Women’s Pant Styles and Hem Lengths Demystified

I get a ton of questions about pant styles and hem lengths and what shoes to wear with the various styles of pants that are trending these days.

The good news is, almost anything goes right now. So feel free to wear the styles that suit YOU best.

The bad news is, with so many options, there are a lot of variables when it comes to putting outfits together. Confused? I am too! Let’s break it down.

Women’s Pant Styles and Hem Lengths Demystified

Skinny

Women's Pant Styles and Hem Lengths Demystified: Skinny Jeans

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Skinnies fit snugly and take the shape of the leg from hips to hem. They look best when the hem falls right around the ankle bone. Skinnies looks great with both flats and heels, and just about any shoe style goes from booties to wedge sandals, from ballet flats to pumps, and from loafers to sneakers.

The best part about skinny jeans is, you don’t have to adjust the length to your shoes. I’m convinced this is why skinny jeans have maintained their popularity for so long. They’re just so easy.

Skinny jeans are most flattering on women who have more of a balanced hourglass shape and those with longer, thinner legs. If you have thicker legs or are a pear shape, you may look better in a straight leg style. That said, skinnies are so versatile that I would have a hard time completely eliminating them from my closet, even if I knew I looked better in other styles.

STYLE TIP: Skinny jeans pair well with ankle boots, but there are some variables to consider — length of jean, size of leg opening, as well as the height and width of the boot shaft.

4 Ways to Wear Skinny Jeans with Ankle Boots

When pairing skinnies with ankle boots, you have a few options: 1) cuff the jeans so they end just above the top of the ankle boots; I prefer this look when the ankle boots have a lower shaft, because it tends to shorten the line of the leg, 2) let your jeans fall to the top of the boot and bunch or rest on top; this only works when the length of the jeans and the shaft of the boot just meet, 3) pull the jeans down over the shaft of the ankle boots; this works best with the sock booties so the jeans fit over top, or 4) tuck your skinnies inside; this works best with super skinny jeans that are tight to the ankle and boots with a slightly wider and taller shaft so the jeans fit inside without folding or bunching.

You may also like my post on how to wear ankle boots if you want more details.

Straight

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Straight leg pants aren’t as snug to the body as skinnies, but they skim the legs from hip to hem. These are a great alternative to skinny jeans if you aren’t comfortable in pants that are so form-fitting.

Straight leg styles should be hemmed just below the ankle, right before your foot starts. These pants look best if they don’t break on top of the foot. You can wear straight jeans with all shoe styles, and they are flattering on pretty much every body type.

STYLE TIP: When pairing straight leg jeans with ankle boots, you want your jeans to skim over the top of the boots, so the leg has to be wide enough and the boot shaft narrow enough for this to happen without the jeans bunching or getting “stuck” on the boot shaft. (See #2 above.)

Bootcut

Women's Pant Styles and Hem Lengths Demystified: Bootcut Jeans

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Bootcut pants or jeans are fitted through the thighs and flare out slightly from knee to hem. It’s important to have your bootcut styles hemmed to the correct length with the shoes you will wear with them — which should be ¼” to ½” from the floor, unless they’re a crop bootcut (see #3 above.)

Bootcut styles look best with a pointy toe heel (usually pumps or ankle boots) and I also wear mine with peep-toe booties and open toe sandals, but always with heels. If you wear bootcut pants or jeans with flats, I recommend a shoe with a pointed toe to visually elongate the line of the leg. (I couldn’t find any pictures online with flats; sorry!)

Bootcut pants and jeans are pretty much universally flattering, and they’re great for balancing out a top-heavy figure or wide hips. If you wear them with heels and have them hemmed correctly, they make your legs look a mile long. Here are some ways I’ve styled my bootcut jeans over the years.

Flares

Women's Pant Styles and Hem Lengths Demystified: Flares

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Flares are bootcut jeans that have a wider flare at the bottom. The same rules apply. Kick flares refer to flared crop styles, which is a big trend at the moment. (See #1 and #3 above.)

This style can be harder to pull off than, say, a bootcut or straight leg jean, so take into account your personal style aesthetic when determining if these are for you or not.

