Reader Request: How to Wear Capris

how to wear capris

Lovely reader burntphotograph popped this into the suggestion box a while back:

I’d love to see a post on capris … I’ve been reading a lot that they are not good for body proportions and various other reasons we should trash ours. What are your thoughts?

Weeelllll, my thoughts are many and varied. Capris come in SO many styles, and there really aren’t any hard-and-fast rules about who “can” and “cannot” wear them. Making capris, crops, and clamdiggers work for your body type is going to be a matter of experimentation. If you’re interested in wearing them but not sure how, I’ll level with you: Your best bet is to try on as many pairs in as many styles and as many hem-lengths as possible until you find a pair that flatters you. Or determine your ideal length with a regular pair of pants, some safety pins, and a friend willing to play fake-tailor, and THEN hit the shops.

Annoying, but true.

But since that might be the crappiest, most disappointing advice I’ve ever given on this blog, I’ll try to get a little more specific. Before I dive into analysis of this style, here are some initial thoughts on fit and flattery:

1. A little length makes a huge difference: Capri and cropped pants have immense power to distort the proportions of your legs – and, really your entire lower half. Where the hem length hits your leg impacts how wide your calf appears to be, and a mere half-inch can make all the difference between a flattering capri and a proportion-distorting one. It’s all down to where your leg curves in and where the hem hits relative to those curves. Tricky stuff.

2. The devil’s in the details: Cargo pockets add bulk, cinched ties at the hem can create a ballooning effect, slant pockets may pooch out on a curvy figure … as you are with all pants, be aware of how detailing affects overall fit.

3. Capris are not pants: Just because you rock a wideleg slack doesn’t mean you can rock a wideleg capri. The fit of a short-hem pant is vastly different from a long-hem pant, so don’t be afraid to try out some styles that you normally fear. In fact, just try everything and see what works. Like I said, it’s a bit of a crap-shoot.

OK, let’s see what all this means on some actual bodies:

capris
Generally speaking, a pant that hits at or just below the knee should be fairly flattering. Did you notice all the wimp-out words in that sentence? That’s because this style will look utterly horrendous on some of you just because of how your legs are proportioned. I really can’t say for certain that this length will work for even 60% of you! BAH!

Anyways, the theory is this: If the entire lower half of the leg is visible and part of the knee peeks out, the viewer can still discern the overall shape of your leg, and you’re golden. (Think knee-length Bermuda shorts.) If the knee is covered, things get trickier, but the more of the calf’s natural curve you can see the better. Think of skirt lengths: Mid-calf makes you look shorter, knee-length is much more flattering. But, again, it all depends on your personal leg proportions.

capri pants

These look damned decent on the model, but are often dicier on us non-models. Some of the same principles are at play: The hem hits above the ankle, masking the entire calf but leaving the entire ankle visible. So what you’re focused on is the curve of those slender little ankles. In theory. But depending on how long your legs are or how slender your ankles are, this style can be disastrous, too. Sigh. Also this is a darker color of pant so it creates a softer break against the model’s natural skin tone than the previous pair.

capri slacks
Cuffed and pegged pants are super cute, I realize, but beware, friends. This form of capri can be hazardous to your proportions. In this particular case, the hem hits slightly higher than the above, dark brown pair and shows a little more calf. Because of where that hem sits, the eye has a hard time imagining the curve of the entire leg and just sees bigness. I mean, it’s not eye-searing or anything, but its also not ideal if you’re hoping to make your calves look lean. A slimmer fit would work better at this length because the contours of the leg would be visible … but it’s not like we want to wear tight capris all the damned time. Am I right?

If you sensed a little frustration in this post, full points for astuteness! I wish I had some more concrete advice for burntphotograph and for you all, but I have found capris and crops to be some of the trickiest garments to generalize. However! Cropped pants are a timeless style, they are fun, and they are versatile so I do encourage you to explore and experiment. Just take a long, hard look at your leg shape, decide what you want to reveal and conceal, and then hit the dressing rooms to determine your ideal hem-length.

Good hunting, my friends.

Related posts:

Images courtesy Banana Republic. Top images courtesy Nordstrom.

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  • Leslie

    Love me a good capri! Im especially fond of ankle pants–but I truly believe the key to not looking stumpy in any sort of cropped pant (unless you are like 5'10" and a model) is HEELS! Heels make them work I think

  • Anonymous

    I've known that I cannot wear capri pants for years. Even when they were all the rage, I steered clear. I have fairly narrow hips, but very large thighs and muscular calves. That leg proportion combined with capris is just unfortunate and goes way beyond unflattering. It doesn't matter the length, they all put all the attention on my thighs or cut my calves off at an odd place. Of course, I also can't wear bermuda shorts for the same reason.

