A Guide to Finding Pants That Fit

Finding that perfect pair of pants is much easier said than done.
Finding that perfect pair of pants is much easier said than done.
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Unless you've found the perfect pants style that works for your body type, pants shopping can almost be as aggravating as bathing suit shopping. (Note: We said "almost.") We all know from experience in the dressing room that one pants silhouette does not fit all body types. This can be particularly trying when certain styles of pants are in fashion and you want to stay trendy. But ultimately, we always feel physically and emotionally better when our pants both fit well and flatter our shape. Knowing your body shape is half the battle when looking for the perfect pants. Whether you're pear-shaped or straight, hourglass or petite, rest assured there is a pant style out there that will make you look and feel fabulous.

There are a couple of factors that go into finding the right pants for your body shape. The cut of the leg has a huge influence on the final outcome, and so does rise, which is the measurement between the crotch and the top of the waistband. The combination of these two things can make or break your ensemble because what flatters one body style may look all wrong on another. And then, of course, there's a matter of finding the right size -- one that doesn't gap in the waist or fit too snugly in the hips. The problem lies in the fact that sizes often vary among different brands. So while you may be a comfortable size 10 in one label, a size 12 may strain at the thighs in another. The lesson we can learn from this? Try not to get obsessed with the number in the waistband. The goal is to find a pair of pants that fit well -- and that's what will make you feel the best.

Know Your Body Shape to Find the Best Pants Cut

The only real way to know what pants look best with your body shape is to lock yourself in a dressing room and try them all, but there are some guidelines to help narrow down your prospects. Classic styles like trousers and boot cuts flatter most figures, so it's just a matter of finding the brands whose cuts you like the most. Loose styles like cargo pants and boyfriend jeans are great for balancing out an athletic figure with wider shoulders and narrow hips, while wide legged styles help balance out a body that is heavier on top and smaller on the bottom. Plus-sized figures benefit from pants with a little bit of stretch in them, especially in the waistband area. Cropped pants look good on most body shapes as long as you find the right length for your height -- tall women can wear a mid-calf length well, while shorter women benefit from a cropped leg that's a little longer. And if you have a straight figure, count your blessings because you can pull off most styles.

Trendier styles that wow on the catwalk can be a little tricky for the rest of us common folks, who have to work around boring problem areas like saddle bags and cankles. Skinny jeans and leggings are in like Flynn, but they typically look best on hourglass figures with slim legs. If you're heavier in the thigh area, you can always find a long shirt or sweater to cover up your bulky spots, but if your calves are more Popeye than Olive Oyl, you're probably better off skipping this style. High-waisted pants that were hot in the 1970's and looked fabulous on the Charlie's Angels girls and their slim silhouettes have made a comeback, but as we all learned from the Jessica Simpson's unfortunate photos, they don't particularly work on curvier body types. In fact, they're really not right for most. If you don't fall into the small percentage of women with slim waists, narrow hips and legs for days, you're probably better off sticking with more traditional cuts of pants.

Discover the Leg Style That Looks Great On You

Few things can make you smile brighter than finding a great pair of pants.
Few things can make you smile brighter than finding a great pair of pants.
Dan Hallman/Getty Images

The cut of the leg on a pair of pants has a huge bearing on how the style looks on your body shape. Boot cut style pants that fit tighter in the thigh and then slightly flare out from the knee to the ankle do more for your legs than accommodate a pair of boots. They also give the illusion of a longer leg and help balance out your hips, whether you're shaped like Cameron Diaz or Christina Hendricks. This cut tends to be much more flattering on most figures than wide leg pants that start widening at the hips. Plus-sized women wear flares, which are a little wider at the ankle than boot cut legs, particularly well, because this style balances out a larger frame more effectively than pants that taper at the bottom.

Boyfriend jeans are great for athletic builds that are shaped like a triangle because the loose style of the legs add a little volume to the bottom, balancing out the contrast between wide shoulders and slim hips. Athletic bodies also work better in straight cuts than skinny styles for the same reason. Ladies with petite frames look best in fitted legs that hit below the ankle to add the illusion of height to their shorter stature. Hourglass figures wear slim silhouettes well, but you're better off choosing cuts with roomier thighs and a tapered leg rather than a skinny one.

Pants Fit: Rise Matters!

We've all had our run-ins with pants with the wrong rise, even if we don't exactly know what that means. As we mentioned on the first page, the rise is the area between the crotch and the top of the waistband that probably didn't get nearly as much notice before the advent of low-rise jeans and the exposed thong. So how does the rise affect how it looks on your body shape? The best example is probably, again, the low-rise. The waistband on a pair of pants with a low rise typically sits about three inches below your belly button on the flesh around your hips, which is where many women naturally store extra pounds. So unless you have a particularly skinny middle, a low rise that fits properly is going to push any extra flesh up and out, creating a "muffin top" effect. If you go up a size to prevent the muffin top, when you bend over, you're likely to have a huge gap that exposes your undies. What we can extrapolate from this is that the low rise isn't for most bodies.

Mid-rise pants are a classic fit that aren't usually specified as a particular rise in their description. They sit above your hips and a few inches below your natural waist and offer better coverage in the back than low rise pants without awkwardly cinching your actual waist, which can happen with higher rise pants. For this reason, the mid-rise flatters most body types the best. High rises have gotten a bad rap as "Mom jeans," because they are typically worn above your belly button, often creating a frumpy look, especially from the back. But well-tailored high rises worn with a belt actually work well on boy-shaped frames that tend to be straight through the middle, to create the illusion of more of a waist. And don't confuse high-rise pants with high-waisted pants that have a rise that hits around your rib cage, not too far below the bust line. This trendy style is best worn by ladies with a flat belly, a long torso and a little junk in the trunk.

If you still need some help finding that perfect pair of pants, see the links on the next page.

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Sources

  • Barrett, Ranya. "The Best New Jeans For Your Body Shape." Glamour.com. September 15, 2012. http://www.glamour.com/fashion/2012/07/the-best-new-jeans-for-your-body-shape#slide=1
  • The Daily Mail (U.K.) "Trinny and Susannah reveal 12 women's body types - which are you?" dailymail.co.uk. September 15, 2012. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-488236/Trinny-Susannah-reveal-12-womens-body-types--you.html
  • Goodhousekeeping.com. "How Women Can Find Pants That Really Fit." September 15, 2012. http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/beauty/fashion/women-pants-0204
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  • Schwartz, Suze Yalof. "How to Find the Best Pants for Your Body Shape." Glamour.com. September 15, 2012. http://www.glamour.com/fashion/2010/09/how-to-find-the-best-pants-for-your-body-shape#slide=1
  • Smartjeansreviews.com. "Are High Waisted Jeans for You?" September 15, 2012. http://smartjeansreviews.com/are-high-waisted-jeans-for-you
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