Thoughts on styling sneakers with wide-leg pants and culottes

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I got a pair of white New Balance classics (specifically, model WL574v2) recently because I wanted to expand my casual outfit options. I’ve mostly been practicing putting together outfits with relatively dressy pieces, but now I’m at a point where I can pick out specific things that work or not in outfits that I think it’s worth trying again.

The styles I generally go for are more vintage inspired or fantasy inspired. I think wide-leg cuts can be styled to pull retro, but for this set of outfits I was okay with just trying things to see what looked good without also limiting myself to highly defined style subsets.

My initial thoughts were that I would need to be careful to avoid a “pajamas but I had to walk the dog” look because most of my wide-leg pants are softer styles. I figured the usual tricks of including a more structured piece and red lipstick would help. I usually only carry a purse on the weekends because I use one of those ergonomic laptop backpacks during weekdays, but I also find that I feel a lot more put-together when my outfit includes a nice bag as those are an easy way to add some visual interest to a look.

Context

Wide-leg pants are common in the areas I frequent (downtown office buildings area of SF + Berkeley) but not the default pant style. I work in a casual office where people wear anything from sweats/track pants/cargo shorts to more trendy looks to business causal, but t-shirt and jeans with sneakers or boots is most common. There are at least two other women on my floor who wear wide-leg pants regularly, sometimes with sneakers, so there isn’t exactly any boundary-pushing ~bravery~ involved in this on my end.

Prior Art

Always like to take a look at some photos for inspiration when trying a new outfit combo.

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click to view the full pinterest board

Pinterest has a tendency to become an echo chamber of 2013, so I like to check google images and current stock photos as well. The key here is to use the search filters to remove any Pinterest sources and stick to more recent photos. I think most of the stuff on Pinterest actually looks pretty nice even now, but personally I prefer a more trendy look for more generic casual outfits.

 

Screen Shot 2019-04-21 at 2.24.46 PM
Append -pinterest.* to your query and use the “tools” option to select a date range. Unfortunately about half of these photos are still of outfits with not-sneakers.

While it’s certainly a valuable skill to be able to mentally translate styling from a photo of someone who does not look much like you into a generic concept to apply to yourself, I do still try to stick to pinning photos of relatively petite models vs 6-foot tall models. On that end, I’ve found Japanese blogger and street style snaps helpful. Unfortunately I very rarely see short models who have larger busts, which I think makes a bigger difference than just height, but I take what I can and try to ~be the change I want to see~ there. Anyway, some observations, most of which seemed to line up with my initial thoughts (confirmation bias / biased data-collection def a thing but I think these were generally representative of what search pulled up for me, although that is also biased by stuff I’ve searched for before):

All the following images are available on the pinterest board linked above

  • Impeccable hair and makeup (to be fair this is kind of a Blogger / Professional model thing in general)
I suspect these are linen-blend because white 100% linen is a pretty wrinkly fabric.
  • Clean sneakers, pressed clothes

  • Most (though not all) of the culottes hit a couple of inches higher on the leg than mine do. I requested my culottes hemmed to about ankle length originally because I was planning to wear them with ankle boots with tall-ish shafts which look okay with that inseam, but I’m thinking that taking another ~3″ off of them might improve how they work with a larger variety of footwear. My guess is part of the reason to go extra cropped is to dispell any concerns that this is not cropped on purpose but that you got long pants that are too short. It also just gives the whole look some breathing space.

  • Pretty much ALL of the cropped styles were pants that were made of a relatively stiff woven fabric. None of those swooshy drapey fabrics. I think this comes back to my initial thought that conventional idealized styling involves making things feel less like loungewear, and the most obvious way to do that is to wear a style that obviously is not loungewear pants. But alas, most of my wide-leg pants (and all the cropped ones) are a softer style, so we’ll make do.

  • Sunglasses and structured bags feature heavily

Outfits

Anyway after all those pro shots you can now marvel at my less glamorous, what-I-had-in-my-closet outfits, which I wore to do things like go to the office or run errands.

My goals for these are to have fun and visually interesting looks that don’t swallow me or look matronly or stodgy. They should give the impression that I wore the whole getup on purpose and not because I had some hand-me-down pants that I just threw on because you’re supposed to wear pants when leaving the house.

Graphic t-shirt, tan canvas wide-leg pants

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Quotron t-shirt (ebay), Forever 21 canvas pants. The t-shirt says “QUOTRON WORLD’S GREATEST SYSTEMS PROGRAMMING TEAM. WE DO IT ALL!”

This was one of my favorites of the bunch, although I suspect that the preference here comes down to whether you think “late 1970s programmer cosplay” is a covetable aesthetic.

