Culottes have been a fringe trend for four years, and are finally getting mainstream traction. They are appealing because they combine the visual read of a skirt with the practicality of trousers. There are lots of styles in stores at the moment, so if you’re interested in adding the silhouette to your wardrobe, it’s a question of finding the ones that work best for you. 

Shape, fabrication, design detail, length and colour all have a significant impact on how culottes fit, look and wear. Here’s a breakdown with examples to help you make sense of all the options.

1. Wide or Narrow Silhouettes

Here the first two styles flare out a lot more at the hems than the third and fourth styles. The flared silhouettes are dramatic, feminine and authentic. They tend to create a less streamlined effect and can be a lot of culotte to commit to, especially when the fabric is stiff and the side seams flare out without collapsing back onto the body. 

The tailored and wide silhouettes look extremely good on hourglass and pear shaped body types, much in the same way fit-and-flared skirts do. The slimmer silhouette tends to work well on a straighter body type, but there are no rules here. With attention to detail and the correct fit, you can wear the culotte shape you want.

2. Mini, Knee or Midi Length 

Culottes come in a variety of lengths. The ultra short versions are like shorts. But most culotte styles fall at the knee, just over the knee, or go as far down as the mid and lower calf. Knee-lengths and lengths that just cover the knee tend to be the most flattering and the easiest to wear because the lengths cut your body into thirds. Longer lengths are more theatrical and trickier to style unless you are tall. They often need heels to create flattering proportions, although combining a pointy toe flat and tucked top with midi length culottes does wonders to lengthen the leg line. Creating a column of colour with longer culottes is also effective.

3. Stiff or Soft Fabrications 

Fabrication is as important as fit. Of course, the fabrication will determine how dressy or casual the culottes are. But more importantly, if you’re after drape, soft and silky fabrications are the way to go (like the styles three and four above). It’s much more forgiving to wear voluminous culottes with a dramatic flare when the fabric is soft because the volume collapses back onto the body and swooshes from side to side as you stride creating a more streamlined effect. Culottes in stiff fabrications like the faux leather and poly blend in the first and second examples are less forgiving and a whole lot more culotte.  

4. Simple or Complex Detailing 

Culottes can be cut clean and simple with no bells or whistles like the first two styles above. Flat front, regular waistband and fly front closure, or pull-on elasticated styles. Or the silhouettes can be intricately pleated from the waist or hip like the third and fourth styles. Extra pleats and gathers make the style more voluminous, playful, girly and flirty, but can make you feel wider than you are. Lack of detail creates a straighter and somehow more masculine and minimal vibe.

5. Solid or Patterned 

Culottes are available in both solids and patterns, and in all sorts of colours. Patterned versions tend to be the more unexpected and bolder choice, whereas solids are more subtle and easier to style (especially in a dark neutral).  

The wide variety of culottes means that there is a style to suit everyone. If you’re after something very dramatic, you might choose a wide flared midi length in a bold pattern made of stiff fabric with pleat detailing. If you’re after the other extreme — “culottes-lite” — choose a knee-length, narrow silhouette in a simple cut, soft fabrication, and solid dark neutral. And then there are all the options between these two extremes. 

I’ll be covering how to pair culottes with tops and footwear later this month so stay tuned. Are you wearing culottes? If so, which silhouettes tickle your fancy?