Friday, August 12, 2011

Capris ~ The Bad & The Ugly

In which Gail discusses, at length (or should I say at short?) her volatile relationship with capris.

I can't stand cropped trousers. No, there it is, I simply can't. I agonized over this blog post and finally decided, Fashionable Reader, that I owed you honesty. This is, of course, my opinion, if you are a fan of the crop than you should wear it. But . . .

I have dabbled in every single one of the styles I discuss herewith. Most, I eventually rejected. Like the middi skirt, I feel the capri foreshortens me by chopping me at the calf. I believe wholeheartedly that just above or just below the knee is a far more more flattering look. I'm only 5'6" and curvy, a cropped pant is just Not Good. Often they are even unflattering on models.

I think the rail skinny pixie-type can carry them off, like Audrey Hepburn. But I don't look like her, and neither does most everyone else on this earth. The tall girl (5"8'+) can sometimes work a capri, but please make certain you stick to only a few inches below the knee (otherwise it looks like you just bought pants that were too short).

Now, a word on the subject of definitions:
  • Capris
  • Clam diggers
  • Pedal pushers
  • Cropped pants
  • Breeches (as opposed to britches or jodhpurs)
  • Knickerbockers
On the internet and in fashion blogs, there seems to be a good deal of confusion as to which cropped trousers of which style mean what. So I am going to bypass the whole discussion and give you my own definitions. Wha ha ha!

Department stores tend to file any pant that ends below the knee and before the ankle as a capri. Since I'd rather avoid department store lingo, I'm going to ignore that word altogether from here on out. We will broach each style with a look at both vintage and modern takes, ending with my suggestion of what you might choose, if you simply MUST wear a cropped trouser.


The general idea behind breeches is that they are slightly baggy at the top and then come in tight at or just below the knee, then then end or stay tight down to the ankle.

I own a few pairs of breeches, both with a very equestrian look to them. One is part of a 1930s riding suit in grey with matched blazer, very Madame Lefoux. The other are light-weight tan that I have been known to wear them to ride a bicycle. (Sadly, I've no pictures of either.) In general, I prefer to pair this style with riding boots and use for more casual steampunk events. If you are going to go for breeches, try something like this . . .

Clam Diggers

Sigh, is there anything good that can be said of clam diggers? I tend to throw this term at any pair of baggy cropped pants either shortened or (more commonly) cuffed/rolled. So unflattering.

If you must wear clam diggers, do it for digging clams. If you are quite slender and tall, you might be able to carry of this retro take, but proceed with caution!


If there is any style is dislike more than clam diggers it's culottes. They are very wide legged, cut short anywhere after the knee and to the ankle, can be quite skirt-like. Ugh.

I would not sleep well tonight if I suggested, in good conscious, that anyone ever wear culottes. But if you must, go all the way to vintage and don't look back.

Cropped Trousers

I use this phrase to refer to any mensware inspired trouser that is then cut short, usually just above the ankle. To me this kind of trouser has the look of someone who just didn't buy the right length.

Ralph Lauren 2011 Fall Runway
Who can carry of a cropped pant? Well a man from the 1950s . . . Or, if you must, punk it up with chunky boots in the same color as the pants.


Besides being fun to say, knickerbockers are quite baggy and come in tight at the knee. Traditionally worn by paperboys, they still have that feel. They were also worn for gentlemen sporting events, hunting and fishing, a so have a strong tweed association. Sometimes, unfortunately, they are still worn for golf.

They tend to be baggier than breaches and don't have the longer cuff. I own a pair of black which, again, I mainly use for steampunk and bicycle riding. If you are going to wear knickerbockers, you'll always look a little costumey . . run with it.

Pedal Pushers

This is a style I might wear. I don't own any but I wouldn't say no right away, as I do with most cropped trousers. I tend to define them as tighter and almost legging-like. I would go for ones that ended just below the knee, and I'd wear them with heals.

If you wear pedal pushers, I suggest going retro with the whole look. Otherwise they can seem too sloppy and lazy. A knit top instead of a t-shirt and a simple scarf tied about your head can make all the difference. For example if you are on the pixie end of the spectrum . . .

And not this, far too hoochie . . .

Of if you are bit more statuesque and of Alexia's proportions, try something like this . . .

As opposed to this (which just looks like PJs) . . .

Though I might wear pedal pushers to poodle around at the beach or a picnic, it's unlikely, even if I find the perfect pair, that I will ever wear them to an event. In the end, I'm on the look out for something on the following lines.

Notice that both pairs I chose end near the knee.

Which brings me to my final thoughts. No matter what your look or size, in my mind the most flattering form of a cropped throuser is something that ends just below the knee. This look can be chic and modern even work appropriate, ultra retro, or punky cute. To that end I leave you with three of my favorites, hoping that if you are hellbent on the cropped trouser that you consider these options first . . .

Next up for Retro Rack, if I have time before I leave for Reno WorldCon, I'll show you what I've been working on for the Girl Genius Ball.


