Improving My Body Image, One Pair of Non-Skinny Jeans at a Time
10.24.17

Consciously choosing to wear clothing that fits well and makes me feel good is one of the most effective things I’ve done to counteract the taxing mental fog of bad body image I still, after so many years, can’t seem to shake. It felt like a breakthrough tantamount to discovering electricity. I guess that’s how logic manifests in a pretty extravagant case of brainwashing: by accident.

When skinny jeans departed from the zeitgeist after a solid nine-year streak, the wide-leg culotte silhouette that replaced them was a welcome reprieve. Where wearing skinny jeans felt like an unwelcome anatomy lesson, wide-leg, high-waist cropped jeans felt…compassionate. It’s an odd word to associate with clothes, I know, but in this case it’s apt.

Wearing culottes wasn’t a magic trick that made me love my body, but it did make me think about my body less. They had literal and figurative wiggle room. The extra space to breathe and expand and roll and ripple — that’s what felt compassionate.

Like all trends, though, this one was doomed from the beginning, and there came a point of over-saturation whereupon culottes just weren’t that exciting anymore. I sensed the trend pendulum starting to swing back to more constricting shapes like straight-leg raw denim, but I wasn’t ready to let go of wide-legged freedom, even as it became noticeably less fresh.

As I digested this realization, I felt a familiar sense of conflict. While I’ve always been keen to let fashion’s fickle trend tides sweep me up in whatever direction they choose to head, I’m mournful when they inevitably move away from a style or item that made me feel like my best self. (I’m looking at you, off-the-shoulder tops.)

The transient nature of trends means that “cool” and “flattering to me personally” don’t necessarily overlap every time. (To clarify: by “flattering,” I am referring to whatever makes your emotional self feel like a million bucks, which obviously varies immensely from person to person).

In my wardrobe’s long-standing game of Rock, Paper, Scissors, trend beat flattery time and time again. I purchased things that I rarely wore, or if I did, that made me feel self-conscious. My love for wide-leg pants was the first time the scales tipped. Flattery beat trend fade-out. I bought two more pairs — one white, the other hot pink — and I’m currently eyeing some corduroy options to round out my expanding, multi-seasonal collection.

Once I realized how good it felt, it unleashed the flood from behind a dam I didn’t know existed. I bought a high-waist bikini from Marysia that I delighted in wearing so much I decided I would continue to do so for as long as the delight lasted, no matter what swimwear trends cropped up in the meantime. I also gave away any item in my closet that failed to properly celebrate the distinct composite of skin, cells, bones and guts that works in miraculous harmony to keep me alive.

I expected this shift in thinking to hamper my sense of personal style, which I always proudly characterized as experimental. Instead, it sharpened it, making me more confident than ever about what I wanted to wear and why.

I still experiment, but I try to do so in a way that feels curious instead of compulsory. If I don’t like how I feel in something, I don’t have to wear it. In the end, there’s nothing cooler than that.

Feature image by Horst P. Horst via Getty Images.

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  • Bmo

    Yes! Every time I wear tight skinny jeans/pants I have a worse day than if I were wearing my nice baggy boyfriend jeans.
    This is also how I feel about cap sleeves, which are an evil that should be purged.

    • Hayley

      Cap sleeves are THE WORST.

    • Cristina

      Gah, I’m envious. I have major hips and boyfriend jeans look soooooo terrible on me. Very Oopma Loompa ish.

      • Bmo

        I only wear high waisted ones that I can pull up past my belly button lol. helps me avoid that problem

      • Amelia

        CRISTINA GIRL I FEEL U

      • Ana P

        I have major hips too but I wear my boyfriend jeans until they’re so loose they’re literally hanging off of my hips. The benefits of comfy pants TRULY outweigh that one little con for me.

    • Randip Parhar

      Exactly how I feel. If I do decidebto wear skinny jeans… worst day ever. Also, is it just me who feels the need to pee more throughout the day when wearing skinny jeans??? Also diaper butt when the butt of skinny jeans are loose.

  • Hayley

    Totally relate to this piece. I will always gravitate back to what I find best represents me (in terms of comfort, happiness, and how I like to project myself) vs. whatever the new trend is. Should the new trend accommodate my personal style or be a welcome shift in my comfort zone (like Harling, looking at you off-the-shoulder tops), then great! If not, I will pass.

