How Capris Work

how to wear capris

So. It’s a cropped-pant world we’re living in, friends, and there are many different styles going under many different aliases. I defer to Angie on nomenclature – see her posts on clamdiggers, capris, and walkshorts,  as well as her guide to pant length – but we definitely agree on this: Capris are pants that hit below the knee and above the ankle. In my opinion a true capri is shorter than an “ankle pant” which, unsurprisingly, hits close to the actual ankle bone. The two shown above are good examples of capris, hitting solidly mid-calf.

Cropped pants of all kinds monkey with our leg lines and overall proportions, so they can feel tricky to wear. But they are also cooler than full-length pants and a longtime summer favorite. So here are my suggestions for making capri pants work.

Consider contrast

high_contrast

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Many capris hit at the widest part of the calf, which means they visually widen that part of the leg. Choosing a capri in a color that creates high contrast with your skin tone will make this illusion even more pronounced.

low_contrast

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Opting instead for a color that creates low contrast with your skin tone will make the break softer and the line less broken-feeling. Naturally, you don’t need to wear capris that are nude to your skin tone! Something in the same color range – pastels, tan, lighter denim for pale skin and olive, navy, darker denim for dark skin – will work marvelously. Prints and patterns can work well, too, as they sometimes create the illusion of a softer break. And if you don’t care? Don’t sweat it. This is a tip that only applies if leg-elongation is a figure flattery priority for you.

Choose your shoes with care

shoe_choice

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Many capris are very casual, and flats are a natural choice. However, if you worry about shortening your leg line, opting for a low wedge or heel can make a huge difference. If any kind of shoe height is a deal-breaker, think about contrast again. The black flats on the left are very dark against the model’s pale skin. A tan flat in the same style would be less severe and allow the eye to travel further down the leg line. Consider vamp, too: High-vamp shoes like sneakers, oxfords, and ankle-strap sandals will chunk up your leg line sooner than low-vamp shoes like ballet flats and pumps. And again, these tips are most helpful to those who wish to elongate their legs!

Be aware of leg style

leg_style

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Again, casual capris are ubiquitous and many of them feature straight legs or wide legs. This gives them a casual feel, but since they’re ending mid-calf they also create the illusion of a larger overall leg shape. Slimmer capris feel more formal – and may feel too formal for your capri-wearing preferences – but they also create a slimmer overall silhouette, in many cases regardless of your own build or leg shape. Not a concern for you? Wider styles are often considerably comfier, so go to.

Sensing a theme? Most women I’ve spoken to about capris have wanted to know how to wear them without making themselves look shorter or breaking their leg line, so that’s what I’ve focused on here. As always, none of my figure flattery advice posts should be considered gospel, including this one, and I fully expect you to read them with a grain of salt. Style “rules” are merely guidelines, no matter who is dispensing them. I trust you to use your judgment. And I trust you to take what applies to you, discard the rest, and assume positive intent.

Are you a capri wearer? Do you favor a slimmer or wider leg? What shoes do you pair with your capris? Ever considered the question of contrast? Let us know in the comments!

Top images courtesy Nordstrom left and right

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  • Jessica M.

    I have generous hips and thighs and relatively short-ish legs, enough so that I don’t like the proportions created by skinny jeans. But even I find that slim-cut capris work really well for me (not completely skinny, but slim with a little room at the opening). I also find that a slightly shorter cut – one that hits just below my knee, but above the widest part of my calf so you can see the curve where my leg narrows a bit toward my knee – is really flattering, so sometimes I’ll hem my own (you can always roll the capris to different lengths when trying them on to see if they’re a good fit for self-hemming treatment).

    • walkercreative

      Agreeing with Jessica here. For me, slim cut capri’s just below the knee on my curvy hipped but short frame is pretty flattering. I too have curvy calves and am slim at the knees and ankles. I especially love this look with a tunic length top. Because my skin is darker, the break works to improve contrast, whereas a solid pant from waist to ankle makes me look really short. Like Jennifer, I rock them with heels too — and it’s the longest my legs ever look! Ankle pants are great for me because they are actually the RIGHT length and proportion instead of too long. Yes, I often wear ankle pants as normal ones and save money from tailoring!

  • Heather Slutzky

    I wish I knew a little bit more about how to wear capris when there isn’t a lot of difference in calf / ankle size. I always feel stumpy.

    • Jennifer

      I’m not a style expert or anything, but my calves and ankles are both rather large and I’m short (5’4″). Like Jessica M. below, I find the most flattering length is right below my knees, and I have even hemmed some that length. Heels help too, if that’s something you do.

  • Veronica

    I LOVE capris. They’re my go to when I don’t feel like wearing a dress. I lean more towards the comfy side of them. My shoes are whatever will work for the day’s activities. Usually it is sandals and they either coordinate with the capri or my skintone just depends on my mood.:) I love the look of slimmer capris too, dressing them up is fun. Thanks for another great post Sally.:) Your advice is always so helpful and thoughtful.

  • Ruth Slavid

    I love the stuff about definitons. A few years ago I became obsessed with the different names for trousers. so many. I love ‘clam diggers’ but also plus fours, plus twos, palazzo pants, cargos, Bermudas, Oxford bags etc. etc.

  • Vancouver Barbara

    Hey Sally – great post. I’d like to know the differences and the names for all the cropped pants. I’m thinking “pedal-pushers” and pants that stop just above the ankles. I think there are a few other levels in between. I’d like to nail the concepts.
    Thanks

    • Vancouver Barbara

      One more thing – names for the skinnies as well as wide legged pants. All the names and lengths. Hey and why not go all the way for the pants that drag on the ground???

  • crtfly

    Sally,

    I always appreciate your advice so thank you for your efforts. For the women who do wear capris, I think the information will be helpful. However, I don’t like capris on anyone. I can’t get past my perception that they are too-short-full-length-pants. They look like a mistake rather than an intentional garment. Pants that are above the knees, shorts, look intentional. And if keeping cool while not looking extremely casual is the issue, there are some refined looking shorts these days.

  • Shawna McComber

    I like the skinnier capris but I only have a couple of the wider legged type at the moment. I consider them a very casual item and although I don’t have leg lengthening concerns I still don’t think they are the most flattering thing I could wear. Sometimes I just don’t care though. When narrow legged capris are available in a higher rise I’ll snap some up. For now they have all been too low rise for me. Also I usually find the narrow capris are often a heavier fabric and so I wear the cotton wider legged ones for the sake of cool comfort. I’d pair them with sport sandals and a tee shirt and wear them to walk on the beach.

  • Jo Walker

    I LOVE capris and ankle pants. I tend to wear slimmer, dressier capris with heels with a low vamp, or a heeled/wedge sandal that is in the same color family with my skin tone. Ankle pants with flats.

  • SDawsonH

    Thanks Sally! I really like when you do these types of posts; they are very informational/educational. Sara