a swing towards practical pieces and separates which, with the sustainability zeitgeist in mind, can be mixed, matched and layered, thus diversifying their wearability and extending their wardrobe life.
With statement trousers cramming the new-season rails at both ends of the price spectrum – Net-a-Porter has over 1,100 styles while M&S is carrying 200 – now is certainly the time to buy. There’s just one problem in my case: where dresses kindly skim over my wobbly posterior, trousers accentuate its lack of perk. Then, ahem, there’s the dreaded camel toe: mortifying but ever present in the majority of trousers I have tried over the years.
However, as a fashion editor it is my duty to stay au courant, and if that means giving trousers another chance, so be it. So I phoned my stylist friend for some trying-on tips. ‘Do the squat test,’ she told me – to check there’s no risk of busting a seam or being sliced up the middle when you sit down. She also advised going shopping in a shirt or tee in a neutral shade and wearing flats but taking heels so that you can check how hem lengths work with both. As for the camel toe, avoid trousers that are too tight or too thin.
So, armed with all this new wisdom, I hit the shops…
Flares: Think fit, not flap
There’s nothing worse than a too-long flare flapping around your ankles, soaking up any puddles that come your way. For this reason, anyone considering the silhouette should hightail it to Marks & Spencer, which offers trousers in short, regular and long lengths. I try on a pair of its corduroy slim flare trousers in Bordeaux which are fitted over the bum and thighs with a gentle boot cut (easier to pull off than a fully swinging hem) and a comfortable amount of stretch. Teamed with a silk shirt in a tonal blush and a pair of mules, these chime with this season’s 70s vibe.
A quick note on corduroy, because it will be everywhere for autumn: jumbo cord has a habit of turning thighs into tree trunks. Stick to the infinitely more flattering needlecord.
Oxford bags: Perfect those pleats
This is the style I am most fearful of because… pleats. Being bigger on the bottom than I am on top, I have spent years avoiding volume-adding pleats around my hips and stomach. However, I’ve cracked it: it’s all about placement. You want pleats to sit no closer than three inches from the central seam, keeping the panel of fabric over your stomach flat. Pleats that start a few inches down from the waistband will keep the hip area slim. I’d also advise dodging side pockets which can make hips look broader and to look for pockets that sit slightly to the front.
This season, the chicest way to wear your oxford bags is brightly coloured; thus I try on Boden’s Ketton wide-leg trousers (£90, boden.co.uk) in Saffron. While the cut is great, the colour would be better suited to someone with an olive skin tone – if you’re fair like me, try the Broad Bean green.
Hankering after a classic look, I try on this exquisitely tailored camel pair from Burberry which have a high paperbag waist and make me feel like Katharine Hepburn. I tuck in a fine-knit cardigan, add pointed-toe kitten heels and fall in love. The timeless silhouette and versatile colourway make these a true investment piece. At the more affordable end, & Other Stories’ wide stretch wool trousers (£89, stories.com) have a similar appeal.
Utility: The pocket problem
Utility trousers haven’t been so on trend since All Saints were in the top ten. Less 90s throwback, the way to wear them this season is grown-up and slick, teamed with a tailored jacket or silky shirt.
Whistles is my first stop where I try on the Steffi utility cargo trousers (£119, whistles.com), which look great bar the two pockets on the side of the leg that add unwanted width to my thighs. Hot tip: keep cargo pockets to the front or back for a bulk-free look.
I plunge myself into the throngs of Zara where I try a relaxed-fit style with D-ring belt and pockets galore and look as though I’m about to crawl through an assault course. The trick to combat trousers is just a touch of utility; the aim is urban explorer, not GI Jane. A slim fit looks more chic than something slouchy and a tapered leg means cuffs can be turned up or down depending on your height. Under no circumstances should there be camouflage.
I strike gold with Me + Em’s tapered utility trousers in dark olive – a smarter version of classic khaki. Flat front pockets give a streamlined silhouette while the black detailing polishes the look further. These could even be worn to the office – just add a blazer.
Leather: Can I rock it?
First off, I head to Paige where I try on a skinny pair with a button fly – very Debbie Harry. Sadly Blondie I was not; more overstuffed sausage skin than rock ’n’ roll, while the high-shine leather magnified my thighs to gigantic proportions. Leather lesson number one: tight plus shiny is deeply unforgiving.
I have better luck with Joseph’s Kemp stretch leather trousers (£945, joseph-fashion.com), which are actually fit for public viewing thanks to a straight leg that skims rather than clings to my bum and thighs, and comes in matt leather.
As I don’t plan on remortgaging my house, I head to M&S where the Autograph straight-leg leather trousers (£199, marksandspencer.com) are flattering and comfortable: they might well end up in my shopping basket. If you’re bottom heavy, an A-line silhouette looks best. Try Arket’s wide cropped leather trousers (£250, arket.com), which have huge back pockets to make your rear look positively minuscule.
The pair I settle on are Gestuz’s butter-soft straight cut. Balance the sleekness of leather with soft textures – think nubbly jumpers or a cord shirt – and smart flats for work or white trainers at the weekend. Have I nailed leather trousers? I think so.
Culottes: It’s all about the shape
Four hours into my trying-on trial and sweating with the effort, I move on to the fifth style on the new-season hit list: culottes. As per the autumn catwalks, I pick up a pair that finish just below the knee from Agnès B– terrible idea, my calves look like ham hocks. What I quickly realise about culottes is that the key to success is finding a pair that end at the narrowest part of your leg.
After trying on several more pairs, I can also tell you that an A-line shape gives the most flattering silhouette, while an elongating high waist will stop things looking boxy. These Cos belted paperbag culottes are the best on the high street, coming in heavy crepe, which drapes expensively, and a tie belt that nips you in at the waist.
When doing volume at the bottom, the top half needs to stay slim; try a tucked-in T-shirt or shirt. As for shoes, a pair of long leather boots à la Céline looks positively swashbuckling, so I switch to a strappy sandal with a square toe, which, FYI, is the shape of the season.
The new-season shapes aren’t as scary as I thought – in fact, I’m wearing the M&S flares now. The right fit is crucial, though, so be sure to do a lot of trying on. And once you’ve found the perfect pair, consider buying two – good trousers are like unicorns. As for the thong? No need. Marks & Spencer does a great line in seamless briefs that give zero VPL but plenty of comfort.