    • Cristina

      I’m 99% sure and much more confident in my pant of choice being of the sweat or yoga variety moving forward. Haha!

  • Eliza

    All I want are navy culotte cords. I feel like they will change my life.

    • Amelia

      PSA: & other stories has wide leg high waist belted navy corduroy pants right now and they are life changing

    • Kimbones

      Me too. Please get a mainstream broadcaster to publish it when you find them so I know where to go.

    • Harling Ross

      they actually might

  • tuberoseandvetiver

    Culottes and straight legged jeans are the best. Every time I wear skinny jeans I regret it after I eat.

  • Amelia

    This could not have come at a better time! I’m starting slowly to transition from skinny jeans (which TBH aren’t that flattering on me) to wide leg. Anyone have any suggestions for wide leg pants/jeans that are around the $100 mark or less?

    • Madeline C

      I like everlane’s wide leg crops (if you are looking for cropped)! They are a great price point and super soft and comfy. I will say I had to get mine hemmed. I also feel like it took them a little while to conform to my body so I didn’t feel like they were bunching up top. Now I love them! https://www.everlane.com/products/womens-hirise-wide-crop-pant-surplus?collection=wide-leg-crop

      • dayman

        just bought the green ones and having the same issues! I’m kind of okay with the longer length but glad to hear the bunching issue resolved itself for you, hoping mine will do the same cause I love them otherwise!

      • Amelia

        I have a pair and they KEEP BUNCHING UP around my… ahem, lower stomach area.

        • Madeline C

          Hahahaha, exact same thing happened to me! Eventually they stretched out enough that I like them way more now but it took a while. I think part of the problem is that I should have sized up. I tried on a 4, 6, and 8 and all of them fit me. I thought I wanted the 4 because you want it to be really tight at the waist. but I think it would have been more flattering and less bunchy if I had gone with a 6 or 8.

          • Amelia

            oooooooooh ok noted!!

      • Harling Ross

        strongly considering

    • jiggahava
    • dayman

      I agree with the Everlane recs but Madewell also has some good options and I especially like their wide leg jeans! I usually try to wait for a sale to buy but I think they are typically around $120ish

      • Amelia

        Between when I posted this comment and you replied I went to Madewell to see and they don’t have any wide legs right now 🙁

        • dayman

          Oh no! I hope they add more of a selection again soon! I did see these https://www.madewell.com/madewell_category/DENIMBAR/flarejeans/PRDOVR~G7204/G7204.jsp which are kinda basic but cute and similar to ones I have and love!

          • Amelia

            I LOVE THESE U R AN ANGEL THANK U

          • Maren Douglas

            Also with madewell you can take in an old pair of jeans and they use for insulation in houses anddddd they give you $20 off a new pair 😀

          • Randip Parhar

            Really?!? So cool! Do thry have to be Madewell jeans, though?

          • Maren Douglas

            Nope, any brand!

          • Randip Parhar

            Cool! Will definitely look into doing that.

      • Harling Ross

        agree madewell jeans are my go-tos

    • Charlie

      Check out Uniqlo!

  • The sentiment is spot on for what I’ve been experiencing over the past year. Culottes, however, look hilarious on me. Makes me think about how much more interesting the world would be if we all wore what made us feel confident/sexy/strong rather than following the trends.

  • Autumn

    I think you just explained the “personal” in Personal Style.

  • Kristin

    Mhhh I don’t know about them being over—still love some kamm pants, though not for comfort—while I don’t find them uncomfortable, they are so rigid and high! And that is the good thing about them. But I’m also not over skinnies— my skinny jeans love me in a way no other pants can—

  • This is also a product of getting older and getting to know yourself more, what you like and don’t like and trends be damned. I finally caved and bought some Kamm sailor pants and they can be pried off my cold dead body no matter where the trends swing. Long live the wide leg pants!

    • Harling Ross

      i’ve been wanting some kamm’s for awhile and this is tempting me to bite the bullet

      • Do it. I bought the highlighter pink Apiece Apart pants this summer which I love, but the Kamm’s are like 1000% more comfortable.

        • Harling Ross

          which color do you have?

          • Skin Tone 34. I originally went in to the store for Tobacco but I tried on the 34’s and never wanted to take them off. Definitely go try them on in the store! I was a size bigger than I usually take, but its different for everyone.

