A night at the casbah

When harem pants came down the runways at Chloe and Alexander McQueen for spring 2009, they somehow glided past the cartoony pop culture associations (Barbara Eden’s Jeannie in the ‘60s, MC Hammer’s ‘80s gold) to help define summer’s effortlessly slouchy look.

But the style is hardly effortless to pull off. In fact, next to hot pants and high-waisted trousers, harem pants may be the most daunting item of clothing to wear. They tend to make the hips, rear and thighs look larger while making legs seem shorter. So, why venture into the harem? Because these pants are a great way to mix up the predictable pieces of the season and add something daring to a wardrobe. You can make these pants look chic and flattering -- it’s all a matter of balancing proportions and adding the right accessories so the statement is bold, not “I Dream of Jeannie.”

These pants fall and drape in the right places on our lithe, 5-foot-9-inch model, but if you’re heavy in the hips and thighs or have short legs and a long torso, you’ll want to wear really high heels to get a similar effect. Sky-high stilettos will eliminate the frump factor and add a seriously sexy line to the portion of leg not enveloped in the pants. To keep the overall silhouette clean and balanced, wear something tight and minimal on top -- body skimming tanks are best for summer -- tucked in or belted so that the waist shows.

If you are large chested, wear a cropped, fitted blazer or jacket to keep the proportions right. Stay away from shoulder pads or anything too bulky, though, unless you’re trying for that “Hammer time” feeling.


The most easily wearable pants I found were a black and white printed silk style from 3.1 Phillip Lim. The slightly slouchy drape across the front looks relaxed but not overwhelming, and because the style isn’t as extreme as most, you can wear flat sandals to keep the pants summery and island chic.

Sir Alistair Rai has a bolder take, with sequins, billowy legs and a waistband that’s similar to the ones on boxing shorts. Since the pants are the main attraction here, pair them with a tank in a muted color. Some chunky gold jewelry and strong heels make this look elegant but daring, and with the elastic waistband, it’s an evening outfit you can actually eat in.

American Apparel, Alexis Lamontagna and Ella Moss are using comfy cotton jersey for their version of the look. Their harem pants are casual and can be worn with something more sporty, such as a racer-back tank or fitted V-neck T-shirt. Great heels will dress them up and flatter the body, but if you’re comfortable with the silhouette, flats or flip-flops will work too.

All these pants have a huge cool factor because the look is so unexpected. And trust me -- when it works, it has an attitude and slouch that simply says “sexy tomboy.” Don’t be afraid to try it.