Culottes, a Tricky, New Wardrobe Basic


img-setI’ll admit it! Back in the ‘70’s (when I was still a kid) this fashion stylist hated culottes or as they were called back then, gauchos! With a passion! And in the early 2000’s when the knit culottes, glorified pj pants, were the rage, I again couldn’t wait for the trend to be over.

But today’s culottes? I love them! They feel and are being worn completely differently than the previous styles. They’re often referred to as wide legged cropped pants, and often what you find in the stores seem a bit long. I almost always have my clients shorten them a bit, so they don’t just look like flood pants!

If you’re someone who isn’t crazy about skirts, but you want to wear something cooler than pants for warm weather, culottes are your answer! I have a client who told me the other day that although she has some skirts in her closet, she much prefers pants and for casual wear, shorts. I can’t wait to introduce her to culottes.

Culottes in a neutral color, i.e. white, tan, black, or navy, in a tailored style can be a great basic for your professional or business casual spring/summer wardrobe. I can’t promise they’ll become a true classic, but due to their versatility, I can see them sticking around for at least a few more years.

If culottes feel a bit trendy for work, try them in denim or another fabric for an update to your weekend casual wardrobe.

Even though they’re versatile and comfy, they’re a little tricky to style.


Here are a few fashion tips to help you choose the best pair for you and exactly how to wear your modern culottes.

  • Wear heels. 

Culottes are very similar to a midi skirt, and unless you have really long legs, it’s important to wear them with heels for a flattering look. Even if you’re thinking, “But Dana, I don’t wear heels,” trust me…even a 1-2 inch wedge or kitten heel will help.  Similar to a wedge, the stylish flatform will also give you needed height with comfort.

  • Wear a top that stops at your hipbone or higher.

Styling culottes, or a “split skirt” is almost exactly the same as for a full or A-line skirt. Wearing a shortish top elongates your legs and keeps you in proportion. Another option is tucking in your blouse…even a half tuck creates a great look. Going monochromatic with your color scheme is also a great leg lengthening strategy.

Once you have your primary layer mastered, feel free to experiment with different lengths of layering pieces. A long vest over your ensemble is a fresh look. Or turn your culottes outfit into a suit with a matching jacket…nothing staid about it!

  • Choose reasonably wide culottes that hit anywhere between the bottoms of the knees to about 4-5 inches above the ankle.

You may see longer and fuller pairs on street style stars, but they’re truly not all that flattering, easily veering into flood territory (especially since Denver isn’t the biggest fashion mecca in the world.) You’ll find pleated, extremely wide styles that will overwhelm almost every figure except the very tall woman. And you’ll find narrower pairs that, to me, simply look like cut off trousers or clam diggers. Simply be on the lookout for culottes that almost disguise themselves as a skirt on the hanger in the store.

Once you’ve created basic, office outfits, I encourage you to try more looks with your culottes. There’s no reason you can’t transform your culottes into a more casual weekend look or pair them with a dressy top, shoes and accessories for a night out!

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