          • 808kate

            Ahhh I just got these a couple weeks ago as well in 34. I just have to say I love them so, so much. I have some other wide leg pants including the Everlane ones but nothing comes close to how these fit (like, secure on my abdomen and support the butt nicely? lol) and the fabric feels SO substantial but comfortable.

  • Fuck yeah, Harling. I’m keeping wide-legged forever, for the exact same reason. I have very narrow hips and broad, strong shoulders (I love you rock climbing, I’ll never leave you) and so the extra visual business at the bottom really balances my body out. I’m starting to wonder when all my raw hem shit is going to start feeling stale. Is it already? Hmmmm.

  • annie holland

    Between this article and “5 diets I tried and failed,” I feel so much better. I was so indulgent this weekend, as it was my birthday, and by Sunday- I was laying in bed googling “ways to recover after indulging.” It did nothing for me besides create even more body shame and food anxiety. Body image is such a struggle and I often wonder if I am the only one who is confident and smart and beautiful and successful- but cannot conquer the violent little voice in my head telling me to be skinnier/healthier/workout more. So its always nice to read these articles. #WideLegs4L Love you all at MR. xo

    • Harling Ross

      you are most definitely not the only one 🙁

  • Cynthia Schoonover

    I never wore skinny jeans because they weren’t made for my figure and I don’t like really tight clothes because I feel miserable. I wear what suits me, not necessarily what the trend is.

  • ladle

    I’ve never been the type of pick a trend over what makes me feel good. I think I got that (like a lot of other things) form mom, who drilled the ‘if you don’t like what you’re wearing the clothes will be wearing you and not the other way around’ saying in my head.

    • Harling Ross

      smart mom

  • dayman

    I feel the same about wide leg pants! Idk if they’re even more flattering on me or comfier than straight/skinny pants, but I just love them, have way too many pairs (but they are each special and great!) and will probably wear them even when they’re “over.” I’ve accepted it. That said, I feel like pants in general have been having a bit of a renaissance in the last few years–or is that just me? Growing up and through college I only liked jeans and if I had to dress up it was a skirt or dress to avoid pants, which I didn’t realize were cool yet. Now cords, plaid, patterns, bright colors, that straight but loose leg trouser look, cropped and long wide leg pants have all come back in at least temporarily, and pants are my new favorite item of clothing that I can’t stop buying

  • Can I add to this from a materials perspective: this year I’ve discovered the wide-leg, comfortable SOFTNESS of linen pieces. The feel of it is so gentle that it almost feels luxurious. Self-love in a strange way, too.

    Now, when I think of fast-fashion synthetic mesh type stuff I would routinely buy, all I can remember is how it would make my body super irritated.

    • Harling Ross

      #MENOCORE

    • spicyearlgrey

      WHERE?? can you pretty please post a link to these magical pants i needs some LUX pantaloons in my life

  • Jessica Downing

    This is literally me today! As a bigger girl I’ve always felt like I needed to wear skinny jeans to avoid looking bigger, but today I broke out a culotte jumpsuit and it feels SO GOOD!

  • Shea

    Yes!!!!

  • Another, often overlooked, bonus of your style outliving a trend: you can stock up big-time when the fad “dies” and all the culottes hit the clearance rack! 🙂

    Go stock up! Who knows when it’ll come back around again!

  • Zoe

    I just got a pair of high waisted, wide leg, denim, crop, overalls from The Gap, on clearance! Ive worn them 8 days out of the last two weeks. Seriously in LOVE.

    • Harling Ross

      GO GAP!

  • Chalisse Burrell

    This was right on time! I just got rid of my last pair of skinny jeans since realizing that they don’t make me feel my best. A lot of woman have complicated issues with the way we see our bodies and the clothes we want to wear. Once I started mostly wearing wide leg pants and full skirts I found that I like what I see more. Learning how to dress for my body ( not what I want it to be or what it once was) has been a game changer. Also, another reason to shop! I just love this site!

    • Harling Ross

      it loves u back

  • This article is calling my name. I’ve always loved wide legged pants and jeans and find that skinny pants, while fine for others, are super unflattering on me. When wide leg came back I rejoiced in being able to stock up on pairs I’d be wearing for years to come. I don’t care if they’re “on trend” or not, they’re MY style, and that’s all that matters to me.

    My fave pair still are these extra wide legged black pinstriped dress pants I got from Old Navy wayyy back when Old Navy had cool somewhat edgy styles. They still look awesome and I always get compliments when I wear them.

