True confessions: I've been avoiding the printed pants column.
Despite my affinity for all things stylish, there are those rare occasions when I'm not on board with high fashion. Sometimes I see a look on an awards show red carpet that all my favorite trend watchers rave about, so I say, "Oh, that's ... modern," and then promptly check for crop circles.
Anne Hathaway and Rihanna wearing palazzo pants. For those of you unfamiliar with the terminology, palazzo pants are basically full-length Hammer pants, except worse because they're fitted in the hips and butt, with huge legs. The worst ones I saw had a wide, vertical stripe. They looked like a re-purposed circus tent.
So I waited for the printed pants trend to stabilize. Some disappear without ever becoming wearable, but I thought perhaps this one would be different. And lo and behold, printed pants look chic and practical this season.
Printed pants are very distinctive, so they're not what you'd call a closet staple. People will notice if you wear them more than once a week. To help you find the pair that suits you, I've chosen some beginning, intermediate and advanced prints, along with tips on how to style them.
Beginner: Dots, herringbone, neutral plaid
Herringbone and neutral plaid (like glen plaid) are classics, and I would say almost not patterns at all, but we have to start somewhere. With these, go for a full-length work trouser. I like a straight leg for my trousers because it looks better with my shape, but you can also do a not-too-wide wide leg. Don a bright color on top, whether in the form of a blouse or a sweater, to perk up your outfit.
If you're reading this thinking, "Herringbone ... pffff," but start twitching nervously if I say the word "ikat," polka dots are for you. It's an easy pattern to pull off because it's small, not intricate and only composed of two colors. A pair of polka dot skinny jeans, for example, is easy to find and pairs well with almost anything in your closet. Just don't wear a plain white top to match the white dots. Remember, in today's fashion climate your goal is not matching. You may need to write that down.
Intermediate: Fall floral, monochromatic patterns
You usually think about wearing floral prints in the spring, but this year, fall florals are huge. My favorite way to see fall floral printed pants is in the form of a cropped, ankle or straight-leg trouser. You want them to fit somewhat loosely at the in the waist, hips and rear, sitting just under your navel, with diagonally cut side pockets. On most people, this kind of fit is most flattering, which is especially important when we're talking printed pants. They cannot be too tight. Then, the leg should taper down to your ankle - with most patterns, a wide leg is simply too much pant. These fit considerations go for the advanced patterns below also.
To easily style any ambitious pattern, pant or skirt, you need three closet staples: a classic, slightly oversized sweater in gray or camel; a chambray shirt; and a pair of nude pumps, nude or subtle gold flats, or neutral loafers. These items are like the extras in a movie scene at Grand Central - they support the action and make it seem more like real life, without being distracting. Sometimes even a black or white shirt is too severe, so consider the chambray shirt your new white collared shirt, and the gray or camel sweater your new black sweater.
Advanced: Brocade, tribal prints, patterns with contrasting colors
If you're ready for a full-on pattern fest, the world is your oyster. Brocade, which is basically ornate embroidery, looks like it will be extremely popular for fall and winter, as will baroque-inspired prints.
The pictured pair from Club Monaco incorporates hot hues burgundy and royal blue in a ratio that doesn't make them too busy. You can definitely find a more affordable pair, as printed pants are everywhere, but these pants do a lot of things right. They're bold and trendy but fit easily into an existing wardrobe, and importantly, the pattern matches up at the visible seams. This is key to a flattering pair of printed pants; it's a quality that will tell you whether the expensive pair is worth it or whether the cheap/marked-down pair expensive.
(E-mail Kristyn Schiavone at email@example.com, follow her on Twitter at @KKSchiavone or write to her c/o Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave, Ste. 1400, Chicago, IL 60611.)