Your place to come talk about clothes whenever you feel like it.
For as long as I could remember, dressing my lower half had been about the tuck. I tucked skinny jeans into tall equestrian boots, styled straight-leg denim with ankle booties, and—I’ll admit—stuffed too-long Juicy Couture sweatpants into Ugg boots.
Growing up with the unfortunate task of defining my personal style in the early 2000s, bootcut hemlines were just as scary as a Furby. My ideal outfit consisted of skintight Abercrombie jeans, a lace-trim undershirt, and a Lacoste polo with a popped collar—bonus points if my lacy top ever so slightly peeked out from underneath.
I cringed when my mom requested I try on a pair of wide-leg trousers and recoiled with horror at the sight of my older sister’s once-cool flare embroidered jeans. How could so much extra material possibly flatter my athletic thighs and size-six butt? Surely the only way to make my thighs look smaller was by stuffing my lower half into painted-on dark jeans.
As I grew from Juicy sweatpants to AG jeans and colored denim, the formula stayed the same. Throughout my college days, I tucked the too-long hemline of my skinnies into a pair of well-loved Madewell riding boots and voilà—I didn’t even need to visit a tailor.
Come graduation, the transition to workwear was shocking. Luckily, I wasn’t headed to the corporate world of suits and pencil skirts but to InStyle, where I could have fun with fashion—whatever the heck that meant. In my first attempt at buying work pants, I headed to Aritzia’s SoHo outpost. I had long gushed over the feminine silhouettes in its store windows, but never before had a need for silk pants or tailored blazers.
My intentions were good, but quickly I fell into my old trap. I pulled drawstring joggers, straight-leg trousers, and one-size-too-small cigarette pants off of the racks, and quickly found them utterly unflattering. As it turns out, stiff material is far less flattering than elastic denim when squeezed over my curves. Shocking, I know.
I had nightmares about the type of pants I didn’t want, the standard bootcut trousers that pulled at the top of my thighs and gaped at my waist. So when one well-intentioned Aritzia employee handed me a pair of wide-leg, high-waist sienna pants, I was quick to pass them back to her. Thanks, but no thanks.
Luckily, I chose the right shopping partner in my ever-patient mom. She reminded me that you never know how something fits until you try it on, a piece of mom wisdom that I can only assume gets handed to them in a book after giving birth. I reluctantly slipped them on and immediately face-palmed because, as always, my mom was right.
The pants were perfect. They hit high on the narrowest part of my waist sans gaping, skimmed over my hips and booty without pulling, and miraculously landed at the perfect length for my 5-foot-4 frame.
As I stared at the mirror in a stupor, the same salesperson pulled me a thin gray turtleneck to tuck in on top. My waist was defined, my legs elongated, and the extra fabric that I feared would make my legs look thicker actually worked in my favor. I still had so many questions—what shoes would I wear, what coat would I top with, and do these come in every color—but like any financially prudent shopper, I made the purchase and left, vowing to figure it out as I went.
My next few buys were steps in the right direction: tissue-thin turtlenecks, suede ankle booties, and a black, skirted robe coat that I discovered worked well with my floaty hemline. I assembled the perfect first-day-of-work outfit—a ribbed gray Topshop turtleneck, black stiletto ankle boots, and my magic Aritzia pants—and confidently strode in the building, finally feeling like a full-fledged employee instead of a scrambling intern in a 2-year-old miniskirt.
Slowly but surely, I built up my wide-leg arsenal. I snagged a pair of wool tied trousers on sale at Aritzia in the winter, went comfy with Madewell elastic-waist culottes in the spring, and stocked up on cropped, wide-leg Zara pants when my shopping budget ran low. While still hesitant to rock a pair of flares on a night out or a date, I reach for them time and time again on the morning before a big interview or nerve-wracking meeting. Something about their waist-defining, booty-skimming silhouette has me walking taller, speaking up more, and most importantly, getting heard. Plus, according to my very scientific study, I get carded less in trousers than skinny jeans, which everyone knows is an accurate way of gauging how “adult” you appear.
Am I worried that I’ve just adopted a new uniform to wear to death? Yes. Do I fear looking like the abominable snowman if I dare pair my flares with a cozy sweater? Also, yes. But hey, I’m still learning.
So for now, I’m on the hunt for the perfect cropped cape that—when paired with wide-leg pants—will turn me into the fashion superhero I know I can become. Luckily, I know just the website to help me out.
This story originally appeared on InStyle.com: How My First Pair of Wide-Leg Pants Helped Me Become an Adult
All photos by Kyleen James.