  • Miss Crystal

    I’m glad that other forms of jeans/pants are more widely available now. A few years ago when everything was only ultra-skinny and jegging type jeans, I was so traumatized from dressing rooms that I spent years only wearing dresses and skirts. It’s only recently that I’ve dabbled with pants (retro, high waist, slightly cropped).

  • JennyWren

    Hmmmnummmnm…that is the sound of me wanting to be supportive but also being quite selfishly terrified. I am short, with big hips and a small, short waist. Culottes are like a horrible nightmare for me, because they make me look like a hobbit even when they’re petite sized. And not one of the hot hobbits, either.
    I LOVE the leggings/ jeggings/ponte pants trend because they are so flexible in terms of fitting and don’t give me builder’s bum when I squat or bend over. I just know it’s going to be so much harder to find pants that work if they go away.

    • Gen

      I’m short (154cm) and stubby-legged af but I still wear em anyway. I just make sure they’re high waisted to maximize the appearance of length and wear shoes with a bit of a heel

    • silla

      I’m the exact same!

    • lateshift

      tbh (I’m in the same boat) – and yes, this is just my opinion, but it comes from bitter experience –
      it’s not actually the style…it’s a different version of the same problem those of us with this body type always have: most mid- to low-priced retailers don’t make clothes to fit petite people. They just don’t. And while they’ll add yet another plus-size every so often, and inflate the hell out of existing sizes until a 0 fits like a 6, heaven forbid they ever tack on a smaller size at the lower end. Even their “petite” clothes are often just…wrong.

      The point being: if you can find a company that recognizes that healthy adult human women really do come in many, many sizes, and that one of those sizes is “not large,” it is a life-changing experience. For me, that came the day I tried my first pair of Topshop wide legs…I swear, it was like the heavens opened, and angels descended. I’ve also had some luck with Forever 21 (yes. I know. But desperate times, etc) and the H&M Divided line.

      What I’m saying is: the problem’s not your body, and it’s not the style – it’s the manufacturers. This style rocks. And if you find a company that makes it in the right sizing, it will rock on you. don’t give up!!! #solidarity

  • Randip Parhar

    This article speaks to me on so many levels. I stopped wearing skinny jeans two years ago in favor of wide leg demin and boyfriend jeans. I just feel more free and confident in them. I feel like me!

    Also, wide leg jeans have really helped me complete the 60s/70s free spirited vibe I love so much.

    I am also on the look out for flared or wide leg corduroy pants. Any suggestions
    for a working college girl (less than $80ish) would be great!

  • rien de rien

    I love skinny jeans, but I’ve always preferred a wide leg for work pants. For some reason, whenever
    I have to buy conservative work clothes, I just end up emulating Bowie in his Thin White Duke phase. Last year I snagged the perfect pair of charcoal-gray, flawlessly pleated and cuffed, wide-leg wool trousers. I’ve never been more excited about a pair of pants.

  • G De Siena

    😍👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻

  • Jolanda van der Wagt

    I agree with what you said, although I am fine with the body that I have.

    I experimented a lot when I was younger too, but now I know better wat suits my body, and also (at least for me) comfort is much more important for me then it used to be! Especialy now that I have a child, I still want to look good, but I also want to be able to sit on the floor without any parts of my body hanging out of my clothes.

    Trends still inspire me and I still try new things though! For example culottes where a trend I appreciated a lot as well (although I am a bit tired of them now). But when I ventured into straight raw jeans recently, I was miserable the whole day, I felt like a slob! So although I like the look of them, they are not for me. I for one love skinny jeans, because I feel they suit my body type (tall and curve, UK size 12). Conclusion: I still like to experiment, but I am much more conscious of what suits my needs and my body type and care less about trends now.

  • Love them all!

  • Aliin

    I just bought some navy blue pinstripe ones from Uniqlo with JW Anderson. I’m in love. I should probably take them off at some point to wash them ..

  • Merrynell

    So hard to find one with length that fits shorties like me! Can you do a lookbook of culottes/wide leg/Jesse Kamm pants on ladies 5 feet and under?

