The (nearly) definitive guide to cropped pants

By IN Advice, Create Outfits, Find Your Style, How-To Tuesdays, Style

Everything you wanted to know about Capri pants, ankle crops, pedal pushers and more

Ah, cropped pants. An easy choice for warm weather casual dressing, but also the subject of some (OK, much) debate.

How-To Tuesdays: Style advice and answers for working momsAre they flattering? Not flattering? In style? Out? And what’s the difference between a cropped pant and a Capri pant (and pedal pushers and …)?

Let’s dispel a bit of the confusion. Let’s talk about cropped pants.

The 3 types of cropped pants. (Maybe 4.)

Generally speaking, “cropped pants” refers to any pair of pants that is, well, cropped. In other words, shorter than a standard hem length.

But in between the tops of your feet and the bottoms of your knees, there are lengths that correspond to particular styles of cropped pants, listed here in order from a little bit cropped to a lot.

  • Ankle pants. This length is exactly what you think it is: cropped to hit just above your ankle bones.
  • Capri pants. Shorter than ankle pants, classic Capri pants come to a length that’s slightly longer than halfway between the knee and the ankle. (Look at the length on the two examples Grace Kelly is wearing.) They also can come in a length that hits at about the mid calf. More on this later.
  • Clamdiggers. Picture someone who has rolled up their pants to walk on the beach barefoot, digging for clams. Yep, that’s the length this corresponds to. Sometimes used interchangeably with Capris, true clamdiggers are more likely to be looser and cuffed, so I’m counting them as a separate length and style.
  • Pedal pushers. The shortest you can get without wearing actual shorts, pedal pushers end just below the knees (as opposed to Bermuda shorts, that end just above them).

And then there are culottes, otherwise known as the split skirt or even the “skort.” Whether they fit into the cropped pants category depends on whether you think they’re more pants that are really wide or skirts that don’t require a slip.

Ditto for gauchos, a style most popular in the ’70s–and I will date myself by saying that gauchos were one of my favorite garments in elementary school. Also flared like a skirt, gauchos so closely resemble a knee-length culotte that let’s just agree to use these terms interchangeably, shall we? (Although Tim Gunn considers them to be a slightly longer garment, as seen in his illustration above.)

Whew! Who knew there were so many styles and lengths of cropped pants and pants-skirt hybrids?

To wear or not to wear. (Are cropped pants flattering?)

There are opinions on this topic. Many, many opinions. Some fall into the camp of Do Not Wear Them Ever. Tim Gunn doesn’t condemn them completely, but does have strong things to say about the cargo capris.

Here at FBF HQ, we’re pro cropped pants: as with any garment, whether (and how) it works for you depends on a combination of the garment’s shape and yours. And whether you care (or not) about the rules for wearing them depends entirely on your own personal style and preference.

So let’s unpack some do’s and don’ts of wearing cropped pants.

  • When cropped pants are flattering.
    • When they’re the right length. In Capri pants, a length that falls at the place where your shin starts to indent between the calf and ankle is your best bet. You want to emphasize where your lower leg is narrowest, not where it’s widest.
    • When they skim the leg. Look for narrower widths in the leg to create a lean line, particularly in ankle pants and Capris. Pedal pushers are generally slim to begin with.
    • When you’re tall. Glamazons of the world, you can wear any length of pants you want. Long-legged ladies: you, too. Go forth and conquer.
  • When cropped pants aren’t flattering.
    • When they hit at the mid calf. This creates the opposite effect of the recommendation above, especially if you’re a fit mama with muscular calves. Look for longer Capris or go shorter with pedal pushers and above.
    • When the leg is too wide. Because the pants are already shorter than standard, this makes your legs look shorter and wider. (This is probably why Capri pants get widely condemned; too often they’re in the wrong length and width proportions for the lady wearing them. This is also why Tim Gunn hates cargo capris; adding pockets to the side of the leg only worsens the effect.)
    • When they’re too tapered. Slim-fitting? Yes. Wider at the waist and tapered at the bottom? Not so much. This will emphasize your hips and make them look wider than they are. If you want to look curvier, this is a positive. If you want to balance out your curves, you might want to avoid a tapered crop. (Here’s a great guide on cropped pants considerations for plus sizes.)

If you’re petite, any cropped pant runs the risk of making your legs look even shorter. This isn’t to say that you’re limited to long pants or shorts with nothing in between, but be aware and proceed with caution. With any cropped pants, a bit of a wedge or heel will help balance out the leg-shortening effect, but ankle-strap sandals can increase it.

As for the aforementioned culottes and gauchos, think of them like an A-line skirt and wear accordingly.

  • Fab mamas: It’s your turn! Do you wear cropped pants? What lengths and styles are your favorites? Any do’s and don’ts of your own?

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4 Responses to “The (nearly) definitive guide to cropped pants”

    • Heidi

      I honestly did not set out to write such a long post–who knew there was so much to say on the issue? 🙂