More than you think, responds the fashion industry this fall.
"Pants feed back into the overarching idea of personal style," says Samira Nasr, fashion director at Elle magazine. "There really is a choice in how adventurous do you want to be."
She adds: "Pants are the go-to because they are the most comfortable thing, they look good and they are a functional garment. Women can go about their day and feel 'dressed.'"
Still, can you get the compliments with pants that you always seem to receive when you wear a new dress?
Absolutely, says designer Nanette Lepore: Find your fit and a good tailor, and the kind words will come.
A teenager or even a young 20-something who probably mostly wears jeans or shorts has never really lived through a high-fashion pants moment, she says. This is her chance.
She can break away from leggings or skinny jeans — or at least try them in prints — and she should try the relaxed track-pant silhouette that has broken out as a trend, says Lepore, who designs a youthful line for JCPenney called L'Amour. "It's going to be a little bit of a leap for her, but she's going to get the coolness of them."
"I have them on today," Lepore said. "I wear them with a nice peasant top — I decided to mix it with something soft and feminine — but most girls will wear it with a simple T-shirt. But I wanted to move it to a new place if we're going to make it our new go-to pant."
For a more sophisticated customer, she'd recommend clean, slim-leg trousers paired with a tailored suit jacket. "I really think the suit could be the new dress."
And Lepore says higher waistbands are on the way.
As for the wide-leg option, it's out there, especially a cropped style that landed on Nasr's radar after previews of the resort collections that will be available around the holidays. She predicts there will be even more of them next spring, but adds that they're an acquired taste and won't be for everyone.
Lepore says women "just love skinny pants. We will put other things on the runway, like that soft pant, which morphed into a cargo pant, but I don't see a flared leg coming back anytime soon."
The jumpsuit, however, is ripe for a return, says designer Abi Ferrin, who spent three years retooling the silhouette to create one she thought would work for her own more curvy shape.
Ferrin is better known for her dresses, but she really wanted the jumpsuit in her repertoire. Her newest twist for fall is a jumpsuit with the genie-style, cinched-bottom ankle.
"It seems scary until you try it on, but you put it on, and put on a tall shoe, and it looks great," Ferrin says. "It's work upfront, but it's one and done. You get the ease of pants, but all you have to do is add earrings and a cuff bracelet."
But trying on pants is something many women dread, says Devina Foley, vice-president of merchandising at retailer Loft. She's been dubbed "the pants whisperer" inside the company as she has worked with chief style director Alia Ahmed-Yahia to overhaul the design, fit and overall shopping experience for pants.
"There are a lot of women who need to hire a baby sitter because they know it's going to take them so long to get pants," says Foley. It doesn't have to be that way; it could be a five-minute transaction, she pledges.
The last time pants were a must-have for the important fall shopping season was about five years ago, and there has been improvement in fabric technology since then.
There are good options with some wool and some cotton — but all with stretch — that will allow for some drape but still have a smoothing effect, Foley says.
At Loft, the waistband also has become a little wider to create the look of a flatter middle, and the side seam down the leg has been moved forward slightly so the front looks slimmer.
When shoppers find a pant they like, they buy multiples, she says, which they don't do when it's a dress or a skirt.
Why? Part of it is loyalty to a flattering pant, she says, though it's not as exciting as a cool printed shirt or expensive-looking necklace.
"It's not the pant itself, it's what happens around the pants — a sliver of the midriff showing on top, great shoes or accessories that you'll talk about — but you remember where you got your favourite pair of pants," Nasr says.
She says you need that perfect basic canvas. "I take comfort in the fact that a great pair of pants is a great pair of pants."
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