  • Deb Calvanese

    I adore high waist wide leg pants and according to all the rules of fashion I shouldn’t. I’m a petite 5’2 1/4″ with a straight boyish body type. My hips and waist are almost the same measurements. I’m supposed to want/love mid-waist slim fit type pants but I don’t. I hate them hate them hate them. I don’t have enough hips to hold them up without a belt and wrapping a belt around that area of myself tends to mimic a tourniquet especially after a meal. Without a high waist on my pants it looks like I don’t have waist! I love the freedom of movement, the glamorous 1930’s Katherine Hepburn feeling of wearing high waist wide leg pants. I always feel DRESSED in them as opposed to just dressed if that makes sense and you can wear any kind of boot or shoe with them. Any kind! Unlimited options! How fabulous is that. Etsy has tons of shops that make wide leg high waist pants. I will never be without again! I agree – cap sleeves are horrid.

  • Jay

    Im actually the skinny jeans girl. I am sorry. But cause I am really slender, I had a hard time getting into wider pants – I felt lost in them?!

    Recently, and because I got this one pair of paper bag linen rose 7/8 very wide pants thanks to your color passions Harling I am getting more comfortable with wider pants.

    Maybe one day ill be the next Marlene Dietrich. Black wide pants rock… especially with that crisp white skirt…

    Bot for the moment I am still more Audrey. And my pants are cigarettes. Though I no longer smoke (my highlight for 2017)

    But fully agree this is all about feeling.

    And my weird body image makes me love mini dresses. And boots. But no cleavage and no tightness… loving my legs much more than my upper body. (Exception: love staring at my abs in the mirror at home. But that doesn’t translate into fall dressing… and it is cold in Berlin…)

    But it kinda makes me sad that we all have this… on the other hand… I’m not alone?

    And there are cool tools like girlsgonestrong who have courses on body image improvement.

    How do you guys work on it? Or dont you? Cause maybe this overanalyses and overselfhelp is BS after all?! Still trying to figure it out.

  • GuipureGwen

    Culottes did the exact same thing for me! It all started with a pair of Rhiè culottes last year. 😌

  • Yes! I found the perfect, comfortable cut for me six years ago and those are the kind of pants I wear several times a week. Tailored, slightly higher-waisted pants that hit right above the ankle (if necessary taking them tailored even if it’s only about two cm). Always picking a pair from Max Mara sales.

  • Mary Hinckley

    Love this article and totally agree–every year culottes and wide legs are in for me 🙂 So are velvet, crazy prints and elevated sportswear as that is what I like–it’s just helpful that these things are or recently have been popular.

    I wanted to say however that for me part of this is also is buying things for comfort or that you are drawn to style wise and not caring if you look ‘perfect in them’ for instance I like leggings, they are comfortable and can be fun but my legs are far from svelte–but I wear them anyways–as I get older I get more confident that anyone judging me can F off 🙂

  • Martha Pietruszewski

    What I struggle with is how I feel in stupid business casual. Why can’t I wear comfy jeans all day long????

  • Chandler

    Between this and the 23 insecurities, you are speaking to my soul this morning. You’re better than coffee Harling!

    • Harling Ross

      this comment is better than coffee

  • Alejandra Pintos Anelo

    This kind of articles are what fashion should be about. LOVE.

  • Hil

    I can totally relate on feeling like trends don’t always fit my body best, even though they’re different trends. I bought a pair of wide leg pants in the summer bc I thought they were so cute, but when I wore them I felt too big, like I was taking up more space then my body felt comfortable with. I even sometimes think they look good when I look at myself in the mirror in the morning, but I don’t feel good as I go about my day. I realized that I feel most comfortable and most myself in pants that are high waisted and straight. Similarly I feel frumpy in oversized tops. I think Haley looks so cute in the sweater article, but I’m too tall or my boobs are slightly too big, I feel better in slightly slimmer cuts (top and bottom I guess). Hey we’re all figuring this out for ourselves and don’t have to follow trends!

  • https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/43a75596f1e491c7d684bc0322af994247d809915e983fbab9facb03d896e697.jpg

    It isn’t about what size you wear.

    It isn’t about a trend that you HAVE to wear.

    It isn’t about wearing clothes that don’t fit your body and make you feel terrible and uncomfortable.

    IT IS about wearing what makes your body and mind look and feel great.

    For this writer, it is the culotte silhouette.

    For many women, the culotte style will make them look shorter and wider.

    It’s all about finding what’s right for you.
    Finding, to quote the writer Harling Ross, what makes you feel your “best self”.