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When the skinny jeans craze hit a few years ago, denim buffs everywhere sighed in despair. After all, for those with anything other than the waifish figure of Kate Moss or the perfect curves of Gisele Bundchen, those drainpipe-slender pants were a big no-no.
Thankfully, designers are now offering up a more forgiving style: a wide-legged jean that sits higher on the waist and is cut to one circumference all the way down. This is different from the bootleg, which is fitted to the knee and then gently flares out. It’s also an alternative to the bell-bottom, which hugs the thighs and is uniformly wide from the knee down.
With wide-legged jeans, the circumference of the leg opening can be up to 23 inches compared to the 15 or so inches seen on cigarette jeans. The front rise is at least an inch or so higher than in low-waist jeans and even higher in the back. “Wide legs have a longer rise because the silhouette needs a bit more height to flatter the body,” says Chachi Prasad, founder of the fashion line Bishop of Seventh, whose jeans have been worn by Carrie Underwood and Rumer Willis.
The look is also markedly different from the more casual boyfriend jean, which often features distressed, fraying and upturned hems. Sleek and chic, the wide- leg jean can be worn to work or for an evening out. And it’s not only versatile but affordable too, as premium brands and lower-priced lines offer the silhouette.
Still, this is not a jean that can be thrown on with any old T-shirt or bought by just eyeballing the size. It takes a bit of polish and planning to pull off the look. Here are tips from style experts:
The right pair The wide-legged silhouette looks best on women at least 5 feet 4 inches tall and on the slender side, says Lisa Rudes Sandel, founder and creative director of the denim line Not Your Daughter’s Jeans. “With any trouser, the wider it is, the bigger you look,” she explains. Broader women can still embrace a wider leg with a boyfriend cut in a sleek dark finish, such as those offered by DKNY. For petite women, cuts like the Provocateur by Joe’s Jeans straddle the line between skinny and wide, lengthening the leg with a higher knee break and then flaring to an 18-inch leg opening.
Ladylike tops Skip anything oversized or billowy and opt instead for something fitted on top, such as a trim tee and a cropped jacket. Or, suggests Sarah Bergman, manager of Los Angeles-based vintage store The Way We Wore, consider a feminine Victorian-style white shirt with a band collar and a bib front or ruffle.
High shoes and minimal accessories To balance the look, try a heel or wedge of at least 3 inches. For a handbag, carry a vintage or modern clutch or a small beaded bag. Finishing touches: a skinny belt and a delicate necklace peeking through an open-necked shirt.
Hair height Those killer heels will get the proportions right below the waist; for flattering proportions above the waist, go for tall hair. Suki Duggan, owner of New York City’s Donsuki Townhouse Salon, suggests a classic ponytail with an added “hump” for height. (It can be achieved by sectioning off the front part of the hair, spritzing it with hair spray and folding it back into the ponytail.) Another option: a half updo. “When in doubt, go for volume,” said Duggan. “Draw the attention upward.”
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