Isle of Capri

I love getting requests; Breena asked about capris, the calf-length pants we associate with Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday and Sabrina. "Are they still stylish?" she wondered.

I'm in the position of commenting about a pant I haven't worn since I was a slender 30 year old, but my GF Christine, who's approaching 50, looks ravishing in hers. Breena, if she wears them, they're still stylish.

ear capris with the spirit intended by Sonja de Lennart, the Prussian-born designer credited with their invention. She named them after her family's favourite vacation spot.

In 1948, she created a tight, three-quarter length pant with slits on the outer hems, in specific lengths for summer and winter wear.
Shown, the ankle-length winter style, with capri blouse and belt, from de Lennart's first collection.

There are three things you need to wear capris well, which is not as easy as, say, jeans. Some stylists advise women to just forget this demanding pant unless they are runway-model types.

1. Shapely
(That disqualifies me right now, but you may proceed.)
You'll also benefit from smooth, unblemished skin on your calves, since capris are never worn with hose.

2. A well-cut pair
In 1952's Roman Holiday, Audrey was dressed by Edith Head in de Lennart-designed tight capris; Givenchy kept the look alive for Sabrina in 1954. Audrey's capris, a departure from Katherine Hepburn's wide, pleated trousers, took the world by storm.

The closely-fitted pants flatter those with slim hips, flat stomachs and a well-shaped derriere. Just because the pant is short, do not focus only on where it ends. How does it fit in the waist, hip and seat? Good capris never have elastic waists and could not be worn for yoga. Capri-length leggings are not capris.

3. The kind of figure to carry off a close-fitting tucked top (as shown on all photos) or if not tucked, a top that ends at the waist.

The narrow, rather short top creates balance for the abbreviated pant length, essential to avoid the gym-teacher effect.
You need not be small-busted if you don't mind showing off your shape in the closely-fitted top. Anita Ekberg, Gina Lollobrigida and Jane Russell all wore capris, along with their lithe counterparts like Juliette Greco.

Wear your capris with balmy shoes, suitable for lunch in a cafe on this most romantic isle. I like ballet flats, wedge espadrilles, or strappy sandals like the yellow pair shown with J. Crew's Brushstroke Café Capri.

You might also wear capris with heels, a dressier look; again, these are from J. Crew, who offer plenty of of choices, from silk to poplin, each summer.

find a longer, wider pant like the white Gap crop below more forgiving than the capri- so if, like me, your capris have gone the way of minis, don't despair. There's a summery pant for everyone.

Imogen Lamport of Inside Out Style posted on "Why You Shouldn't Wear Ankle Length Pants", and many of her points pertain to the other members of the abbreviated-pant family like clamdiggers, toreadors and pedal pushers.

Imogen says, "Unless you have ultra long legs (like a model), then ankle length pants should be avoided as they are almost universally unflattering. If you feel you must wear them, they need to be skinny, not wide (which doesn't suit the 8, X or A shapes out there) and worn with a high heel."

But for decades, the women have tried to channel Audrey, the sprite who cycled in narrow ankle length pants worn with ballet flats.

In the 60's, Babe Paley, Slim Keith and Jackie Kennedy wore the ankle-length version in wool or silk with sandals and a simple sweater, a socialite look seen to this day.
Some of the 2009 capris have crept noticeably shorter than the '50s version; J. Crew's look closest to the originals.

If you love the playfully sexy look of capris, experiment with proportion, insist on perfect fit, and face the fact that over fifty, abbreviated and tight
anywhere on your body needs more consideration than it once did.


Susan B said…
Capri pants have become my go-to for casual summer wear, as I no longer opt for shorts. Great choices here, and as my stock does need replenishing, I will be having a look at these you've featured.
Frugal Scholar said…
Although I've learned a lot from Imogen's blog, I must say I've never stopped wearing capris and ankle pants. And I can't wear heels. I must look OK as my editor (aka teenage daughter) has not scoffed at me.

Also, I've seen some 40-60 yo women wearing capri leggings with big shirts. They look very chic. Needless to say, you have to be on the thin side for this to look good. I'd be interested in your take on this look.
Duchesse said…
Frugal; The capri legging with big shirt look on anyone but a teen is not my taste, rather Schlumpadinka as I picture it in my mind's eye but I suppose has its place, like running to the gym. It's another planet from a pair of sleek capris, strappy sandals (heels are only a variation) and a blouse.

