“It’s the feel good thing that we all needed after a year of doom and gloom.”
“Barb, I feel like we lost our shimmer,” laments Kristen Wiig‘s Star, to her best friend, played by Annie Mumolo, in the most emblematic movie of our times (and, truly, the best film of 2021), “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar.” Relatable, as this perfectly describes how I’ve been feeling after 12-plus months of isolation and time loops, thanks to a still-ongoing pandemic.
Barb and Star venture out of their stifling Midwestern hometown for the first time ever and embark on a color-saturated beach vacation, which neighbor Mickey (Wendi McLendon-Covey) evocatively characterizes as a “soul douche.” And because a true reinvigoration must also include a fashion element, the duo pack suitcases full of their beloved wardrobe staples: easy, free-flowing culottes.
“We all had a very rough year,” says Trayce Gigi Field, the movie’s costume designer Trayce Gigi Field (“Dead to Me,” “A.J. and the Queen,” Tiffany Haddish’s new comedy, “The Afterparty”). “The culottes say the same thing that the movie says: It’s the feel good thing that we all needed after a year of doom and gloom.”
Because after a year in sweats, I’m finally feeling hopeful and actually excited to dress up again (in addition to following the CDC guidelines for responsible masking, of course) — along with everyone else, apparently. But I’m also admittedly reluctant to give up the comfort of those trusty soft pants that I’ve been wearing for over a year. A rigid waistband and constricting leg silhouettes just sound really limiting, like this past year.
Breezy culottes — possibly in bright colors and vibrant prints, but always in flowy, downy soft fabrics (and ideally with stretchy waistbands) — help progress our wardrobes back to normalcy and even traverse those conflicting feelings of excitement and anxiety in interacting with other people again.
“[Culottes are] the perfect vacation piece. For Barb and Star, it basically was the thing that they built their vacation outfits around,” says Field. Like how Barb tells Star before their eventful night out, also featuring the best club remix of “My Heart Will Go On” and a delightful musical turn from Jamie Dornan: “You know what we should wear tonight? Our evening culottes!” Because the duo, taking constant inspo from their favorite magazine, culottes, Culottes, CULOTTES, have the playful cropped trousers for all occasions, from beach-y daytime ones to their all-out party pairs.
Culottes also can help the gradual transition away from those dreaded virtual meetings, whether working from home in the business-up-top/pajama pants-downstairs uniform or actually heading back into the office refreshed, but still comfy. In the final — and Covid-non-existent — season of “Younger,” Liza (Sutton Foster) puts out fires and heads up C-suite meetings at Empirical Press in a charcoal grey double-breasted culottes suit by Celine (below), thank you very much.
“A culotte is still giving a lot of style and it has a real strong look, but it’s giving some comfort, as well,” says the show’s costume designer Jacqueline Demeterio. “It’s not like you’re feeling strangled in a pair of tight-fitted trousers for the day. It has some movement and some flow.”
With her big secret finally out to everyone after six seasons, Liza confidently power walks through the offices in the designer suit, styled with a bright asymmetrical print Proenza Schouler top and Malone Souliers T-strap Mary Jane stilettos. Demeterio took inspiration from the signature ankle-baring Thom Browne suiting aesthetic, but kept it 100% Liza: “I felt like the culotte was just a cooler office look for her, yet still in charge.”
Demeterio found Liza’s suit, along with a treasure trove of past season designer gems, at the outlets last fall. Creating a fashion time loop of sorts, Hedi Slimane reinterpreted the ’70s through a series of culottes and cropped trousers for his earlier 2020 Celine collections, while sending his luxury takes on pandemic go-to nap dresses, athletic shorts and slouchy pants down the runway for Spring 2021.
Also, as if time stood still, resale site Thredup reports a recent bump in interest in cropped wide-leg styles, of varying lengths and level of volume, over the past few months. Think: summery stripes from Gap (yes, they do “make denim culottes,” Barb!) to languid plush silk satin by Peter Pilotto.
“I think consumers are ready to retire their sweatpants, but they’re not reaching for hard pants just yet,” merchandiser Kesha Linder tells Fashionista, via e-mail. “Culottes are a great compromise for a polished look without sacrificing comfort.”
It seems like designers are feeling that way, too. New York-based indie brand SVNR recently expanded its offering of wardrobe basics and jewelry with a billowy long short. “I was really inspired by sporty basketball shorts, so they have a real high rise,” designer and founder Christina Tung says. Made in New York City, the slouchy and elastic-waistband Bee Short comes in a rainbow of hand-dyed hues on luxurious 100% silk. Tung explains that the velvety, longline and relaxed silhouette “sits at the intersection” of loungewear and out-and-about-in-the-city style.
“We’ve been home in sweats for the whole entire winter. This is a little upgrade, but still feels comfortable,” she says. “I love those clothes that feel like pajamas, but don’t look like pajamas.”
For versatile flair that Barb and Star would definitely appreciate, Tung added drawstrings to ruche the sides. Wearers can adjust the shorts shape and length to their liking, per occasion and personal style. “I love oversized everything, so I would wear these with an oversized t-shirt or tank top and slip-on slides — just for an easy, casual, relaxed look,” says Tung.
Los Angeles-based label Toit Volant, designed by co-founder Alnea Farahbella, offers a range of culotte lengths and silhouettes for all events and moods: the paper bag and elastic waistband khaki Claudine, the wide-front-pleat Alex, the sporty-meets-lounge-y Desert Pants and Rafale Palazzo Pants.
Farahbella’s silhouettes offer fond memories from her adventures in before-times. After growing up and graduating from college in Southern California, she spent a decade living in Osaka, Japan, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Hanoi, Vietnam. She reminisces about the pajama-style wide-leg trousers worn by women in Southeast Asia, while also appreciating the utilitarian aspect of the balloon-shaped, drop-crotch nikkapokka pants worn by Japanese construction workers — which incidentally have become a fashion trend of their own.
“It’s really the functionality,” says Farahbella. “With my lifestyle, [my husband and business partner] Arno and I have always traveled a lot, and I’ve never had a job where I’ve just sat down. I’m always moving.”
Farahbella appreciates the unconstrained trousers to stay mobile and nimble within her design studio and the duo’s factory, Nana Atelier. She also embraces a culotte for her off-hours, while exhibiting her self-expression and creativity in playing with proportions.
“I have such an unusual style and I do a lot of layering,” she says. “So even with my culottes, I’ll wear our Santa Ana long dress along with it. I just feel like protected. It’s like an armor. At home, when I just want to take it easy, I wear it with a crop-y top and I’m not a crop top type of person.”
Living in L.A., where its denizens embrace short-shorts to enjoy the year-round warmth and sun, Farahbella finds that an ankle-baring and voluminous culotte can be just as impactful — similar to Liza striding through the Empirical offices.
“I just love bigger silhouettes. It’s just so fun. I don’t know. It’s the way to get attention for me,” she says. That’s the beauty of a culotte, especially in our now-times, as we slowly — and boldly — reemerge and reclaim our shimmer, but happily stay within our literal and figurative comfort zones.