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Fashion: Pants and politics

By Joseph V. Amodio
Special to Newsday
If there was ever a woman in need of retail therapy, we’re guessing it’s Hillary Rodham Clinton. She’s up, down, a shoo-in, a lost cause ó lordy, the mere mortals among us would’ve blown a gasket by now and run fleeing to the nearest mall.
If only she had the time. One glimpse of the racks and tears would well up all over again.
Just look, Hil. All those pants.
It’s not exactly a state secret ó the U.S. senator and presidential hopeful is pro-trouser. And why not? She looks good in them. (Better than those drab dresses and headbands of yesteryear.) If they happen to convey some sort of subliminal message about power, all the better.
Women who wear pants are able to move at an energetic pace while sending “a subtle message of a woman not bound by society-imposed constraints,” says LaVelle Olexa, a senior vice president at Lord & Taylor.
OK. Impressive. But some pants offer something much more basic, too, suggests Jasmine H. Chang, executive fashion editor at O, The Oprah Magazine.
“Pants, worn with a heel ó it’s dead-on sexy,” she says.
Now we’re talking.
Consumers have plenty of pants to choose from this year, with silhouettes for every body type and messages for every mood. There are kicky capris, edgy skinny pants and ó the trouser of the moment ó slouchy, wide-legged, often high-waisted pants inspired by menswear but unmistakably feminine.
“They give a woman a sense of strength, they’re innately comfortable, and there’s something elegant about the wider-legged pant,” says Gregg Andrews, a fashion director at Nordstrom. Think of the style icons who first wore them ó Hepburn, Harlow, Dietrich. The fluidity “softens the masculine edge that a trouser can sometimes have,” he says.
It’s all part of the dressier aesthetic designers started emphasizing last season, after years of going gaga for dresses (like those recent frilly, baby-doll numbers) and low-rise jeans (which plunged further south than Magellan).
“It’s not the Annie Hall androgynous thing,” Andrews says. “The word trousers evokes masculinity, but we’re not talking dressing like men,” he says.
It’s hard to believe that plain old pants once caused a major ruckus. And not that long ago. Sure, Hollywood types wore them, and by the ’50s and ’60s, they were fine for casual wear. But set foot in a school, church or office, and women were expected to show some leg (calves only, please).
That had changed by 1976, when Edith Bunker walked downstairs in a pantsuit on an episode of “All in the Family.” Archie freaked. No wife of his, blah, blah, blah. Edith didn’t listen. Neither did anybody else. Trouser acceptance was upon us. A year later, “Annie Hall” hit theaters, and Diane Keaton’s swashbuckling way with a blazer and trousers was all the rage.
Today, Andrews likes the combo of a full pant with a ruched or pleated top, a hipbone-length jacket emphasizing the waist, heels ó small feminine details that balance the look.
For women unsure of the wide leg, there are always flat-front, slimmer cuts, suggests Chang. She’s a fan of Piazza Sempione, the pricey Italian brand, sleek as a Ferrari. “They’re always perfect, with a little stretch for extra comfort,” she says.
There are also Gap chinos (she has several in various shades). And don’t forget Banana Republic, the go-to place for “the working woman’s pant” and a great source for petites, she says.
“The girls here love to wear dresses,” Chang notes, referring to her fashion department colleagues. “But I’m so much more comfortable in pants,” she says.
Sure, a dress is a no-brainer and often requires less tailoring than pants do. But sometimes it just can’t compete with the get-up-and-go of pants, she adds. “To keep your legs crossed all the time ó not my thing.”

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