From Runway to Closet

The How & Why of Wide Leg Jeans

by Kim Izzo

By Kim Izzo

Sometime in 2021 Generation Z declared the skinny jean dead, and fashion magazines and style influencers listened. The fashion and cultural demise of the “skinny” was so widely reported that even NPR picked up the story. Of course not every fashion writer and critic feels this is so, as Emma McClendon, the author of Denim: Fashion’s Frontier told The Guardian, “[Skinny jeans] are an extremely versatile and adaptable garment that carry such a multitude of cultural meanings that they will never be irrelevant.” 

Those who care about being on trend will no doubt stuff their collection of the figure-hugging denim into the back of the closet. But for those of us who choose to forge our own fashion path, we give a collective shrug. Yawn. Whatever. We’ll wear whatever we please. And that will continue to include the skinny jean

Yet I admit to being stylistically curious about one denim silhouette that’s having a moment, the wide leg jean. It’s a look that shook the fashion universe in 2021 when Chanel, among others, had a model strut the catwalk in light wash baggies jeans. That the roomy pants turned up at Chanel is no accident, the legendary Coco Chanel wore wide-leg pants in the 1920s. It’s also a look you find throughout the 20th century including on movie stars from Hollywood’s Golden Era in the 30s and 40s, and again on the small screen in hit television shows from the 70s, like Charlie’s Angels.  

Charlie’s Angels was the height of 70s chic

When I saw that wide-leg jeans were everywhere last year I wasn’t convinced. It seemed like one of those extreme fashion choices that I wanted to skip. Yet, seeing that the wide-leg jean is just as entrenched in spring/summer 2022 look books as it was last year, it’s impossible to ignore. And my curiosity got the better of me. It was time to test drive the wide leg jean, because this spring I plan to leave the house in something other than yoga pants.  

The Test Drive 

Recall the 70’s with this soft wide leg style that will work with chunky heels or boots

I bought a pair of high-rise wide leg jeans made from Tencel, a super-soft and eco-friendly cotton fabric. The wash was a similar lighter shade to the Chanel pair I’d seen online. As soon as I opened the packaging, I could tell these jeans were different. The fabric was as soft as promised and I adored the color, a pale blue that reminded me of the sea and summertime. But the true test came when I put them on. The fit was far more flattering than I expected – I was worried that wide leg jeans would make the extra weight I’d gained from two-years of pandemic comfort eating more obvious – in other words, I’d look wider too. But the opposite happened, they were quite slimming, and the extra width in the thigh and legs made them beyond comfortable. Equally vital, the style looked modern, a fresh way to wear denim. 

Our “trouser” fit will work on any body type to elongate the leg

Off I went, to work with cowboy booties, to a patio with a friend in platform heels, and even running weekend errands in white sneakers. Everywhere I went people complimented the jeans. I think I had more energy in my step because I felt good in what I was wearing, I too felt fresh and modern. Isn’t that what great fashion is supposed to feel like? I was excited to get dressed in the morning again. Fortunately there is also a dressier version, one with an extreme high-waist and trapunto stitching that WHBM has dubbed “trouser” jeans.  

What to Wear on Top 

The key I discovered to looking fab in wide leg jeans is that proportion is everything. Given the amount of fabric below the waist I wanted a more streamline look above to create a sleek look. I chose a tee that had side ruching that gives a more fitted look on top. But any fitted top will give you the same effect. Sweaters, or even the right blouse can work beautifully. I’d avoid anything too baggy on top to balance out the baggy on the bottom, unless you like a head-to-toe relaxed look, then go for it. 

Another look I love is wearing the wide-leg pant with a fitted top and a blazer, worn open. And depending on the season a longer coat such as a trench or a sweater coat can quickly become your signature look.  

What wide leg jeans have introduced back into the fashion zone, is relaxed comfort, go anywhere style, that can easily translate from weekday workaholic to weekend warrior.  

Rise & Shine 

A high-rise jean can always rise to the occasion

For me, the fact that the arrival of the wide-leg jean has coincided with the high-rise trend is an added bonus. I like the high waist for its ability to eliminate any belly bulge at the waistband. The high waist also elongates the leg, making you look taller and slimmer. And even if you are already tall and thin (lucky you), the wide leg and high-rise will accentuate the obvious. 

For those who love a cropped top, the high waist/wide leg combo is for you. Pair with white platform sneakers or booties for street style you can wear anywhere. 

I hope the wide-leg trend continues for a few years because I’m about to buy several. But I have one question: where have these jeans been all my life? 

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