How to Wear Denim Culottes, According to Fashion Experts

"The key is to create an elongating effect."


Getty Images / Edward Berthelot

Denim preferences shouldn’t be based strictly on what generation you’re born into. But, in a way, Gen Z may be onto something when they express a penchant toward a looser-fit jean. With all due respect to skinnies and those who love them, this spring, you might want to turn your attention to the denim culotte.

This style encompasses various wide-leg jeans, from the cropped-above-the-knee length to ones that reach the floor. "Wide leg jeans can seem intimidating at first but, trust me, they are your leg-lengthening friend as long as you pick the right inseam," says Sarah Ahmed, Chief Creative Officer of DL1961 and CEO and founder of Warp + Weft, two brands that offer several options to shop from. For Ahmed, she’s keen to suggest a longer length option for a widened silhouette. "I recommend picking a pair that hits you right at the ankle or longer. Anything shorter will cut you off. The key is to create an elongating effect."

Sylvie Mus isn’t a newcomer to the denim silhouette either. In fact, you can often find the Paris-based editorial stylist wearing a looser-fit pair on her Instagram. "When selecting wide-leg jeans, I like to make sure they’re in a straight-leg style," she says of her preference, which she typically wears with classic pieces such as trench coats and blazers. 

Ahead, Mus and Ahmed provide even further guidance on styling denim culottes and confidently giving skinny jeans a break. Don’t fret; this is not a goodbye, just a see you later.

Meet the Expert

  • Sarah Ahmed is the Chief Creative Officer of DL1961 and CEO and founder of Warp + Weft.
  • Sylvie Mus is an editorial stylist.

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Go-To Monochrome

"If you’re a skinny jean devotee, the idea of wearing wide-leg pants can seem too fancy or even ridiculous," says Ahmed. Her advice for those toying with a looser leg is to start with a singular color palette. "I would suggest sticking to neutrals to begin and create a monochromatic effect. White T-shirts and knits pair beautifully with cream and white wide legs and feel timeless and chic."

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New Heights

While a wide-leg silhouette can easily overpower the silhouette of the leg, it can also contribute to a taller appearance when paired with the right shoe. For this, Ahmed says a boot works best with any culotte silhouette that extends past the ankle. Consider pairing a long, high-waist pant with a heeled boot for a legs-for-days effect. 

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Elevating Flats

Rest assured that those heel-averse can find a flat shoe that complements a wide-leg look, as well. "If you’re wearing wide-leg jeans or culottes with flats, I recommend going with flats that have a pointy or slim toe," says Mus. "Loafers can work really well for this, too. Denim is very casual, so a shoe like that can really elevate the look."

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Choose Long Layers

Mus is often in longer denim silhouettes, but this cropped culotte ensemble is a real eye-catcher and perfect for spring-to-summer transitional dressing. "It’s very easy to recreate this style," she says. "What I did here was take an old pair of wide-leg jeans and cut them into shorts. For me, these types of shorts should hit right above the knee." If DIY isn’t your thing, feel free to purchase a cropped culotte instead. Then, contrast the trend-forward bottoms with a classic trench coat and minimalist shoes.

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Opt For Oversize With Structure

It’s assumed that looser and more oversize pieces of clothing are commonly paired with other tighter items, but that’s not a hard-and-fast rule, especially with culottes. "I love oversized everything, but the trick to not looking sloppy is picking an oversized top with structured sleeves and a slim body," says Ahmed. "That way, the proportions are balanced."

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Take From Day to Night

Most denim can transition easily from casual daytime to special evening plans, but wide-leg jeans are especially poised for the task. For Mus, her AM look includes a classic jeans-and-tee combination with a structured blazer. "And for nighttime, I would switch out the T-shirt for an evening top or a silk scarf," she shares, "and keep the blazer on, depending on the season."

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