Trouser Jeans & Wide Leg Pants

Women's Pant Styles and Hem Lengths Demystified: Trouser Jeans & Wide Leg Pants

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These pants basically extend straight from hips hips to hem, or they may flare slightly. In this case, the back of the pants or jeans should be hemmed to ¼” off the floor; only your toes should show from the front (unless, of course, they’re designed to be cropped.)

I prefer trouser jeans and wide leg pants with a heeled shoe because the extra width has a way of making your legs look shorter than they really are, but you can do flats if you have longer legs.

Boyfriend Jeans

Women's Pant Styles and Hem Lengths Demystified: Boyfriend Jeans

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The idea of boyfriend jeans is that these slouchy pants look like you may have borrowed them from your boyfriend. They’re usually cropped and often cuffed.

Boyfriend jeans can be dressed up or down and generally look best with pumps or fashion sneakers (I know, two ends of the spectrum!) but you can also try them with ankle boots, sandals, or ballet flats, depending on the rest of your outfit. I tried to show a variety of shoe styles in the pictures above.

Here are a few ways I’ve worn boyfriend jeans over the years, if you’d like to see some more examples.

Girlfriend Jeans

Women's Pant Styles and Hem Lengths Demystified: Slim Boyfriend or Girlfriend Jeans

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These jeans are just a slightly slimmer version of boyfriend jeans. I find a girlfriend jean or “slim boyfriend” more flattering on me personally. You wear them the same way you wear boyfriend jeans.

Ankle Length

Women's Pant Styles and Hem Lengths Demystified: Ankle Length Pants

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Ankle length pants should end just above or below the ankle bone; the idea here is to showcase the skinniest part of the leg, and that of course depends on each individual’s legs. If you have thicker or shorter legs, you may look best with your ankle pants hemmed near the bottom of the ankle bone. If you have longer, thinner legs, you may prefer them above the ankle bone.

Ankle length pants can be skinny, straight, or flared, and the best part is you can wear just about any type of shoe with them and the length will always work.

Almost all my skinny jeans are ankle length, but I tried to tag some of those posts so I can show you some more ways I’ve styled ankle length jeans. I can add more after I publish this post!

Cropped

Women's Pant Styles and Hem Lengths Demystified: Cropped Pants

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Cropped is a somewhat nebulous term. These pants and jeans fall anywhere between the middle of the calf to the ankle, but I consider them shorter than ankle pants and longer than capris.

Your pants should never end at the widest point of your leg, so you want to hem your cropped pants to a spot where your leg is narrowing — generally that will be a couple of inches above the ankle bone. Like ankle length pants, cropped pants come in skinny, straight, and flared styles, and they work with pretty much any style of shoe.

STYLE TIP: If you’re a fan of OTK boots, cropped skinny jeans are the ideal pairing because they fit inside so neatly and don’t create any additional bulk in the ankle area.

Here are some ways I’ve worn cropped jeans over the years.

Capris

Women's Pant Styles and Hem Lengths Demystified: Capri Pants

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Fun fact: The term “capri pants” is derived from the Italian isle of Capri, where this style rose to popularity in the late 1950s and early ’60s.

These days, capri pants is really just another name for cropped pants, but they’ve come to be associated with the frumpier styles that end at the widest point of the calf, which is never a good idea.

Call them what you will, but make sure your cropped pants/capris end where the leg narrows — that is usually a couple of inches above the ankle bone.

Pedal Pushers

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Originally designed for cyclists who couldn’t pedal in anything that fell far below the knee, these pants are too long to be Bermuda shorts and too short to be cropped pants.

I actually saw an article that says these will be trending this spring, but I haven’t seen that happening yet. I actually think these pants can be quite flattering — more so than a Bermuda short, actually.

Pedal pushers are most flattering when they fit close to the thigh, but you’ll also see wider styles from time to time. You can wear them with pretty much any shoe but usually you will see them with a wedge sandal or sneakers or flats.

And I think that pretty much covers all the major categories!!! It’s hard to go into too much detail in this post because each style could be a post in and of itself, but my goal here was to give you a basic overview that you can refer back to as needed.

As always, I’m happy to answer any questions in the comments, and perhaps I can expand on a few of these styles in future posts.

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