Ponchos are typically available in one of two silhouettes: those with neck openings and those with front openings. The former has a hole for your head and drapes over clothing without a centre front opening. It stays put once you style the direction of the drape. The latter opens down the centre front and looks more like a wrap. One of the front panels can be thrown over the opposite shoulder to create some extra drama. The open-front styles can be a little fussy, slipping around as you move. But they’re fine if you’re not having an active day with lots of arm movement.
Ponchos in either silhouette can be solid or patterned, heavy or lightweight, fringed and bordered, long or short, and in any colour. Their fabrications vary from the breeziest cotton, cotton blends and silk, to the warmest of wools and wool blends. Their hemlines are asymmetrical by design to add structure to the voluminous silhouette.
PLEASE don’t think that you have be slim, tall and willowy to wear a poncho. You don’t. I’m helping petite clients across all sizes style their ponchos and it’s going well. Choose a poncho that is a little shorter to start off with and wear the shorter portion in front so that the hem is straight or asymmetrical. Choose a style in a soft knitted fabric that drapes back onto the body as opposed to a rigid woven fabric that creates boxy folds on the body. Solids work best, but if you’re after a pattern, choose a subtle one.
Ponchos can be worn in all sorts of ways, but pairing them with jeans is the easiest of all. Here’s how to create some casual and smart casual combinations.
1. With Full-Length Skinnies
Combine a pair of skinny jeans with a layering top, poncho and boots. Add a bag and voilà, you’re out the door. The fitted silhouette of the skinnies offsets the volume of the poncho. Think long sleeved T-shirt, turtleneck, blouse, or button-down shirt as the layering top.
The poncho becomes more of a top than a jacket when it covers the top underneath. This is often the case with a shell top underneath.
Ponchos can also be very lightweight, and when they are the outfit can be finished off with sandals.
The examples below show a high contrast between the jeans and poncho. Create a low contrast between the two items if you’re after an outfit with more vertical integrity.
2. With Cropped Skinnies
Cropped skinnies are a trendy alternative to full-length skinnies. Wear them with the same types of layering tops, but wear footwear that is higher on the leg, like booties with higher shafts, or open shoes with high ankle straps. Cropped kick flares will also work, but won’t be quite as flattering.
Create a column of colour if you’re after more vertical outfit integrity, which might be the case for the version with cropped kick flares.
Pair shorter ponchos with denim culottes — another variation on the cropped pants silhouette — and add heeled footwear.
3. With Flared Jeans
A poncho with flared jeans is the most ‘70s and retro combination. Keep the flares fitted on the thighs to compensate for the oversized fit of the poncho. Wear the poncho a little shorter — like in example 2 below — for extra structure. Although these examples have been completed with sandals, feel free to wear boots, sneakers, pumps, loafers or oxfords.
Casual ponchos worn with fringe, faded flares and platforms create a boho chic vibe. Dressy ponchos worn in a crisp, hard-edged, graphic or minimal way look more avant-garde. Both looks are fun and fab, making the poncho a piece that transcends the trends.
Although I’ve focussed on pairing ponchos with jeans, feel free to substitute the jeans for trousers in the same silhouette for business casual. Or wear ponchos over sheath dresses and pencil skirts.
My clients either love or loathe the poncho. Those who enjoy drape, boho vibes, avant-garde silhouettes, or have very casual lifestyles, love it. Others find the item fussy, unflattering, overly casual, too blanket-esque, and above all far too unstructured. Personally, I’m not into wearing ponchos because I’m a big jacket and coat gal. But I love the look on others and I’m having a ball helping clients pull together their poncho outfits. What’s your take on the poncho, and do you wear it with jeans?