A E S T H E T I C

Fleece bomber jacket, fitted striped t-shirt, tan canvas wide-leg pants

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Classic Elements petites t-shirt, Uniqlo U fleece bomber jacket (ebay)

This one is a bit of a lighter weight look with a thinner, more fitted t-shirt. So obviously there needs to be a giant fleece bomber with an exaggerated collar to balance it out / add drama 😛 I thought this was a fun and lighthearted look to wear, although seeing the photo again makes me question how much my opinions on a given outfit are influenced by how well they match my outfit photo background 🌴

Puffy blouse, tan canvas wide-leg pants

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Anthropologie eyelet blouse and tassel purse

I don’t regret wearing this out of the house, but I think that the stiff pants with New Balances and a belt was just too much of a stodgy contrast to the summery blouse and it wasn’t a very cohesive look. I think if the pants were at least a cropped length this would make more sense.

Puffy blouse, tan culottes, straw tote

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Tried again with more drapey knit culottes. The fabric on these is kind of like a sweatpants material, so not as airy as would be ideal, but I think it looks a lot better. I appreciate the pleats on the front bringing it away from a pajama look.

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More angles. This might look better worn in an off-the-shoulder style to show a bit more of my shape, but eh.

Changing the bag to a straw tote also really emphasizes a summery “I’m going to the farmers market to buy only daffodils, a baguette, and 3 carrots” kind of vibe. I think next time I wear this I’ll try pushing the sleeves up a bit, because I’m not digging the boxy shape created because they end at the same line as the waist band.

Trench coat, thick texture striped t-shirt, tan culottes

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Banana Republic trench (via goodwill and the sleeves are folded under), Banana republic top

I really wanted to like this outfit with the soft culottes and a thick textured ridge-stitch stripe t-shirt as a cool streetwear sorta option, but I just could not un-associate this silhouette with the look that was really popular with boys in middle school PE in the mid 2000s featuring giiiiant basketball shorts. The trench and lipstick pull it away from that but I think I fundamentally didn’t enjoy this enough to try and iterate on it.

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Oddly enough, I actually like how this outfit looks more from a 3/4 back angle.

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More  views with coat

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I tried this with some other jacket options. The puffer jacket just made the whole thing feel too Asian Grandma (though that would really need at least one floral print item and a hat of some kind). I think the moto jacket was okay, although the base outfit feels so soft overall that the jacket seems a bit tacked on.

Moto jacket and faux-jumpsuit

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Gap bodysuit, New Look petites moto jacket (ASOS), Uniqlo culottes (hemmed)

Last but not least the most conventionally flattering outfit which I felt pretty cool in. This is a surplice/faux wrap bodysuit with the same culottes as the tan ones, just a different colorway. I just placed the thin waist belt over it to add some visual interest (and the belt has some fashion tape to keep the extra bit from flapping around since I don’t have any more clear hair elastics). It’s a little boring because the top and pants are nearly the same soft texture. It looks nice, though. I think the lipstick was particularly helpful in this outfit because I think otherwise I would get washed out by all the black surrounding my face. I think the sharp neckline is nice because it gives some shape to what otherwise is a mass-of-fabric look.

Conclusions

Well, I don’t think any of my outfits are quite awesome enough to be pin-worthy, but I did get a few things out of it.

  • I enjoy the full length canvas wide-leg pants with the sneakers for more structured/fitted outfits
  • The faux-jumpsuit look can be a nice go-to for when I want to look cool but also need to wear sneakers but also am bored of jeans and mini skirts
  • I think the sweatpants material of the tan culottes is just not quite suited for this sort of look. Like, it looks okay, but given all the other awesome things I could be wearing, I don’t see any reason to repeat these (except the farmers market bitch look which just had so much other aggressively summery things going on I think it works). This isn’t something I’m interested in turning into a core silhouette either (that would be midi skirts and loose-fit cuffed trousers, thank you) so I won’t be looking for more structured culottes
  • I am considering getting the tan culottes  hemmed a little bit more because I think that would make them look cuter with sandals while still working with boots.
  • The large straw circle tote is really fun and a great way to distract from / add oomph to an outfit

Some looks along these lines I’m interested in trying in the future (I’ll add them here later if I do end up wearing them) are

  • Monochrome black cute sports bra under mesh t-shirt with a lightweight rayon(?) pair of culottes that I did not use in any of the photos here. The monochrome black is a classic flattering look and I think the sheer layer will look cool and sporty and also provide more depth to the outfit
  • The airy black culottes with a textured semi-fitted olive green t-shirt or button-down short sleeve shirt and a belt. I’m not sure if a leather belt will look disproportionately heavy with these pants but they do have belt loops so it’s worth a try
  • I don’t feel like the black purse did all that much to bump the visual interest / structure up, although I think part of that is that it just doesn’t photograph well. I’d like to try incorporating some of my other purses into looks.

