One activity that continues to stand the test of time in Paris for both locals and tourists is people-watching. Al fresco cafes naturally lend themselves to this, with tables facing the sidewalk and long, lingering meals and drinks encouraged. The high population of stylish people in Paris truly makes this activity enjoyable because one will see many unique, elegant people in chic outfits that look smart, yet effortless. Looking stylish while being comfortable is often a hard combination to create, but the French do this remarkably well, always looking as if they didn't try hard at all.
And then there is the occasional piece that can only be pulled off in Paris. By a Parisian/enne. With a statuesque body. Enter the most prominent trend I saw in Paris that hasn't quite become mainstream in the States yet: harem pants.
Don't be mistaken; these are not of the bright pink variety you wore with your Princess Jasmine Halloween costume you wore in 5th grade. Or college, although the top in college was probably a lot more revealing, just like the actual Jasmine, whom I still consider to be too tartly dressed for Disney. But this is the same company who gave all princesses a pert C-cup enclosed in seashells and bustiers.
The harem pants gracing the runways of YSL and Marc Jacobs range from ballooning, to MC Hammer width at the hips and thighs, to "skinny" harem pants. The basic idea of these pants are:
- loose shapes in soft materials
- hems between the knees and ankles
- with banded material at the hem
The pants cling to the body only at the bottom; some cling from the low thigh to mid-calf, and others simply look like gauchos with rubber bands at the hems. Most versions I saw in Paris were comparable to those on Ashlee Simpson, below.
I did see a few quirky, passable combinations with harem pants that surprised me, given their avant-garde shape in terms of street wear. Many young girls paired them with clingy tees and flip flops. Others wore a tank/vest combo on top, and some of the girls truly willing to combine cultures wore them with gladiator sandals, tall and small. My favorite look involved a pink short-sleeved camp shirt under a brown vest, with beige skinny harem pants and bright green flats. The colors, except the shoes, were quite neutral and the trendiness of the pants were offset by the old-school layering on top. The flats popped the outfit and took the dressiness of it up slightly.
One credit the French must get is willingness to experiment without looking like a total train-wreck. As daring as these pants are, and despite my unwillingness to participate in this trend yet, I didn't see any harem-panted madamoiselles and think "Mon dieu." Rather, they looked as if they might be young models, or just grabbed them out of a drawer in the morning, added a cardigan, flats and slouchy bag without a second thought, and dashed out the door with confidence and effortless chicness.
But while these particular girls pulled off this look, there are probably going to be thousands of women who try this trend, 90% of whom shouldn't dare. Here are the risks of donning the harem pant:
- pear-ization. Any pant that is smaller on the bottom and voluminous on top will widen the hips and thighs, and of course, the derierre. Beware hippy women.
- balloon-ization. Unfortunately, like many trends, this was not made for curvy women. Odds are if you are larger than a US size 8, harem pants will hide your curves in volume, making you look larger overall, especially the poofier varieties.
- risky top pairing. What on earth does one wear with such a pant?
Well, as with most loose-fitting bottoms, one must wear a tailored or close-fitting top to complement harem pants. The top must also not be too long, because these pants will be the focus of the outfit, so hiding them is useless. If you're going to try Jasmine on for size, try these tops:
- 3/4 or short-sleeved Oxfords or camp shirts
- clingy tees (any neckline)
- structured tanks
- short-sleeved cardigans
- flat sandals
- ballet flats
- overly casual tops. This makes the outfit look more PJ than fashion-forward.
- long-sleeved cardigans. This is a summer look.
- embellished tops. Add beading to harem pants and you will look like you're wearing a costume.
- tunics. Blocks the pant styling.
- empire waist tops. Flowy midsection with flowy legs is too much volume.
- gladiator sandals. The ones that really look Greek just create a look that's too ethnic.
- stilettos. This look is too casual for spikes.
If you try the harem pants right now, you'll undoubtedly be ahead of the trend here, and will have the bragging rights to say you wore them before everyone else in the States did. However, wear 'em the wrong way and you'll just get a lot of weird stares. The most "flattering" pants I saw were of the skinny variety, in dark colors. And these pants are already a statement, so keep accessories on the subtle side, save for a bangle or a funky necklace, which would work great alone.
To send you off, below are some other harem pants looks. Remember this as well: what works on rue Rivoli in Paris may not translate for Greenwich, so keep your surroundings and audience in mind. Wear 'em if you dare, but don't say I didn't warn you!