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As London’s social season kicks off this month, making the chicest entrance will be: culottes.
Half trousers and half skirt, these wide-legged separates are fast becoming the summer’s hottest item. “It’s the new relaxed mood in fashion,” says Laura Larbalestier, Browns’ buying director. “Women are preferring culottes to dresses as they are not so bothered about being dressed up.”
Culottes have seemed modern since their first incarnation, which allowed daring Victorian women to sit astride a horse rather than to ride side-saddle.
Once considered frumpy, culottes remind some of school uniform and others of the 1950s uptight preppy American blonde with her twinset and Pappagallo bag. Even now, the loose silhouette can create a tricky shape to wear. Personal shopper Eliisa Makin says: “Culottes can make you heavy on the hip or, [worse], look like a triangle.”
This season’s looks, with unexpected fabrics, fine details, innovative prints and popping colours, are anything but frumpy. There’s Hermès’s super-luxe tan calfskin culottes (£5,110); Fendi’s white silk with sexy sheer panels (€1,800); Gucci’s satin burnt orange and mauve, art deco print (£1,240); Roksanda Ilincic’s basket weave texture (£760); 3.1 Phillip Lim’s black and white version with its unusual side drapes ($450) and Balenciaga’s edgy black mash-up with a miniskirt overlay (£695). Then there are Proenza Schouler’s neutral, crêpe pleated pieces (£795), which have been a hit on Net-a-Porter.
For Ilincic, culottes offer timeless elegance with a sense of fun. “I like their hint of the quirky or unexpected,” she says. Fellow London-based designer Emilia Wickstead, whose white denim pair sold out on pre-order at online retailer Moda Operandi, praises the culotte for its edgy androgyny.
PR manager Lara Lucas, who has just bought her first pair, says: “I’ve had my eye on culottes for a while but this season there were more options.
“My white silk Zara culottes have a flow as I walk. They are feminine and make me feel more polished and grown-up but, as I’m a tomboy, I feel safer in it being a short and I can run around all day and evening. It’s workwear but not boring.”
New York designer Adam Lippes has given his culottes a sporty look, including an elasticated waist and side satin trims. “I see high-style women wearing them day and night along Bank Street in [Manhattan’s] West Village and in the coolest of places like Soho House New York, London’s Chiltern Firehouse and the glamorous Berners Tavern [also in London].”
Yasmin Sewell, fashion blogger, says: “Culottes are about women dressing for themselves rather than for anyone else.”
Natalie Kingham, head of fashion at luxury online retailer matchesfashion.com, says: “Women are travelling internationally so much now, going into different climates and cultures, that it is increasingly important to have pieces that translate wherever you go. And culottes work particularly when it is hot and there’s a need to be conservative or covered up.”
Because it is such a statement, Makin advises keeping everything else simple. “Keep it to a block colour, either neutral black or navy or a very bright pop colour like bright pink with an orange top as this looks more modern and keeps it fresh for summer,” she says.
Emily Johnston of popular blog Fashion Foie Gras, adds a final word of caution. “Stay away from pairs that fall at the thickest part of your leg. Have the bottom swing just below the knee or below the calf, depending on how low you’d like to go.”
More of this week’s Style stockists