I had tried my 10th pair of trousers at various stores in the shopping mall, from the sustainable and not-very-adventurous Cottonworld to fast-fashion leaders H&M and Forever 21, when a deep feeling of despair came over me. It looked like it was going to be yet another futile shopping trip to find what had become a personal fashion holy grail: the perfect pair of narrow, cropped black pants.
Over time, it had become almost an obsession; as someone who’s most comfortable in jeans and trousers, I just had to have the kind of black trousers that go with everything and that you can spend the day in. I had reluctantly accepted that black cigarette pants would not look as good on me as they did on the leggy, lissome actors on TV shows but the heart wants what the heart wants.
I love colour but cropped black pants are not only flattering and all-forgiving, they can look both formal and casual given what kind of top you pair them with—and they are fantastically easy to pair. With close to a dozen pairs of black trousers in my wardrobe, I have identified some of the reasons most of them don’t make the cut. Pure cotton simply does not work. It may look good when it’s new and you are trying it on, but after a few wears and washes, the fabric loses its stretch and looks baggy, the colour fades and you are left with what are essentially pyjamas.
I tried super-formal black trousers, and while they fitted well, it was agony to be in them the whole day, sucking my breath in and feeling the waistband cutting into my tummy. They were discarded immediately.
In every woman’s life, there comes a point when she has to embrace the liberating pragmatism of the elastic waist, and I had reached mine. With a pandemic on, a new hunt started, though mostly online—and I thought I had found The One when I came across this sleek pair. The fabric looked thick but not too thick, and it had a wide elasticated waistband that gave the impression of being able to hold the tummy in without squashing the innards to the point where you feel like Wile E. Coyote plastered to a wall. I had high hopes of this pair.
Alas, they looked like leggings when I wore them. That perfect gap between the seam and the calf that distinguishes well-tailored pants from workout-wear was absent.
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The reason it is difficult to find The One, I discovered, was that women have a number of “fit points”—waist, hips, bottom, thighs, calves—and to get a good, comfortable fit, the constriction of the trousers has to be perfect at each point. Then there are variables like the rise (low-rise, mid-rise or high-waisted) and leg length. And then there are body types. There’s a reason those H&M or Zara pants don’t fit many of us well—one of my many flirtations was with an H&M pair that looked perfect on paper, like a well-written Tinder bio, but despite ordering one size above my usual, they fit my skinny teenage daughter.
Given the many, many things that have to come together to make that glorious fit-and-feel possible, I felt like Elizabeth Bennet giving a set-down to Mr Darcy: “I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished women. I rather wonder now at your knowing any.”
“Trousers are the biggest pain-point for Indian consumers and the product category we spend the maximum amount of time and effort on,” says Ayushi Gudwani, founder and CEO of womenswear company FableStreet, which has a wide selection of ready-to-wear bottoms in several styles. When I ask her if we can talk about why the garment is so tough to get right, Gudwani asks, “How much time do you have?”
“Firstly, you can’t just take an international pattern and fit it to the Indian body. Our hips are more rounded, we have heavier thighs. Even slim women have a soft and rounded tummy. Simply adjusting for shorter heights doesn’t work—the hip-to-crotch ratio gets skewed and you have an ill-fitting pair. Then you have the problem of people going by their natural waist measurement—the narrowest part of the waist—when it actually sits at a different point on the body. That’s why we insist on the ‘wearing waist’ measurement as well—the point at which you actually wear the trousers,” says Gudwani.
Fabric, she says, makes a lot of difference. Pure cotton will simply not have the kind of fall and stretch you need but a pure polyester is not conducive to Indian temperatures. What you need is breathability and tensility—a mix of cotton and a stretchy fabric like lycra or spandex is ideal. “In fabrics without stretch, when you sit down your thighs will spread and flatten, making the pants uncomfortably tight. So your measurements while standing and sitting down are also very different, making the construction even more complex,” says Gudwani, who says she went through her own quest for years to find a great-fitting pair before she started FableStreet.
Incidentally, a FableStreet pair is now my go-to—the only drawback so far being it’s not cropped to my preferred length. But that’s easily rectified.
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Designer Payal Singhal says she owns 20 pairs of the same black pants from a Canadian clothing brand (the Dexter pants from Aritzia) she stumbled upon during a trip a few years ago. Before that, it was the same story as the rest of us—not being model-thin, she finally found that the best course of action was to get them tailored. “Thankfully, that’s one option available to us Indians pretty easily. Getting bespoke clothes made is not unaffordable and finding good tailors is not a huge challenge, so if you have tried everything and are still unsatisfied, get a bespoke pair done and you can keep replicating it,” advises Singhal. “Also, don’t be afraid to try out everything, and get out of your comfort zone. In many ways, the rules of love and dating apply—try out many options, don’t be afraid to experiment, and when you find the perfect one, stick with it.”