Mirror, Mirror: Put some pants on - they're in style again

Left: China pattern jeans, Mother, $218, at Eaves; wedge sandal, Butter, $335, at ViVi G. Shoes; clutch, price upon request, cuff, $395, both Mi Piaci, at www.mipiacivenice.com. Right: Striped jean, Mother, $209, at First Impressions; orange suede flat, Delman Shoes New York, $345, at ViVi G. Shoes.

Pants are back.

And this summer, they sure are fun:

Polka dots pop on skinny cotton trousers. Denim bottoms are chic yet loud in funky blue toile prints (yes, like your grandmother's china patterns). Pucci-inspired designs turn wide-legged pull-ups into breezy works of art.

My favorite: those baggy, drawstringed bottoms in red-and-white buffalo checks, a larger take on the pattern of a picnic tablecloth.

"It's a new attitude on the pant," said Susan Ahn, owner of Eaves, a contemporary women's boutique in Wayne. She credits pants' newfound popularity with our continued interest in separates. "Blouses have been strong. Denim has been strong; even skirts have been strong. It's now pants' turn."

Dresses had been dominant since 2007, when designers started putting them front and center in their runway collections. Pants remained an afterthought for six years - a long time in the fashion world - thanks to Diane von Furstenberg's wrap-dress comeback and Michelle Obama's love of the A-line. Now pants are finally taking their place in stylish circles - especially at top red-carpet events.

 Joining longtime pants-lover Hillary Clinton at the Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards last week, actress Elizabeth Olsen wore an ultra-baggy strapless jumpsuit courtesy of her sisters' clothing label The Row. Vera Wang draped a gauzy one-shouldered tunic over skinny pants.

And at last month's punk rock-inspired Metropolitan Museum of Art gala, Kristen Stewart, Sofia Coppola, and Jaime King all walked the red carpet in pants. Coppola's, designed by friend and date Marc Jacobs (himself in a polka-dot suit), were part of a comfy satin loungewear outfit, and on her feet were strappy sandals.

Fashionably speaking, the warmer months usually are reserved for pedicures and bare legs, a perfect pairing for maxis and minis.

But retailers are hoping that new and surprising patterns and styles, from florals to drop-waist silhouettes, will keep shoppers in stores during the dog days of "the transition." This is when retailers try to sell out their summer merchandise before stocking the front of their stores in early July with the next season's clothes.

"It's six-month clothing," said Pam Katz, owner of First Impressions in Lafayette Hill. "You can have them from summer to fall. You can wear a pair of tight camouflage pants now with a flowing yellow top and warm it up with a turtleneck in the winter."

And pants give women more chances to show off great shoes - silver strapped sandals with a hot pink heel or metallic wedge sneakers.

"With pants, women have a lot more options," said Ken Downing, fashion director of Neiman Marcus, who was in town for a show hosted by its King of Prussia location. "They can be strong and steady or soft and feminine."

Sales can testify: Total pants sales for the 12 months ending in April were $7.68 billion, up 0.8 percent from $7.62 billion in the same period in 2011-2012, according to NPD Inc., a New York-based consumer tracking service. Total jeans sales increased 11.7 percent, from $8.01 billion in the 2011-2012 period to $8.95 billion in 2012-2013.

Pants began walking away from being safe, and boring, last spring when colored skinny jeans started flying off specialty-boutique store shelves. At first, women were afraid of the bold-colored bottom. (Watermelon-pink britches can take some getting used to.)

But eventually, the masses embraced cobalt blue and even orange hues. By fall, floral dark-hued denim pants were quite fashion-forward, and a few stores like Club Monaco featured the floral pantsuit.

Then in February, Fashion Week designers Stella McCartney, Chloe, Phillip Lim, even von Furstenberg sent flowing trousers down the runways.

"Pants were playful," said Alexis Bryan Morgan, executive fashion director at Lucky magazine. "They are being tapered at different angles: wider waistbands or along the thinnest parts of the legs. They are taking on new personalities, new shapes."

Like the solid-colored ancestors that came before them, this generation of pants can be intimidating, too.

Pam Katz of First Impressions suggests that if you like a certain trouser silhouette, experiment with the entire outfit: A pair of slouchy gray sweatpants takes on a different personality with a silk blouse than with an off-the-shoulder sweatshirt.

And most important, when it comes to bold stripes or hot-pink flowers, balance is key.

"If you are doing a lot on the bottom, you have to keep it clean and simple in the top," Katz cautions. "That means don't mix too many textures and don't overdo it with accessories. . . . And most importantly, make sure your pants fit."

I couldn't have said it better myself.


Contact fashion writer Elizabeth Wellington at 215-854-2704 or ewellington@phillynews.com. Follow her on Twitter @ewellingtonphl.