The Wide-leg Linen Trousers: Inspiration

Let’s talk about high-waisted trousers. I know they aren’t for everyone, but somehow everyone managed to convince themselves of 7-inch rises, whether it flashed the world or not, right?

High waists are one of the few resurrected styles that seemed to take forever to trickle down to the mortals, in an era when fashion and manufacturing cycles seem to be on speed. Fashion-trickle-down (or trickle-up) is such a dinosaur of the pre-internet past. But it took Urban Outfitters like 5 years to knock this off:

When this Chloe collection first appeared in spring 2005, I was in love and went on a mission to find a more affordable pair. This might look pretty normal now, but I’m telling you people were whacked out when they saw this. There was a lot of NO WAY.

At that point, their polar opposite, low-rise skinnies, were just starting to take over the world, but boy, did I hunt. And I managed to find a pair of very form-fitting, squish-me-in-70s, high-waisted jeans–I mean crawling-way-above the navel-high-rise.

I’m beside myself now, since high-rises are everywhere.

{credit: (ponte polyester–now that’s 70s!), Marc Jacobs Spring 2011 ad campaign, Alice & Olivia (, Adam (, and Tucker high-waisted flares.}

Back down on Planet Sewing, it will probably be another year (or 5) before there’s a comparable pattern from which to work. Since most of these are clearly 70s-inspired, I could always go with a 70s pattern but lack the confidence or pattern-making skills to fit something so, um, fitted. I will stick to buying them for now. Plus, I am dreaming of linen and stretch linen is hard to find–I think something that slim needs to stretch–how did they ever breathe back then?

Of course the 70s don’t have the high waist cornered, I just happen to be partial to them. We’ve got high-waisted 80s, which exaggerate the opposite shapes, like the “carrot” pants which I’m still not sure about on me. Jeans from the 80s were really high-waisted but so freaking sackish. Except for Brooke Shields and her Calvins. Things went tent-like after that.

{Via 39th & Broadway. A resurrected 80s rocker look from French Vogue 2009.}

Then we’ve got the looser Katherine Hepburn trousers of the 30s/40s. The mannish trousers, if you will, that seem to fall so eloquently from waist to floor. I could probably live in these, no doubt, and will have a much easier time fitting them than my 70s inspirations.

Soooo. I have a gorgeous length of cobalt blue linen that I washed over a year ago and is just waiting to be cut. I wanted the perfect pair of linen wide-leg trousers that I could live in all summer. I went through a couple of patterns trying to figure out which would be best.

Like many sewers, I’ve never been completely happy with the fit of pants patterns so at some point I gave up. Last summer I thought of using the linen for the semi wide-legged HotPatterns Marrakesh pants, but after making a muslin I wasn’t so sure. I wanted something a bit more fitted and higher up on the waist. It’s a great everyday trouser pattern, just not exactly what I envisioned.

After seeing some beautiful versions of Wearing History’s Smooth Sailing pattern, I decided these would be a better idea. These recent Elizabeth and James trousers (right) are almost identical in styling, down to the sewn-down pleats in front. And I can have my very own.

{Top photo credit: Grey Ant jeans, Terry Richardson for Vogue Nippon, 2007}


  1. oonaballoona says:

    fantastic post…. high waist pants are crack cocaine and i can’t wait to see yours. i’ve been trying to persuade ruggy of their absolute awesomeness and so far… no dice.

  2. Sherry says:

    A classic case of swings and roundabouts!
    I think they are a lot better for your figure long term too – since I’ve been wearing garments at the waist I’m a lot more conscious of holding my tummy in and I’m sure my waist is a size smaller as a result!

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