September 23, 2008

I Heart M.C. Hammer (Pants)

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When we last saw our fashion protagonist, she was dangling from a sharp precipice in Paris by the seat of her extremely flowy pants, and we all wondered, would an explanation come? Would the trend cross the Atlantic? Would advice be given?! And now, the ex­citing conclusion, when all will be revealed.
Seriously though, at the end of my last column I pro­mised to talk about M.C. Hammer pants, and I never miss an opportunity to extol the virtues of funny-looking pants. I should clarify right now that although I did just refer to them as “funny-looking,” all of the pants in this article have my full support.
When I arrived in Paris this summer, the single most ubiquitous item (even more than scarves) were baggy, slouchy, dropped inseam pants. There were worn in a wide variety of lengths, fullnesses, and degrees of absurdity, but they were everywhere, and they were worn by everyone. The most ridiculous sighting of this trend was a woman in dark wash relaxed-leg jeans whose inseam was only just above the knee, and which made the wearer look like she had a rather full diaper. Other than that unfortunate incident, the pants appeared to be in one of two types of fabric; either a soft jersey knit or a linen (or linen-esque) fabric. The former tended to be more like cropped leggings, with a wide swath of fabric between the knees that made the pants look almost like a skirt, while the latter were typically of a normal inseam, with wide, ballooning legs. Think Jasmine in Aladdin, or the crazy off-beat hippy ladies at music festivals. These appeared as shorts at mid thigh, at knee or mid-calf length and as full pants. These basic categories are sound, I think, but there were all kinds of hybrids and, I might even say, mutants (e.g. the aforementioned jeans and a pair whose inseam was literally at the ankles). So, don’t wear those anytime you might need to, you know, walk, for example.
A pant by any other name? These pants are currently being referred to under the general title “harem pant,” so named (with questionable political correctness) because of the style of pants worn in the traditional garb of the Middle East and South East Asia, although earlier relatives went by the name of parachute or M.C. Hammer pants. According to my Wikipedia re­search, they were named “parachute pants” after the material that was worn by breakdancers in the late ’70s and early ’80s, who chose it for its durability and low amount of friction. Like most aspects of early hip-hop, these baggy pants were appropriated into mainstream culture, where the term parachute expanded to describe the large amount of fabric used for them. As for the name Hammer pants, if I have to explain that to you, you are not allowed to be my friend.
While it was originally surprising to be surrounded by a new style, on further reflection I realized that the move was not unprecedented. These current pants are just a few steps away from the very popular gauchos of a few years ago, and an evolution from “bubble” or “tulip” skirts, whose construction is the same as the Princess Jasmine pants; the bubble effect is created by the outer layer of fabric being sewn to a shorter, inner layer, creating the volume at what would be the hem.
On the runway: Over the last couple of seasons designers have featured increasingly baggy trousers, re-introducing the pleat, and experimented with jodh­purs (riding pants). Voluminous pants have appeared, it is agreed, as a reaction/alternative to the ubiquitous (yes, I like that word) skinny pants, and were present in designers’ Fall 2008 and Spring 2009 lines. 3.1 Philip Lim featured low-inseam barely cropped trousers for men and women. He chose a gorgeous cobalt blue for one pair, which fits in with the jeweled tone slouchy trousers in satin shown at both Proenza Schouler and Nina Ricci. Georgio Armani showed a rich plum pair with a trouser waistband and wide, multi-tiered legs that gathered at the ankle, while Ralph Lauren went with neutrals for his silk harem pants and dropped crotch trousers.
On your radar: The truth is, this trend hasn’t totally made it to America, and specifically hasn’t trickled down into accessible stores. Forever 21 has a few “cropped trouser” models from $20-30, including one gorgeous high-waisted, pleated cropped tweed called a “puffed Capri,” and Mango has one style for $39 that’s of the legging/skirt variety, a mid-thigh cropped black polyester/cotton knit. I’d imagine they’ll be coming in the near future though, so key words for shopping are going to be “harem,” “parachute,” “slouchy” and “tapered/banded/pegged leg.”
How to wear it: So as to avoid looking like you are in costume for an Aladdin party (though I did have an awesome one when I turned six), or old and frumpy, the key is, as ever, all in proportions and contrast. This means that if you wear something baggy then you also wear something structured; if you wear something loose, you wear something tight. (If you wear Jasmine pants, you DON’T wear a crop top.) As far as the Parisians are concerned, these pants are just like any other, so I saw them with heels and sleeveless shirts for night, high tops and hoodies for day and everything in between. I have two pairs I bought at the market in my neighborhood: a cropped light grey pair and a long black pair (for 10 euros each!). I like to wear them with long, slimming shirts, and, as it’s getting cooler, cropped jackets or structured knits. I’ve been wearing them with flats, but the runway has been using the shorter length to showcase stunning pairs of high heels. Add in a scarf, a statement necklace or pair of fantastic earrings and you’re set.
Next time: M.C. Hammer might not be the only eighties relic coming back; stay tuned for the return of the tight-rolled jean. Complete with how-tos, and you too can look like a member of New Kids on the Block!