I don't think leggings are ever chic worn on their own, in public, past one's youth. Do like the thinner kind worn under a skirt or dress.

Pseu: It will be fun to see what you choose, in your new palette and twists on it. Capri, blouse, scarf and one of your great bags, I love that look.
Breena said…
Duchesse~ Thankyou so much for responding to my question so quickly. I need to replenish my summer wardrobe and am no longer wearing shorts. They just don't look right on me anymore.
I love the look of cropped pants. My goal is to look elegant and cool in the hot weather.
I love my capris for casual wear. I have been seeing a lot of dumpy capri outfits on the street and started wondering if capri pants were still considered stylish.
I am going to edit my look a bit this summer and go for capri pants over shorts on the hottest casual days.
I do enjoy your blog. It's been a Godsend to me as I am coming to terms with my over 50 self.
Anjela's Day said…
I love capris! Easy to wear and look great in spite of my body falling apart!! I tend to wear mine with high heels for the first two hours in the morning, chunky rounded toed brougish high heels and by 12.00 I am in ballet shoes or bare feet!
The only problem I have is when I wear 3/4 sleeves with my capris and I look like Bride of Frankensteinish- why? because I am so tall !!
Great blog and pictures Duchesse. I must check out J Crew.
We could all wear them if we looked like Audrey!

They just tend to be very leg shortening so worn with some attention to this (most I see pay no attention to this issue and so they don't work).

Wear them in a colour that is more similar to your leg colour - so brown for those lovely brown skinned women, and stone or beige for us whities, and the look can be way more flattering as the colour doesn't break up the leg so much.
Duchesse said…
Breena: My pleasure, and happy you find this useful.

Imogen: Once you think shorts no longer work on you, capris are the next stop. So I appreciate your advice on making capris work, as, like pashminas, women find they are good wardrobe staples.

Anjela: I am sure with your long legs capris look great.
NancyDaQ said…
Imogen, the suggestion about matching the color of the pants to skin tone is a good one!

Even if one chooses a variety of colors, I think it's best to stay with more neutral shades like khaki, slate, sage vs. pastels or brights. Let the accent be by the face not by...well, you know.
sallymandy said…
This is very interesting. I cannot give up ankle pants--on the wide side--and flats. I read about this pants choice in The Pocket Stylist, which is my #2 style guide after Imogen. I feel they work well for me.

These might not technically be capris but rather more of a crop. They are not skinny.

I agree with Breena. There are some truly dumpy capri outfits out there. And the ones that hit right at the widest part of the calf do nothing for anyone.
Mardel said…
I like Imogen's comment about matching color. As I no longer wear shorts, and although I am tall my legs are quite short for my total proportions, capris are difficult as well. Even so, I find that they can work if one really pays attention to how one puts them together.
lagatta à montréal said…
The problem, of course is what on earth are we supposed to wear in the summertime if we aren't Audreyesque? A burkha?

Fortunately women can wear skirts and dresses. The only shorts I own are loose, very casual ones that I wear doing housework on hot days. They do not set foot (or bum) outside the house.

Remember that long, heavy trousers can also look "heavy" in hot weather. I have a colleague who never wears anything else, and in some ways it makes her heavy thighs (she has an orthopaedic problem) look more glaring than anything else would.

I only wish I could find more things in slate and other grey neutrals - so flattering, elegant and so hard to find.
Duchesse said…
Lagatta; When it's really hot, I wear a skirt. Long, heavy trousers look (and are) hot! I have seen some lovely linen pants in pale gray or off white... but I am susceptible to sitting on a blueberrry, or other pale-clothes-destroying moves.
WendyB said…
I've always loved cropped pants. Not a shorts person.
Anonymous said…
Duchesse, I have been reading your blog for about 6 mos. now and love it. We are about the same age....our hair is even similar. My problem.....I am 5'3, weigh 160 pounds and cannot diet any more. Yesterday I spent the entire day looking for a pair of pants....everyday and dressy. NOTHING fit. Theory only goes up the size 12....I read you are a 14-16, but probaly tall. What brand do you suggest? I really would appriciate your help.
Wish you lived in Florida or I in Canada.
Duchesse said…
Lynda: Thanks! I have prepared a full post on this for Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2009.

Yes, I am tall- but like you that makes me a hard to fit size, and so many brands stop at 10 or 12.

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