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Pants are fun now

Sweatpants are dead. Time to pull out your fun pants.

A person walks while wearing tie-dye pants.
Pants in the wildest textures, hues, and fits you can imagine: It’s about time.
Christian Vierig/Getty Images
Melinda Fakuade is an associate editor for Vox, working mainly with The Goods and the Culture team. She is from New York and her writing has focused on culture, entertainment, and consumerism.

Welcome to Noticed, The Goods’ design trend column. You know that thing you’ve been seeing all over the place? Allow us to explain it.

What they are: Pants! With patchwork and kitschy patterns, like checkerboard or squiggles. In textures like velvet, corduroy, or knit. With underbutt slashes or thigh gashes.

The kids are wearing bottoms with animal print, chains and charms, pleats, textures, neon colors, and shades of brown and beige. Name a design, and it’s likely been embroidered, bleached, or bedazzled onto khaki and silk and denim.

Where they are: Trendy Australian online fashion sites, like Verge Girl. Harry Styles, in general. TikTok teens and Bushwick fashionistas. Kourtney Kardashian sported glittery, patterned Gucci pants this past Christmas, and Kendall Jenner went more understated, in leopard print. Fast fashion and high-end houses alike have been producing their takes on fun pants, and the sky’s the limit when it comes to designs.

On the HBO show Euphoria, Alexa Demie’s character, Maddy Perez, wore a pair of bright purple pants with slits cut on the side to a carnival. It came with a matching bra top — a risque look for a high schooler on a casual night out. The ensemble came from I.AM.GIA, a clothing brand created in 2017 that has been pretty popular. Maddy’s look trickled down into Gen Z zeitgeist, as many aspects of the show do, and the pants have been recreated by fast fashion brands like Fashion Nova and Pretty Little Thing. The pants look comfortable, without being skittish about turning heads. The design is like some kind of sexy athleisure. It’s simple, but not uncomfortable looking. It’s reminiscent of something a Bratz doll would wear.

It’s easy enough to get your hands on a pair of neon, leather, or checkerboard pants at this point. Fast fashion sites like Shein have been churning out their takes on the pants trend at a ferocious pace. Jaded London’s popular distressed patchwork jeans have been ripped off by plenty of fast fashion brands.

On Instagram, brands are pushing pants of all different cuts and colors. Leather pants are a step up from the tacky faux leather leggings that plagued us in the early 2010s; they stand out while not being too over-the-top. Aritzia’s “Melina” vegan leather pant is a sought-after favorite that comes in a variety of earth tones. Paloma Wool’s current collection of bottoms look almost Mamma Mia!-esque, with shiny, whimsical styles.

There’s Revice, a denim brand that prides itself on being the “home of the star jeans,” which are a very photogenic pair that involves a large star emblazoned over the butt — eye-catching, and not dissimilar to reading “Juicy” across someone’s rear in the early 2000s. Star jeans make a statement of casual cool-girl status, versus Juicy’s glam princess vibes. Last November, Who What Wear reported on the rise of built-in g-strings on pants and skirts. The “Avalon” jeans from Revice reflect this trend, keeping options simple with red, black, and white. There’s no need for overkill when you already appear to have denim undies on.

Why you’re seeing them everywhere: It might seem counterintuitive — after all, isn’t everyone wearing sweatpants? But fun pants are a manageable fashion risk — you can try out a pair, and experience the cheap thrill of really trying something. Anyone can buy a T-shirt with an e-girl band favorite on the front, or use hair accessories as a nod to ’80s and ’90s aesthetics. But pants invite conversation and attention, and force the wearer into a different limelight. You can be the center of attention, but still feel casual and effortlessly cool.

In high school, I alternated between different pairs of yoga pants (now rebranded as: “flare leggings”), classic leggings, and skinny jeans. That was the extent of the pants I wore. At stores, I wouldn’t see much beyond skinnies and straight legs, in unthreatening color schemes. They were uninspiring choices, primarily driven by a need for comfort, or aesthetic laziness. Now, pants require a further look.

It started off slowly. Flare and bell-bottom jeans inched their way back into our collective consciousness — a natural step after boyfriend jeans, and a welcome distraction from the will-they-or-won’t-they comeback of low-rise jeans. Then, seemingly overnight, pants were everywhere.

According to Morgane Le Caer, the data editor at Lyst, a global fashion shopping platform, the consumer search for fun pants has been steadily increasing. “Metallic shades are growing in popularity with searches increasing 43 percent, while demand for printed trousers has increased 30 percent since the start of the year,” Le Caer said. This uptick also might be related to the warm weather approaching. “After a year spent indoors mainly dressing from the waist up, it’s no surprise to see that they are ready to retire their sweatpants and leggings,” she said. People are planning on being outdoors more often, and they want to show off their pants in the process.

At the start of the pandemic, Pia Haro, a 24-year-old fashion stylist in San Diego, started posting outfit videos to TikTok, where she is known as @lilpstar. “I gained about 20,000 followers from one video of my pants that went viral,” she said. After getting a million views in less than 24 hours, she realized her audience was interested in seeing more of her collection. “They’re not really pants that you see every day, so I feel like that kind of intrigued people.”

Her followers were interested in where she had purchased her pants, but many of them had been thrifted. “I definitely think that it’s becoming a fashion trend for sure. I feel like it kind of started up this year, and it’s gonna continue on to next year,” Haro said.

“You can wear other pieces that are a little more simple, but you still have like a pant that expresses who you are while still being comfortable. You still want to make a statement when you go out, because you don’t go out very often,” she added.

For many, daily life has never been more mundane. There’s been a recent online obsession with people who act like “the main character”: as in, people who live their lives as if they are protagonists with nothing to lose. They are unrepentant when it comes to all aspects of their public personas — their personalities tend to be bold, as is their personal style.

A loud top might be too forward, and accessories try a little too hard. We’ve chosen pants, because they don’t look like a conscious decision that begs to be noticed, even though we’re all craving attention a little more lately. You can smoothly reply “what, these?” in response to any comment made about your pants, and have it not be a Thing, unless, of course, you want it to be. Main characters are confident, and that extends to the pants they choose to wear.

Haro is a fan of the infamous Jaded London pants collection, as well as Berksha when she’s not thrifting for pants. “I find a lot of bell bottoms, straight legs, and a lot of leather styles that were probably bigger in other decades but are still really cool today.”

Some millennials have been vocal online about their distaste for Gen Z’s rejection of skinny jeans. Regardless, the revolution is here. It’s hard to see how we can go back to a world of plain denim when there are pants options out there for everyone.

Perhaps this is all a reaction to a year many of us spent pantless, at home with nowhere to go. Pants are our latest distraction. When we put them on, we slip into a fantasy world where we still have effort to give. Like the going-out top, pants have become outfit centerpieces. We can throw on whatever, but if we put on a pair of pants, it feels like we actually tried. Leaving the house is an event now — why not celebrate that with a pair of statement pants? Sweatpants will always be waiting for us at home, anyway.