    I hate having to eliminate an entire classification of clothing, but I stick to skirts, dresses and the occasional pair of LONG pants.
    -Amy

  • Sher

    I completely agree. Put different pairs on and look in the mirror. Really look. I'm guilty myself of loving a crop pant that is so comfortable, but is not my best look.

  • stacy di

    I love my ankle pants. I have long legs…and always seem to have an issue with length on regular pants. the ankle pant lets me rock the high-water look 🙂 I agree that it is a tough one to wear for most people…I just hope it stays in style for a little while longer!

    great article. great advice.

  • burntphotograph

    hi! 🙂 thanks so much for answering my question! 😀 i must admit i've chickened out so far this spring/summer and just worn the couple of pair i already have a handful of times… *cough* to avoid buying new ones and having them be all wrong. i actually find i'm liking the "roll up" look better, with pants i have, because i can completely control the length with the top i've chosen that day.

    i see a lot of people rocking the style out there. next time i'll have to figure out what it is that's working for them.

    thanks again!

  • Christina Lee

    excellente Sal! all good advice!!!

  • metscan

    Capri pants sound so simple, but even on the models, none look really good. I´d suggest that if one is uncertain wearing capris, forget them !

  • Abby

    Sorry guys but I'm with Amy on this one. The vast majority of people (i.e. anyone who's not underweight) look fat & frumpy in "capris" as you Americans call them. Instead of elongating your legs (as good trousers do), cropped trousers make them look wider & shorter by creating a break part way up. It's nothing to do with your proportions and everything to do with the fact that cropped trousers make you look like a middle-aged housewife.

  • Quixsa

    Great advice on the capri issue :0)

  • Sal

    Abby: I don't agree that cropped pants and capris are the exclusive domain of the underweight. It just takes some careful experimentation to find the right fit. Some body types may want to steer clear entirely, but this style is not universally unflattering!

  • Audi

    I'm not overly fond of capris and cropped pants, but I do own a few pairs that I wear infrequently. I find the best tricks are either to match the pant and the shoe as you did with your killer ankle pant/gladiator combo, 'match' both the pant and the shoe to your skin tone (not literally, just light if you're fair-skinned, etc.), or wear them over a tall boot. I think any of these options downplays the hem cutting across your leg. Probably the reason I don't wear them more is that it takes so much more effort to make them look as good as a skirt or even regular pants.

  • WendyB

    I love cropped pants. I wouldn't give them up for the world!

  • Denise

    I'm with Abby on this one. If you're very tall OR very slim and petite, they look lovely. Otherwise, wear at your own risk!

  • Sal

    SUCH a polarizing issue, this!

  • Sharon Rose

    Hi there-a great post once again, I find I have to try on trousers before I buy, I'm so picky regarding length and cuts so can't just buy without seeing what they're like!

  • Nadine

    I have a tight pair of black capris and I really like wearing them in summer. You can create a great Audrey Hepburn like look with them.

  • Rosie Unknown

    I love capris, but you are so right, and you really have to be careful. I drag an honest friend along whenever I go shopping with something tricky to shop for is on my list, so that you get someone else's opinion.

  • rb

    When I look at those photos, I look at the capris as-is, then imagine them as full-length pants, and in all cases, the full-length pant looks better.

  • miss cavendish

    I like a pant that's just a hair shorter than the ankle pant. Anything else looks like a tailoring mistake, to my eye . . .

  • isleen

    I used to wear capris and gave it up when I realized they really did veer into "middle-aged housewife" for me. Mostly because I was wearing them as substitute for shorts during the hot months when my active job takes me outside and through all kinds of muck. However, I have EXTREMELY unattractive legs from thigh to ankle so I'm horribly dressed all summer. My choices seem to be: wear pants and swelter, wear skirts and flash everyone, or wear shorts and frighten innocent bystanders? The mind boggles.

  • Meli22

    Thank you for the post! Gives you some real insight into the world of capris… : )

    I wanted to ask you (but you closed down comments on it) but the red necklace you are giving away, where oh where did you get it?

  • Sal

    Meli22: The necklace is from Ann Taylor Loft! Did you already enter the giveaway? Be sure to do so right here: http://apcontestsgiveaways.blogspot.com/2009/06/gorgeous-coral-necklace-for-you.html

  • lisa

    This is such a contentious topic! I've been wearing capris and bermuda shorts for the last couple of summer and absolutely love them (they show up in a couple of my outfit posts from this summer and last). However, my friend who's barely 5' has always thought they were stumpifying until we went shopping one day and I coaxed her to try on a pair of tight-fitting dark denim capris. Now she's a convert.

    I have an idea: How about doing a follow-up post where the capri lovers speak up about their body type and why the capris they own and love work on their bodies? Maybe with photos too? That might provide a more guidance on top of the fantastic tips you've already given here. 🙂

  • Allison

    LOVE Lisa's suggestion for a follow-up post from readers! Genius!