This was intended to be a lightweight photo-heavy post, but that clearly didn’t happen. It still came in over 2k words 🙄 Anyway, thats was my response (not that anyone asked for it) to getting tired of hearing “I dOn’T wEaR cUloTtEs beCaUsE I’m ShORt” which periodically is commented on the femalefashionadvice subreddit. Sure, it’s never going to be as easily flattering or leg lengthening as wearing a pair of high-waisted black skinny jeans with black boots and whatever top, but if you’re interested in trying new silhouettes, there are always things you can tweak in styling that can make things feel more like an Outfit for Fashion Fun or even just more flattering. You certainly can refrain from wearing types of clothing because you just don’t like the style, but don’t wholesale discount any entire category of clothes without any sort of consideration or attempt. At least just discount it wholesale because figuring that stuff out can be a lot of work and you’ve already got a lot of outfits you like 😛 and not because of your body shape.

Anyone else have some lengthy process they go through when preparing for or evaluating a new new silhouette? I don’t think I’ve done anything quite this detailed for other looks besides maybe high-waisted “peg pant” style trousers or midi skirts (in retrospect – and tbh at this point I don’t actually like the outfit I used for all the photos in that post but I think the concepts still stand), but as high-effort as it is to go through, I do enjoy it and feel like it improves my outfit repertoire.

8 thoughts on “Thoughts on styling sneakers with wide-leg pants and culottes

  1. Margaret, I really appreciate your attention to detail in these style analysis and synthesis posts. Would you ever write one on the topic of WEARING BROWN? I see it over and over on /r/ffa, posters saying they hate brown, don’t know how to wear brown, sticking with black or grey instead. Personally I have a pair of russet brown cords that I struggle to style with anything but a teal t-shirt or cream sweater. Conversely, you’re so confident and creative with different pieces and shades of brown, I’d really love to know your method behind it.

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    1. Hi C! I haven’t done any posts on how I think about color, but I think that’s a great idea for a post! I’ve got quite a few in the queue that I’m already working on so it may be a few weeks before I get that out, but I’ve noted it down. That’s kind of funny, because in recent months, I’ve had the impression that outfits with many shades of brown and beige are very popular right now. Also there was that whole “stick of butter” thing that Man Repeller brought up https://www.manrepeller.com/2019/02/the-best-winter-style-hack-involves-dressing-like-butter.html lol. But of course that is mostly folks in instagram-land.

      For a shorter (since the actual post is probably also going to be 2k+ words) but more timely response, generally I treat trying a new color similarly to trying any new type of clothing:

      1) look at existing content – in this case, learn a little bit on color theory especially in the context of fashion (my favorite fashion youtube channel Zoe Hong Teaches has a great series on this. You don’t have to take a whole course on it. I think watching like ~20 minutes of videos and reading an article can be very helpful) to give yourself a framework to talk about stuff so when you…

      2) …take a bunch of sample photos with existing pieces and/or go to a store and try a bunch of stuff on, and try to identify what you do and don’t like you have a vocabulary and something more concrete to look for (besides just thinking about how a color makes you feel, of course). e.g. thoughts like “I muted, cool-toned browns are a more comfortable ‘transition’ shade of brown and look nice with my cool toned complexion” or “I like vibrant browns that are barely brown – more like orange/red with a tiny bit of complementary color mixed in and are very saturated that will have a bold contrast to black and white pieces”.

      As for mental stumbling blocks on particular colors I think it’s similar to incorporating other elements of clothing that are uncomfortable because they’re new – you just have to get used to seeing it, both on yourself and other people. You can make an inspiration board / folder of outfits with brown, and if you have brown pieces already, even just wear them around the house for a bit or to go to the grocery store so it feels less weird.

      Hope that helps, and thanks for leaving a comment!

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      1. Thank you so much! I wish I could like the comment but I don’t have an account. You have made my day with another thorough and thoughtful response, thank you! 🙂

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  2. I am back and it looks like I have some catching up to do with your posts! And believe me, do I relate to making a wordy evaluation on style elements. There is much to be said.

    So glad you shared this! I was hoping for a sneakers follow-up from your previous post about purchasing the New Balance shoes, and you have surely delivered. I’ll begin with my over all take away of this post: the sneakers work beyond a basic jeans/sweats outfit. I actually quite like the culottes paired with the sneakers and, believe me, this is not an item coordination I had considered before hand. The model photos you shared are pretty, well, inspirational too. Agreed on your thought of structured fabrics being used more conventionally in these styles. I suppose the loungewear theory makes sense when considering that one may not want to convey a lounging aesthetic when wearing such draped/cropped shapes.

    The straw bag was a clever move. It does add some oomph as you wrote, and I would say it more detours it in a pleasing, playful manner. Everything in said straw tote outfit is cohesive!

    Now I have a pair of rose pink cropped trouser pants that I haven’t worn yet, and mostly because of a hiccup in my shoe collection. Think I may play around with a newly purchased pair of white sneakers and get back to you on the outcome.

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