What Happened to Pants?

Look no. 9 from Loewe’s Fall 2023 womenswear show featured a shirtless model wrapped in a delicious oversize leather trench. She was swinging the largest iteration of Loewe’s Origami bag, but what stood out to me were her boots: Cut from chocolate leather, they each had a floppy faux waistband complete with belt loops, button, and fly. The effect was that of a woman who had woken up, draped herself in glamorous leather layers—and then pulled her pants down around her ankles before strutting out the door.

paris, france march 03 a model walks the runway during the loewe ready to wear fallwinter 2023 2024 fashion show as part of the paris fashion week on march 3, 2023 in paris, france photo by victor virgilegamma rapho via getty images

Victor Virgile

A model at Loewe’s Fall 2023 show in an all-leather look with the brand’s pants-like Toy boots

We are now nearly a month into 2024, not quite a year later, and I cannot stop thinking about those boots. And it’s not just about how quietly chaotic they are, either. Yes, I’m impressed by the way Jonathan Anderson was able to make something so inherently silly feel so swanky. (Being pantsed never looked so opulent!) But I’m more curious as to what’s going on with pants in general. Like, are they okay?

Pants have been having an existential crisis for over half a decade now, ever since Gen Z started wielding the word cheugy like a knife. Skinny jeans were dead and low-rise jeans the future, a claim that sent a shiver down the internet’s collective spine, resulting in multiple millennial meltdowns. And don’t even think about throwing on a dress over a pair of pants unless you want to stir the pot.

Anderson didn’t stir the pot; he just made another one entirely. Loewe’s tall Toy pants boot has the enviable slouch of your favorite pair of jeans, along with all the details you’d expect from a five-pocket trouser. Key loops encircle the top of the calf, and there’s zigzag stitching around the zipperless fly. The shorter Toy doesn’t drape in the same way, but it does have a large (perhaps functional?) pocket near the ankle. The flat Toy boot has both pocket details and excess leather pooling around the heels.

emily ratajkowski at loewe ready to wear spring 2024 held at esplanade saint louis on september 29, 2023 in paris, france photo by swan galletwwd via getty images

getty

Emily Ratajkowski in no pants and Loewe’s boots that look like pants at the brand’s Spring 2024 show in September

At Miu Miu last February, Mrs. Prada deemed pants entirely irrelevant by sending models down the runway in embellished crystal panties. Kendall Jenner tried to show proof of concept around the same time while shopping for flowers in sheer stockings. I made it halfway there in 2022, cutting off one leg of a pair of jeans just to feel something (and investigate the rise of the unconventional style).

There’s nothing quiet about what’s happening to pants

Acne Studios entered the pants discourse this past autumn by charging nearly $900 for a pair of jeans that looked as though they’d been run over by a muddy BMX bike. At Y/Project, Glenn Martens made oversize jeans that appeared to be layered under tall denim cowboy boots—except the “boots” were actually just cowboy-boot-shaped panels, which could be removed to transform the pants into shorts. At Bottega, Matthieu Blazy designed leather pants that looked exactly like denim. And Anderson didn’t stop with the Loewe pants boots. In September, he debuted an impossibly high-waisted pair of pants that reached halfway up the rib cage.

paris, france march 07 a model walks the runway during the miu miu ready to wear fallwinter 2023 2024 fashion show as part of the paris fashion week on march 7, 2023 in paris, france photo by victor virgilegamma rapho via getty images

Victor Virgile

A model in Miu Miu’s bedazzled panties—beautiful in theory, but slightly unwieldy in practice

Everyone loves to toss around phrases like quiet luxury or back to basics or It’s the recession to describe this pared-back style moment, but there’s nothing quiet about what’s happening to pants. What has made them so ripe for disruption? And why does it make everyone so upset?

Forget quiet luxury—pants are now very loud

I think maybe Anderson said it best when asked backstage in September about his rib-cage-hugging pants. He told reporters the look was “subversive” but still “civilized.” In an age of naked dressing, the models were fully clothed—technically, the surface area of their bodies was more covered in pants than usual.

paris, france september 29 editorial use only for non editorial use please seek approval from fashion house a model walks the runway during the loewe womenswear springsummer 2024 show as part of paris fashion week on september 29, 2023 in paris, france photo by pascal le segretaingetty images

Pascal Le Segretain

A model at Loewe’s Spring 2024 show in a new, impossibly high pants silhouette

In practice, pants are just fabric tubes for legs. They’ve been an outfit anchor for decades—something you don’t have to think about too much. Socially, we’re expected to wear pants, and we mostly oblige. That might be why deviating from the original design seems to get people really worked up: It feels truly disruptive. Being caught with no pants on is, after all, a prototypical nightmare. But maybe as fashion gets a little more tame, pants have been given the opportunity to let loose.

a woman posing for a picture

Courtesy of Sarah Aphrodite

One-legged pants by independent designer Sarah Aphrodite

I can’t wait to see what inflammatory pants discourse will happen next. Will the skirt-over-pants trend make it to the mainstream? Will no-pants will become the new pants? What other non-pants items will designers make to look like pants? Seeing what happens to pants is one of the things I’m most excited about this year, mostly because the internet prophets have said 2024 gives “2014 vibes.” We’re only 22 days in, but King Kylie has already returned, which means we can’t be more than a couple of weeks away from disco pants and ripped stockings replacing High Sport, right? Clearly, the stage has been more than set for pants that are more fun. The options all are there—and it feels like this just might be the year people start wearing them.

Maybe I should disclose my own biases: Pants make me nervous. Sometimes I find them too practical, too bland. They don’t excite me like other staples in my wardrobe. In 2024, though, I might give them a shot, because for the first time in a while, “wearing the pants” doesn’t evoke just one image. And who doesn’t want to be the kind of person who wears the pants (boot) in a relationship?

Headshot of Tara Gonzalez

Tara Gonzalez is the Senior Fashion Editor at Harper’s Bazaar. Previously, she was the style writer at InStyle, founding commerce editor at Glamour, and fashion editor at Coveteur.