    Ahh Capris! I want to love them but they do not love me. I even have what I call "long shorts" and they are not awesome on me either.

    I really don't know how to weigh in here. I LOVE the idea of a crop pant but it's just not flattering on me.

  • The Seeker

    Oh I like cropped pants, capris, but it's so difficult for me to know the right lengh!!!
    Morehover my ankle is not sleek :o(

    Well, I'm experimenting…

    xoxo

  • cindy lou

    Well, I AM a middle aged housewife, weigh more than I should and I wear capris. I am very careful, however, about the style and fit. It is made even more difficult by the fact that I rarely wear heels higher than 2". I have better ankles than I do knees, so I try to wear mine a little longer. I also have found that wearing my tops a little longer also seems to work for me personally. There are just some days during the summer that are too warm for pants, and capris actually look better on me and are more comfortable than dresses or skirts right now. It is not ideal, but it is the best I can do.

  • Mrs.Zeus

    Is capri good for petite short people like me???

  • Anonymous

    A true Capri is fairly fitted at the calve isn't it, and mid-high waisted?

    I reckon this style suits most slim-ish girls as long as calves aren't too chunky.

    The pictures you've included of the models in cropped pants are, in my humble opinion, universally vile! If this is how models look in these styles…
    Love your blog.

  • futurelint

    Funny post Sal! I agree, the capri is a tricky beast. While I am a shorter girl, I still love the ankle pant and longer capris and very much dislike ones that end at or just below the knee.

  • AsianCajuns

    So frustrating! I admire your energy to tackle the capri. I remember in high school I went around wearing mid-calf black capris with ballet flats thinking I looked like Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face. I'm about 5 inches shorter than she was.
    I did not look like Audrey Hepbrun.

    I've since stayed away from capris of any sort and will probably continue to do so until I sprout that extra 5 inches at 25. Sure to happen any day now.

  • Delectable Swank

    I feel a little bit torn about capri pants. Sometimes I think they look great, other times they can (and will) cut off your leg in the most unflattering place. I think the best way to avoid this is definitely heels (as others have suggested) and making sure you get the right fit. If they don't fit right off the rack, go to your trusty tailor!

  • LENORENEVERMORE

    Used to love me-capris, but have realized that I look short in them somehow…hey, live & learn along the way what may look best right… Thanks Sal, I must say I got new info/knowledge from your darling blog! ~XO*

  • Julie

    You're right, such a polarizing issue, this! I've ditched almost all of my capris since someone pointed out that most wearers look just like ice cream cones…not a good image. Sal, we'd love to see your successful outfits!

  • Dream Sequins

    I've been noticing the shorter pant, too. I don't mind experimenting a little with the pant length even though I don't have much leg to show. I love the cuffed pant look, to showcase the shoes. I think the key is proportion with this length. Balance out the cropped length with heels or a slimmer silhouette.

  • CompassRose

    So who says we "need" to look tall and thin, anyhow?

    I'm not. I'm short, curvy on a good day and chubby on a bad. But I'll wear cropped pants, because they're a cool alternative for summer days, and good for work (where shorts, mostly, are not).

    Personally, my favourite current pairing with them is a long shaped tunic-like top (or short dress) which gives a vaguely folky vibe that I like (and can also balance out a flat or low heel).

    The key is more proper fit than anything, I think, just as it is with any other trouser. I have noticed that capris (on me) seem to have even more fit issues than normal pants, demanding a more intensive and annoying shopping search.

    I agree with the later Anonymous, incidentally, that the short pants in the photos aren't even doing the models any favours. I have definitely seen much more flattering ones on a variety of people!

  • shoppingsmycardio

    SUCH an excellent post. i'm opposed to capris as a general rule for all of the reasons you stated: most women just aren't being careful enough about getting the right shape, and they end up frumpy and unflattering 99% of the time. same reason i'm generally opposed to miniskirts: anything hitting at the widest point of your leg (upper or lower) is going to make you look wider than you are, plain and simple.

    here's hoping your dear readers are about to buck the trend, and make capris chic!

  • Hanako66

    it's such a tough style to wear!!! I think that your tips were good though!

  • Speaking the truth

    I'm sorry, but the only females I've seen who look good in capris are narrow-hipped, long-legged teenage girls or the lucky ladies who are atleast 5'8" and thin (body and legs both).

    Anyone else who attempts this look, even with heels, looks schlumpy (myself included!) in my opinion. Yes, they're comfy, but ladies, do yourself a favor and look in the mirror — you really do look short and stumpy in these. Put on a pair of bermuda shorts instead, or a pair of linen wide-legged trousers if you must cover up your legs in the summer.

  • Shanna Suburbia

    I'm very petite at 5'2" so it's tough to find these in a size that fits me right. I'm undecided on the whole concept because I still haven't figure out whether or not it even works for me!