  1. You know, I'm surprised capris are still around. I had hoped that when, a couple of years ago, men who were surveyed said that of all of the things in women's fashion they hated the most, #1 was capris, women would get the hint and stop wearing them.

    Only time I saw a pair of capris on a woman that actually looked good is this black pair that for the last few inches had a keyhole cut out, coming back together at the hem with a cute little bow. Somehow that opening was just enough to make them look less capri-like.

    Though the ultra high stilleto heeled sandals the woman had paired them with looked hooker-esce.

  2. I'm not just short, my legs are even shorter. I kid thee not, my legs were made for a much shorter upper body, and therefore anything that cuts me even further down, down there, is completely out of question if I don't want to get mistaken for Sam's and Frodo's lovechild. No, no, no, I'd rather do tree-hugging in Lothlorien all day. We need a fashion blog about rubber ears. ;P

  3. I hate cropped trousers too. Most of all I hate culottes, which are usually so full of material between the legs they chafe the thighs. Our school gym skirts were like that & made of navy serge. After an hour of netball or hockey your inner thighs were red raw.
    As to knickerbockers - they are still worn for shooting & my husband looks like an idiot when he goes out all togged up in his tweed plus twos (half as much material as plus fours apparently), shooting socks & tabs, waistcoat & tweed jacket, gun, ammunition pouch, 2 dogs etc.

  4. I own one pair of capris and on your advice have never purchased another. I am short (5'2") and slightly rounded. I only wear my capris when I have nothing else to wear, and I always team them with heeled sandals. My husband says he likes them, but he would, wouldn't he? We have been married 34 years and that's because he's learned just the right things to say.

  5. Cropped pants and I do not get along. And like wolfgang20, culottes bring back nasty flashbacks to school days. I would have preferred those in gym to the white shorts with elastic bands on the legs. *shudder*

  6. I am in love with this post. For me, just above the knee (which I tend to refer to as boardshorts, although I know that is a swimwear term) is the only way to go. With my plump round shape, I'm afraid just below the knee wouldn't even work.

    The ONLY "crops" I've ever owned is a pair of the horrible clam digger style--in WHITE of all things--which my mother gave me. I never wore them. I kept them for a while, intending to shorten them to just above the knee, but finally tossed them into the recycle bin last month just before moving.

  7. I own three pairs of capris, which I wear in hot weather. But then, I'm short, round, middle-aged and frumpy, so I pretty much dress for comfort because nothing works for me anyway.

    The Younger Daughter, on the other hand, is 5'3" and willowy (106 lbs). She wears capris with mismatched kneesocks coordinated to the rest of her outfit (colors, not patterns), and she looks wonderful and artsy. Oh, to be young again...

  8. At 5'2" capris just look like regular pants that are a little too short. And I agree that culotts are the devil. Although I'll take walking shorts, ending right at the knee, over "proper" women's styles of shorts. Because short and round with a rather large behind does not work with those styles of shorts. Whoever decided that women's shorts should be cut so short that the pocket lining might peek out the bottom needs a serious beating about the head with a stick.

  9. See, now I would've preferred culotts in PE over what I got. They were these silky-like almost short-shorts - another inch and they would have been short-shorts. I'd rather have material rubbing between my thighs then my thighs rubbing against each other! Plus it was freaking junior high! We girls were too young to be wearing something that really belonged on a hooker.

    I finally got to the point where, no matter how hot it was or how my PE teacher yelled at me, I always wore my sweatpants under the shorts. I'd rather do laps for not following uniform rules than have to show my legs to all the world. Heck, to this day I always wear jeans, never shorts. And if I wear a dress, I always wear nylons, no matter what the fashion experts say. (Some are quite against wearing nylons with sandals and peep toe shoes. I don't care.)

  10. I quite like cropped trousers as long as they are tailored properly and just above the ankle *and* you have great shoes to show off. Mid shin and they look awful on nearly everyone.
    You didn't mention cropped cargo pants,which I once heard described - by a man - as "what women wear when they've given up on life". That was enough for me to never, ever wear them.

  11. Are culottes in a shorter form the same as skorts? Because (to me at least) those are at least as much of an offense to fashion... *shudder*

    (oh, the capcha was funny - lingerai)

  12. So much animosity towards the culotte! I can't believe anyone even remembers them! It's been so long since I've even seen them in the wild, I was starting to think they had gone extinct.
    I admit, I have a vintage culotte pattern very similar to the one pictured above, although I bought it with vague thoughts of a Steampunk explorer outfit, I'm starting to think I need to sew them up and go on a culotte good will tour ;)
    I also have two patterns for knickerbockers, which are totally going to be part of a Steampunk outfit. And now I finally know what the heck to wear when I'm forced to go bike riding! Yay!

  13. I was surprised at the animosity toward capris, but then after reading the post, realized that the three pairs I own were actually what you classified as "pedal pushers"; a tight and tailored fit and ending just below the knee. Even being short and curvy, mine look great on me, but then I've got long legs and a short torso, proportion-wise, so maybe that has something to do with it.